Accident rate on most passenger planes falls to record low

Flying has become safer than ever for most western travellers, with figures showing that 2012 had the lowest accident rate on record for typical passenger planes.

The International Air Transport Association (Iata) has confirmed that last year’s global accident rate for western-built passenger jets was the lowest in aviation history, with just three fatal crashes on such planes – and none among any of its 240 members, who represent virtually all of the major airlines.

Globally, the crash rate for modern aircraft – defined by Iata as hull losses per million flights of western-built jets – was one accident every 5m flights.

There were six crashes and 75 accidents overall on all aircraft types worldwide, as flying accounted for 414 deaths, compared to 486 from 92 accidents in 2011, from a total of almost 3 billion passengers.

Flying in sub-Saharan Africa, however, remains considerably more of a risk – and the accident rate is worsening. A passenger on a western-built jet in Africa was roughly 10 times more likely to see the plane crash in 2012 than in Latin America, the next most dangerous region.

Iata’s director general, Tony Tyler, said: “The industry’s 2012 record safety performance was the best in history. Each day approximately 100,000 flights arrive safely at their destination. Nevertheless, there is still work to do. Every accident is one too many and each fatality is a human tragedy.”

Planes coming off the runway are the most common type of accident, accounting for 28% of all incidents. Pilots losing control in flight have caused the most fatalities in the past four years.

AirAsia profit soars, bullish on outlook

AIRASIA, Asia’s largest low-cost carrier by fleet size, says its fourth-quarter profit has jumped 168 per cent year-on-year amid increased passengers.
AirAsia said in a statement that net profit for the quarter ending December 31 stood at 350.65 million ringgit ($A111.42 million), up from 130.68 million ringgit in the same quarter the previous year thanks to “a seasonally strong quarter”.
Revenue for the quarter was a record 1.41 billion ringgit, up 10 per cent, as more people flew the airline, which increased its aircraft in Malaysia to more than 60.
“It has been another good quarter and overall a great year for AirAsia as we continue to defy the industry in terms of operational and financial performance,” said Malaysia AirAsia chief executive officer Aireen Omar.
For the full financial year, AirAsia recorded a 238 per cent jump in net profit to 1.88 billion ringgit despite a 1.0 per cent rise in the average fuel price this year.
Its 2012 revenue increased by 11 per cent to 5.0 billion ringgit.
Group chief executive officer Tony Fernandes was bullish about the year ahead as AirAsia expands its model – no frills and keeping operational costs low.
“The aviation landscape is constantly changing with high fuel prices and new competition, but through all these challenges AirAsia will continue to defend our leadership titles,” he said.
AirAsia has grown rapidly since Fernandes, a former record industry executive, bought the failing airline in 2001. It initially had only two aircraft in operation.
The group now has a total fleet of 120 A320s and has set up subsidiary budget carriers in Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Japan.
The airline, one of the biggest customers for European aircraft maker Airbus, is expecting 360 more aircraft to be delivered by 2026.
Last week it announced a new airline joint venture with India’s Tata conglomerate.

New low-cost train service launched in France

The French national rail operator SNCF is offering a new low-cost long-distance service to passengers, in a bid to compete with budget airlines and cars. Tickets went on sale this week for Ouigo, a train service with numerous similarities to no-frills carriers such as Ryanair and easyJet.

Trains depart from Marne-la-Vallée to the east of the French capital – almost 20 miles away from central Paris, a scenario reminiscent of the budget airlines’ strategy to use airports away from city centres.

Services will connect Paris to Lyon, Marseille and Montpellier on the south coast, with tickets starting from €10, significantly cheaper than tickets for the normal TGV train.

There will be no compromise on speed, with the new service using the same trains as the TGV. The journey from Paris to Marseille will take three hours and 15 minutes.
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As with the budget airlines, space will be tighter – there will be no first class section, nor will there be any café or bar. There will be room for around 20 per cent more passengers than on a regular TGV service.

Guillaume Pepy, the director of the SNCF, says the new rail service is mostly aimed at people living on the outskirts of Paris, who are more likely to take their car on long journeys.

However it may also be considered by British visitors on a budget. Passengers on Ouigo will, however, need to factor in other additional costs – as well as the journey from central Paris, there is a €5 charge for a second piece of luggage, use of a power point costs €2, and transporting a pet costs €30.

After the €10 starting price – for which there will be 400,000 tickets available – tickets rise to €25 and reach a maximum of €85, depending on the demand.

According to calculations published in Le Figaro, the average price for a Friday journey from Paris to Marseille booked three months in advance costs €72 on the TGV, €50 on Air France, €34.23 on Ryanair, and €25 on the Ouigo.

Three or four return journeys will operate every day, with the first services beginning on April 2.

‘New beginning’ for Aer Arann

Aer Arann has announced a 32% rise in Aer Lingus Regional passenger numbers in 2012, with total passenger growth of 16% in the past two years.

Interim chief executive Sean Brogan outlined a package of measures to grow its customer base and route network, including a restructuring of the company, a fleet renewal programme, the extension of Aer Lingus agreement and the addition of two new routes.

The airline will be taking delivery of eight new aircraft. The new aircraft, ATR 72-600s, will replace the older existing fleet of ATR72-200s and ATR42s. The first new plane will commence service this May, with the remaining aircraft expected for delivery over the next 11 months. The new fleet will be fully operational in time for the Summer 2014 programme.

The airline has extended its franchise agreement with Aer Lingus, which will see Aer Arann operate under the Aer Lingus Regional brand until the end of 2022.

“Just over two years ago, we stared closure in the face,” said Mr Brogan. “Now, we have the fundamentals in place to join Europe’s top tier of regional airlines. The completion of our restructuring programme represents a new beginning for the airline. Our extended franchise agreement with Aer Lingus to 2022 gives us a firm foundation for growth, and the fleet renewal programme allows us to enhance the passenger offering further.”

“We have come a long way in a short time, but much remains to be done. We will only continue to push forward positively if we maximise the opportunities that have been secured.”

Ryanair’s Aer Lingus bid blocked

Ryanair has been notified that the EU Commission intends to reject the low-cost carrier’s attempt to takeover Aer Lingus.

The airline says it will appeal the decision in the European courts, as it is “being held to a much higher standard than any other EU airline” and described the decision as political and unfair. However the European Commission said a final decision had not yet been taken.

Ryanair added it had “met every competition concern raised” by the EU during the process and provided “irrevocable commitments from not one, but two, upfront buyers to eliminate all competitive overlaps” between the airlines, as IAG and Flybe stepped in to take over a number of routes.

The airline’s head of communications Robin Kiely said, “It appears clear from this morning’s meeting, that no matter what remedies Ryanair offered, we were not going to get a fair hearing and were going to be prohibited regardless of competition rules.”

Ryanair, which has indicated that this third bid for Aer Lingus would be its last, said it would launch an appeal in European courts against the decision by the Commission, which acts as the European Union’s competition authority.

“This decision is clearly a political one to meet the narrow, vested interests of the Irish government and is not based on competition law,” Keily added.
The government, which has said it is against the merger, declined to comment, as did an Aer Lingus spokesman.


Heathrow hits turbulence over airport charges

Heathrow is at loggerheads with the major airlines after proposing to increase landing charges almost 6pc above the rate of inflation from next year.

British Airways, Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic attacked the price increases, which could see landing costs jump from £19.33 per passenger at present to £27.30 by 2018.

Heathrow, whose landing fees are regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), said prices “inevitably” had to rise in order to ensure a “fair return” to its investors.

Colin Matthews, chief executive of Heathrow, said the regulator had “dramatically overestimated” the growth in passenger numbers between 2008-2013, resulting in income £650m lower than anticipated.

Passenger figures had been forecast to hit 78.2m but Heathrow has fallen more than 8m short of that target as fewer airlines than expected swapped their short-haul routes out of the airport for long-haul destinations served by larger planes.

Heathrow said investor returns in the past five years have, therefore, been “poor and unsustainable” and it has proposed to the CAA an increase in airport charges of 5.9pc on top of the retail prices index measure of inflation.

Both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic called on the CAA to force a cut in Heathrow’s charges at a time when airlines are having to slash budgets. Charges at Heathrow have tripled over the past decade, the airlines argued, making it the most expensive hub airport in the world.

Steve Griffiths, chief operating officer of Virgin Atlantic, said: “Virgin Atlantic is totally committed to improving the passenger experience at Heathrow. However, we believe this can be done without a repeat of the incredibly steep price rises we have seen in airport charges in the last few years.”

A BA spokesman pointed out Heathrow was proposing to cut its level of investment by a quarter from 2014. “The charges must be reduced significantly over the coming years,” he said. “We hope the regulator will give a fair ruling in the months ahead, which doesn’t penalise customers and airlines.”

Lufthansa said in a statement: “In the highly interdependent system partnership of airports and airlines, it is essential that airport operators take into account the business concepts and the economic capacities of their principle clients.

“An annual increase of the magnitude mentioned would clearly violate this logic and challenge the route economics of many airlines operating to London Heathrow airport, especially those, which operate high frequency services.”

Heathrow’s plans will be reviewed by the CAA, which will publish in April its own proposals for the maximum charges the airport should be allowed to impose.

Air Asia X unveils child-free zones

A Malaysian airline has launched “quiet zones” on selected flights, where children under the age of 12 are not permitted to sit.

Air Asia X – the long-haul arm of no-frills carrier Air Asia – announced the initiative last year, but only installed the child-free zones this week. A new booking system allows passengers to reserve a seat, at no extra cost, in the designated area when booking through the airline’s website.

The policy means that youngsters are banned from rows 7-14 – the first seven economy class rows – on Airbus A330-300 flights to China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Australia and Nepal.

Passengers booking online can choose to sit in that section by paying the standard seat reservation fee of RM35-RM110. Any group containing a passenger younger than 12 will not be able to book these seats.

The zones also contain “special ambient lighting”, according to the Air Asia X website, providing a “more relaxing atmosphere”.

The new seating plan follows a move by rival Malaysian Airlines to ban children from the top deck of its Airbus A380 “superjumbo” aircraft.

A number of surveys have claimed that the majority of passengers find noisy children their biggest gripe when flying.

A poll of Telegraph Travel readers carried out last year found that nearly 70 per cent would support the introduction of child-free flights.

Ryanair agreement with Flybe confirmed

British airline Flybe has agreed with Ryanair to create an Irish carrier known as Flybe Ireland in the event of a successful bid by Ryanair for rival Aer Lingus.

Flybe said on Wednesday it has reached agreement over the possible transfer of some aircraft and routes with Ryanair as part of the Irish airline’s attempts to win approval from the European Commission for its bid for domestic rival Aer Lingus.

Ryanair, Europe’s largest low-cost carrier, is making its third takeover attempt of Aer Lingus and needs to make concessions that would retain competition in air transport to and from Ireland.

Flybe said it would pay Ryanair EUR€1 million (USD$1.35 million) for the newly created airline.

The deal would see Ryanair transfer to Flybe Ireland 43 European routes, at least nine Airbus A320 aircraft and an undisclosed number of flight crew, engineers, management and facilities to operate the business.

Ryanair will also provide Flybe Ireland with a cash injection of EUR€100 million and forward sales cash and liabilities worth around EUR€50 million.

Flybe, which is a low-cost regional airline group operating over 180 routes to 65 European airports, is looking to reduce its reliance on revenues from Britain.

“The terms of the deal negotiated ensure that Flybe Ireland will be a well-capitalised, well-funded company, enabling us to deliver upon that strategic aim,” said Flybe chief executive Jim French.

“However, before Flybe Ireland can come into being there are many hurdles to overcome, not least the EC accepting the remedies offered by Ryanair in its offer to take over Aer Lingus, and then the shareholders of Aer Lingus accepting an offer from Ryanair.


Aer Lingus operating profits up 40.7%

Aer Lingus have announced an operating profit for 2012 of €69.1 million, up 40.7% from €49.1 million in 2011. The operating margin was also strong, up to 5.0% for 2012 compared to 3.8% in the previous year.

During 2012 the average yield per passenger increased by 7% to €120.15. Long haul yields remained particularly strong, increasing by 9.6% while short haul yields were up 3.8%.

There was also good news in terms of revenue for the year which at €1,393.3 million, represented an increase of 8.2%, while cash on the balance sheet grew to €908.5million and debt reduced by 7.9% to €531.6million.

2012 was a record year in terms of passenger numbers. With a total of 10.8 million passengers flown, including Aer Lingus Regional and the Madrid – Washington codeshare route, this is the highest number of passengers that Aer Lingus have ever carried in a single year.

Based on the positive performance the Aer Lingus board is proposing to pay an increased dividend of 4 cent per share for 2012.