Thursday, November 11, 2010

Boeing halts test flights of delay-plagued 787 Dreamliner

AFP - Thursday, November 11

SEATTLE, Washington (AFP) - – US aerospace giant Boeing on Wednesday halted test flights on its new 787 Dreamliner, dealing a fresh setback to a program already running about three years behind schedule.

Boeing announced the decision after a fire aboard a test plane on Tuesday forced an emergency landing.

At a news conference in Seattle in the western US state of Washington, Boeing spokeswoman Loretta Gunter said the fire was the most serious incident since test flights began in December 2009.

"I don't know how long the suspension will last," Gunter said, adding that the focus would be on ground testing until the incident was understood and that it was unclear if the fire would further delay the program.

The 787 Dreamliner, launched in April 2004, has suffered a series of setbacks, many of them from challenges in the international production of parts for the mid-size plane.

Boeing says the high-tech 787, made essentially from composite materials, will deliver a 20 percent reduction in fuel consumption compared with planes of similar size flying today.

The first 787 was initially promised to Japanese launch customer All Nippon Airways (ANA) in the first half of 2008. Delivery has now been put back to around February 2011.

Smoke filled the ZA002, one of Boeing's six test 787s, on Tuesday, forcing an emergency landing in Laredo, Texas.

"There was a fire on board the airplane, which created the smoke in the cabin area," Gunter said, stressing that the investigation was of "an incident, not an accident.

"We don't know where it started. We need to analyze all the data," the Boeing spokeswoman said, adding that the fire was not in the main cabin and had been extinguished before the plane landed.

Shares in Chicago-based Boeing plunged 3.15 percent to close at 67.07 dollars in New York.

"The most likely outcome is a modest delay to the flight test with a potential multi-week slip in first delivery, which is well within the range of investor expectations," Barclays Capital analysts said in a client note.

The troubled plane was painted in ANA livery and like three other 787 test planes was equipped with a Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engine. The remaining two have General Electric GEnx engines.

"Right now we don't see any connection with the engine," Gunter said.

The British firm has been in the spotlight after a spate of mid-air mishaps.

In early November, a Qantas Airbus A380 superjumbo was forced to make an emergency landing after a Rolls-Royce Trent 900 blew out.

In a separate incident, a Qantas Boeing 747 had to turn back to Singapore after another model of Rolls-Royce engine failed in mid-air.

In August, Boeing pushed back the 787 delivery schedule from a target of the early weeks of 2011 due to a delay in the availability of a Rolls-Royce engine.

Gunter said a Rolls-Royce engine had exploded during ground tests in September.

It was the second time Boeing has halted 787 test flights, suspending them for "a couple of days" in June, she said, without explaining the reason. US media reported problems with the plane's tail stabilizers.

Boeing has 55 customers from six continents that have placed orders for 847 Dreamliners to date, valued at 147 billion dollars, the most successful launch of a new commercial airplane in its history.

But it has faced cancellations and compensation claims for some delays.

Last week Aviation Week, citing industry sources, reported Boeing has warned Korean Air, Air India and Japan Airlines of delays of up to 10 months.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Qantas B747 plane "experienced engine problems" after takeoff

By Lynda Hong | Posted: 05 November 2010 2214 hrs

SINGAPORE: A Qantas aircraft experienced engine problems on Friday evening.

Qantas said that shortly after takeoff, QF6 operating from Singapore to Sydney "experienced an issue with its number 1 engine".

Qantas added that as a precautionary measure, the captain of the Boeing 747 aircraft sought priority clearance to return to Singapore.

The aircraft landed safely.

There were 412 passengers on board, along with three flight crew and 16 cabin crew.

- CNA/ir

Qantas fears engine design fault after A380 drama

Posted: 05 November 2010 1333 hrs

SYDNEY: Qantas said Friday a mid-air drama involving a flagship A380 superjumbo may have been caused by a design fault in its Rolls-Royce engines, raising questions over the giant long-haul craft.

Chief executive Alan Joyce said early investigations pointed to a "material failure or a design issue" in the Airbus plane's engines after one exploded minutes after take-off from Singapore, prompting an emergency landing.

However, Joyce said Qantas' five other A380s -- the world's biggest passenger jet -- could be back in action within days, after safety checks by Rolls-Royce and Qantas engineers in Los Angeles and Sydney.

"This is an engine issue and the engines were maintained by Rolls-Royce since being installed on the aircraft," Joyce told reporters at the Australian flag-carrier's Sydney headquarters.

"We believe that this is most likely some kind of material failure or a design issue... we don't believe this is related to maintenance in any way."

The comments are the first to shed light on Thursday's events, when engine casing rained down on an Indonesian town and the superjumbo with 466 people on board dumped fuel before returning to Singapore.

He said that a second engine, next to the one that exploded, would not shut down after the landing, raising further concerns.

Rolls-Royce urged airlines to carry out "basic precautionary checks" on its Trent 900 engines after the incident.

Some 37 of the giant planes are currently in use around the world.

Qantas has grounded its fleet of six A380s but Joyce said they could return to the skies within 48 hours if they come through eight hours of safety checks.

Since its 2007 launch, fuel and computer glitches have grounded several A380s and one Air France flight was forced back to New York after problems with its navigation system in November 2009.

In April, a Qantas A380 damaged tyres on landing from Singapore in Sydney, causing a shower of sparks. Joyce said tyres also burst during Thursday's incident, but described that as "not significant".

Shares in Qantas fell 1.04 per cent to 2.86 Australian dollars in Friday trade. - AFP/fa

Rolls-Royce recommends engine checks after A380 incident

AFP - Friday, November 5

LONDON (AFP) - – Rolls-Royce on Thursday recommended that "basic precautionary checks" are carried out on its Trent 900 engines, after an engine made by the firm caught fire on a Qantas A380 Airbus.

The Qantas flight with more than 450 people on board made a dramatic forced landing in Singapore on Thursday, trailing smoke from a blackened engine, in the superjumbo's first mid-air emergency.

"Since Qantas QF32 suffered an engine failure and returned safely to Singapore Changi Airport we have been working closely with our customer and the authorities," Rolls said in an official statement on Thursday.

"In situations like these Rolls-Royce has well established processes to collect and understand information relating to the event and to determine suitable actions."

It added: "As always the safe operation of our products is our number one priority.

"The in-service fleet of Trent 900 engines is small and relatively new, and the group feels that it is prudent to recommend that a number of basic precautionary engine checks are performed. This process is now underway."

Rolls-Royce added that it would work closely with its customers to probe the incident, but stressed that the matter was at a "very early" stage.

"We will continue to work closely with our customers as the investigation moves forward.

"This is at a very early stage and it would be inappropriate to draw any conclusions at this time."

In reaction to the latest news, Rolls-Royce shares slumped 4.75 percent to 622 pence in afternoon London trading on London's benchmark FTSE 100 index of leading shares, which was up 1.99 percent.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Qantas plane makes emergency landing in S’pore

By Ewen Boey – November 4th, 2010

Agence France Presse

A Qantas A380 made a dramatic emergency landing in Singapore Thursday, trailing smoke from a damaged engine, in the first mid-air emergency involving the Airbus superjumbo.

The double-decker plane, which had taken off from Singapore bound for Sydney carrying 433 passengers and 26 crew, dumped fuel over Indonesia before returning to the city-state’s Changi Airport.

According to a Changi Airport Group spokesperson, the A380 Qantas flight QF 32 departed Singapore Changi Airport at 0956 hours today. For technical reasons, the aircraft turned back to Changi and landed safely at 1146 hours.

Changi Airport Group’s Airport Emergency Service (AES) responded with six fire vehicles, in accordance with standard operating procedure for such incidents. In response to the pilot’s request, checks were conducted on the aircraft by AES.

Once the checks were completed, passengers and crew began disembarking from the aircraft at Runway 2. Buses were arranged to ferry them to the airport terminal. Disembarkation of all 469 passengers and crew on board was completed by 1340 hours.

When contacted, a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson from the Australian consulate in Canberra told Yahoo! Singapore, “The flight has landed safely at Changi Airport and there are no passengers or crew injured.”

“Australian consular officials are at Changi Airport ready to assist passengers if required. Qantas has arranged meals and accommodation for passengers and is urgently making arrangements for affected passengers to fly on to Sydney,” she added.

The Qantas Airbus A380 plane surrounded by fire engines after landing safely at Changi Airport.
One of the engines on the four-engined plane’s left wing was blackened and its rear casing was missing when it landed at Changi Airport.

Plane debris including what appeared to be part of a Qantas jet was found in the Indonesian town of Batam, after a mid-air explosion was heard on the ground.

“I didn’t see a plane crash but I heard a loud explosion in the air. There were metal shards coming down from the sky into an industrial area in Batam,” witness Noor Kanwa told AFP

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce says the airline is suspending all flights of its six Airbus A380 jetliners after a mid-air engine problem on a flight from Singapore.

Joyce told a news conference in Sydney on Thursday the suspension would remain in place until Qantas was satisfied that it was safe for its A380s to fly.

Joyce said “we will suspend those A380 services until we are completely confident that Qantas safety requirements have been met.”

Australian flag-carrier Qantas, which prides itself as the world’s safest airline with no fatal jetliner crashes in its 90-year history, blamed an “engine issue” for the incident but gave no further details.

“In line with procedure, the pilot sought priority clearance for its return to Singapore,” the airline said.

In light of Qantas grounding its entire A380 fleet, a Singapore Airlines spokesperson told Yahoo! Singapore, “There are no plans as of now to ground our A380 aircraft, and operations are continuing as normal. It is premature at this point to speculate and we will await advice from the aircraft and engine manufacturers as the investigation progresses.”

Debris photo on Indonesian TV (Twitter photo courtesy of @RodrigoBNO)
The A380′s very first commercial flight operated by SIA was on the same Singapore-Sydney route in October 2007.

Since then, fuel and computer glitches have grounded several A380s and at least one Air France flight was forced to turn around and land in New York after problems with its navigation system in November 2009.

And in April, a Qantas A380 superjumbo damaged tyres on landing from Singapore in Sydney, showing sparks and scaring passengers.

The plane is the largest passenger jet in operation, with 50 percent more floor space than Boeing’s veteran 747 jumbo. The A380 can carry up to 853 passengers in an all-economy configuration.

Qantas said on its website it has taken delivery of six of its 20 Airbus A380-800 aircraft, which it said represents the second-largest A380 order of any airline in the world.

Qantas said the A380 operates selected flights from Sydney and Melbourne to Los Angeles, Singapore and London.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Remembering SQ006: 10 years on

By Ion Danker – October 29th, 2010

From “surviving to winning” – that’s how former Singapore Airlines (SIA) pilot Cyrano Latiff describes how he’s turned his life around since surviving Singapore’s worst-ever aircraft disaster.

Then a First Officer with Singapore Airlines, Cyrano was one of three pilots in the cockpit of SQ 006, the SQ Boeing 747-412 jet that crashed on a rainy night at Taiwan’s Chiang Kai-Shek airport on 31 October, 2000.

83 of the 179 passengers on board died after the Singapore flight that was bound for Los Angeles ploughed into a cluster of heavy construction equipment as it tried to take off from a runway in bad, stormy weather. The plane broke into several pieces upon impact as explosions ripped through the aircraft’s entire middle section.

Among the dead were 26 Taiwanese, 24 Americans and 12 Singaporeans and Indians.

Speaking to Yahoo! Singapore in an exclusive interview ahead of the 10th anniversary of the crash this Sunday, Cyrano described the entire experience as “humbling”.

“After going through this, you realise everyone is important to you,” said the 46-year-old Singaporean, who had been flying with SIA for six years before the night of the tragedy.

After having his contract terminated by SIA in 2002, Cyrano joined Lufthansa as an aeronautical consultant for two years. He then ventured into the food and beverage industry before becoming a lecturer for the Diploma in Aviation Management & Services at Temasek Polytechnic’s (TP) Engineering School in 2008.

Latiff Cyrano became a lecturer at Temasek Polytechnic, teaching Aviation Management & Services since 2008.
Life for the married father of four since the crash has been anything but smooth.

Recalling that fateful day ten years ago and the immediate scenes of panic and chaos that ensued after the crash, he said, “The fire was like flames of a furnace from the lower deck as I started to call everyone to jump from the upper deck to evacuate the burning plane.”

“So I assessed the situation, and tried to kick the burnt slide. I thought if I jumped on it first, it might ‘untangle’. After I took the plunge, everyone saw it was possible to make it down to the tarmac so we started getting people to jump,” said Cyrano, who was the flight’s co-pilot.

As the remaining passengers made it to safety, Cyrano described what he saw when he glanced sideways.

“I was stunned when I saw the plane lying on its belly without the landing gears. The aircraft had broken up and its skin was burning away. But the most important thing was making sure everyone was evacuated safely,” he said, as he showed the scar he suffered from a deep gash during the jump.

Firefighters putting out the blaze on SQ006 ten years ago. (AFP Photo)
Cyrano and the other two pilots, Captain Foong Chee Kong and First Officer Ng Kheng Leng, were made to stay in Taiwan as investigations got underway after the crash. They were kept away from the Taiwanese media throughout that period as anger and bitter finger-pointing reached fever-pitch.

Said Cyrano, “We stayed in different locations and moved around, as the Taiwan media were trying to track us down and each day, the tabloids ran big stories of the accident. It came to a point where security personnel were assigned to us.”

The “scary” moment came after 52 days when the pilots were finally allowed to leave Taiwan and return to Singapore.

“We had to slip through Taiwan customs as if we were tourists. I remembered our bodyguards left us after entering the first door of the airport and the three of us went our separate ways to avoid being recognised by the local and international media,” he said.

Describing what happened next at the immigration counter, he said, “As our passports were burned from the accident, I gave a substitute travel document to the Taiwanese immigration officer who looked at it before holding up the letter and loudly proclaiming, ‘Is this your document?’.”

“The next thing I knew, a large group of people came charging forward from behind the pillars, cameras appeared out of nowhere and I thought to myself, ‘How could these guys manage to get into this restricted area?’” said Cyrano, who revealed his sense of helplessness after realising the Taiwanese media were on a witchhunt to find someone to blame for the crash.

He added that the reporters and photographers started surging forward, following him all the way to the boarding area, before he boarded his flight back to Singapore.

Worse was to follow when he returned to Taipei two years later after investigations into the crash concluded.

After being briefed by airport officials on the plane before arriving in Taiwan, he said, “The area was cordoned off for us to leave the plane but you could see the media lunging forward. It came to a point where the media came rushing towards us and I remember our bodyguards signaling us to follow them while the rest came to shield us as we fought our way to the vehicle.”

Crash investigators inspecting the remains of SQ006. (AFP Photo)
The final investigation report issued by the Taiwan Aviation Safety Council (ASC) on 24 April 2002, blamed the flight crew for not taking off from the correct runway, despite having all the relevant charts. As a result, the report said the pilots were unaware the aircraft had entered the wrong runway, which then had an area under construction.

However, Singapore officials disputed ACS’ report and said that it failed to present a complete account of the incident, as it appeared to pin full responsibility on the SQ 006 flight crew and played down equally valid contributing factors.

According to reports, the team from Singapore that participated in the investigation felt that the lightings and signages at the airport did not measure up to international standards. It added that critical lights were missing or not working, and no barriers or markings were placed at the start of the closed runway, which would have alerted the flight crew that they were on the wrong runway.

Is he still troubled by what happened ten years ago?

“I don’t think I am, even though I do still think about it. It was an accident. My conscience is clear and I managed to turn things around by positioning things differently,” he said.

“Moving ahead, I am keen to get back into the cockpit, pick things up after ten years and experience commercial flying again.”

Read more about Latiff Cyrano’s remarkable story and how he rebuilt his life since the crash in Part 2 of “Remembering SQ006: 10 years on” on Monday.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Miracle as 36 survive Venezuelan plane crash

AFP - 56 minutes ago

CARACAS (AFP) - – Fifteen people died in a plane crash in eastern Venezuela, but 36 others miraculously survived after the pilot alerted air traffic control that something was wrong moments before disaster struck.

The plane, carrying 47 passengers and four crew Monday from the Venezuelan Caribbean resort island of Margarita, burst into flames as it hit the ground near a steel works owned by Sidor, in mainland Bolivar state.

"In total we have 36 survivors and 15 dead. The survivors are being looked after," said Transport and Communications Minister Francisco Garces.

"Given the condition of the plane, I think we were very lucky."

Most of the survivors had sustained burns and were traumatized by the event, but none was in life-threatening condition, Garces said.

The Conviasa Airlines ATR-42-300 plane went down about six miles (10 kilometers) from Puerto Ordaz, on the Orinoco River. It broke in two and caught fire as it hit the ground. The cause of the crash was not immediately clear.

Officials said the quick response by the emergency services after the pilot warned air traffic control that the flight was in trouble prevented a higher death toll.

Rescuers arrived at the scene quickly with medical helicopters to fly the wounded to local hospitals that had been placed on alert. A burns unit was also on stand-by to treat those caught in the blazing wreckage.

"There's been a miracle here," said Bolivar state Governor Francisco Rangel Gomez.

President Hugo Chavez issued a statement expressing his "deepest... condolences and solidarity" with the victims of the crash.

"All of us in Venezuela are in mourning, heavy with sadness for this tragedy," he said, and announced three days of official mourning across the South American country.

The plane went down at a site mostly used by Sidor to store scrap industrial material. None of its employees was injured in the crash, but they were among the first at the scene helping rescue passengers, Rangel Gomez said.

The governor said the pilot appeared to have "lost control" of the plane and radioed a control tower to warn that the flight was having technical difficulties.

A spokesperson for ATR, the aircraft manufacturer, said the firm was investigating the accident.

"We are working in close cooperation with the company (Conviasa) and authorities to understand the causes of the accident. At the moment we do not know what caused it," a spokesman in Paris told AFP.

ATR aircraft like the one that crashed Monday are made by a European consortium composed of EADS and Alenia.

The firm, based in Toulouse, France, employs some 850 people and is considered a global leader in the manufacture of small turbo-propelled planes with 50-75 seats, with some 52 percent of the market.

It has received over 1,000 orders from 150 companies in 80 countries since its creation, and made around 1.1 billion euros in 2009.0

Conviasa is a state-owned airline started in 2004 that flies to destinations as varied as Tehran, Damascus, Buenos Aires and several Caribbean nations.

The last major air accident in Venezuela was in February 2008 and also involved an ATR-42-300, which crashed in the Andes, killing 46.

Three years earlier, 160 people were killed in a Venezuelan crash that was one of the world's deadliest ever.

The flight was en route to Martinique and the majority of those killed -- 152 of the passengers -- were from the small Caribbean island. An investigation into the disaster later concluded human error was to blame.

In a separate case of transport trouble involving Margarita, Venezuela's busiest resort destination, authorities also said Monday they rescued 21 passengers who went missing over the weekend on three small watercraft.

Interior Minister Tareck El Aissami said authorities however were still searching for 10 people on one of the three boats that had gone missing Saturday on crossings from Los Testigos an island group north of Margarita.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Air France staff protest move to separate kids from adults

Posted: 31 August 2010 0104 hrs

PARIS: Air France cabin crew fear a new rule to protect children from paedophile passengers could expose youngsters to greater risk in the event of an accident, labour unions said Monday.

The airline issued instructions in February that unaccompanied minors must not sit next to adults unless a plane is fully booked, following complaints from parents that some had been molested in flight.

But the UNAC and Alter unions, which represent Air France cabin crew, said this rule contradicts previous advice that children must sit near responsible persons who can help them don oxygen masks if the cabin depressurises.

"This flies in the face of child safety," said Alter official Guillaume Pollard. "In an emergency or a depressurisation an adult should remain seated and fit a child's mask. How can they do this if they're across the aisle?"

A copy of the seating rules, seen by AFP, says children travelling without a parent or guardian must be given a block of seats on their own, with an adult in the next section across the aisle to keep an eye on them.

Several cabin crew, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that they suspect Air France is more concerned about the possibility of lawsuits linked to alleged child abuse than by more general in-flight safety.

Contacted by AFP, Air France would not say how many cases of alleged molestation had been reported. - AFP/fa

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

43 dead in China plane crash: state media

Posted: 24 August 2010 2345 hrs

BEIJING: A Chinese airliner crashed and burst into flames while attempting to land in northeast China on Tuesday, killing 43 people on board, state media reported.

The Henan Airlines plane overshot the runway while trying to touch down at an airport in the city of Yichun in remote Heilongjiang province, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Hua Jingwei, an official with the Communist Party in Yichun, told Xinhua that 43 bodies had been recovered from the wreckage and 53 survivors taken to hospital for treatment.

Hua said the plane broke into two pieces as it approached the runway, Xinhua reported, and some passengers were thrown out of the cabin before the jet hit the ground.

There were 91 passengers, including five children, and five crew on board, Xinhua said, citing a source at the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).

The crash occurred shortly after 9:30 pm (1330 GMT) near Yichun's Lindu airport, around 40 minutes after the plane took off from Harbin, the provincial capital, Xinhua said.

Television images showed teams of firefighters using hoses to douse the blazing wreckage of the aircraft.

Wang Xuemei, the vice mayor of Yichun who oversaw the rescue efforts, said most of the survivors taken to hospital had suffered broken bones.

The aircraft was an ERJ-190 jet, Xinhua said, a passenger aircraft manufactured by Brazilian aerospace conglomerate Embraer.

A spokesman for the constructor said the company did not yet have "an official position" on the accident.

The cause of the crash was still unclear and work teams searched through the wreckage for the plane's black box flight data recorder.

But Xinhua said Chinese carriers using ERJ-190s had reported technical problems in the past and the CAAC called a workshop last June to discuss the issues.

Notes from the meeting - which involved Kunpeng Airlines, as Henan Airlines was previously known - showed that breaks of the turbine plates and flight control system errors were among the problems, Xinhua said.

Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang led a team of transport, safety and security officials to Yichun to deal with the aftermath of the crash and begin investigation work, Xinhua said.

The CAAC has also sent a 20-strong group of technicians and officials to the scene, it said.

Lindu airport is in a forest around nine kilometres outside of central Yichun, a city of one million inhabitants around 150 kilometres from the border with Russia.

Henan Airlines, based in the central province of the same name, launched the Yichun-Harbin service a year ago and operated the route three times a week, Xinhua said.

The carrier is run by Shenzhen Airlines, based in the southern city of the same name.

Xinhua said CAAC records showed Tuesday's crash was China's first major air disaster in more than five years, since a China Eastern Airlines jet crashed in Baotou City in Inner Mongolia, killing 53 people on board and two on the ground.

The Yichun crash came a week after a North Korean military aircraft came down on a house in Liaoning province, also in China's northeast, killing the pilot.

- AFP/ms/de

Monday, August 16, 2010

Jetliner crashes on Colombian island; 1 killed

BOGOTA, Colombia – A Boeing 737 jetliner with 131 passengers aboard crashed on landing and broke into three pieces at a Colombian island in the Caribbean early Monday. The region's governor said it was a miracle that only one person died.

Colombian Air Force Col. David Barrero said officials were investigating reports the plane had been hit by lightning before crashing at 1:49 a.m. (3:49 a.m. EDT; 0649 GMT) while landing at San Andres Island, a resort island of 78,000 people about 120 miles (190 kilometers) east of the Nicaraguan coast.

San Andres Gov. Pedro Gallardo said 125 passengers and six crew members had been aboard, but the only person killed was Amar Fernandez de Barreto, 65. At least five people were reported injured.

"It was a miracle and we have to give thanks to God," the governor said.

Barrero, commander of the Caribbean Air Group, said by telephone from San Andres that "the skill of the pilot kept the plane from colliding with the airport."

Barrero said the 7,545-foot (2,300-meter) runway had been closed because parts of the plane were still scattered across it.

The Aires jet had left the Colombian capital of Bogota at about midnight.

Police Gen. Orlando Paez said by telephone that a group of police officers who had been waiting at the airport for the plane to take them back to the Colombian mainland aided in rescuing the victims.

(This version CORRECTS source on injured as governor sted colonel.)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

No survivors likely in Pakistan passenger plane crash

Reuters - 2 hours 11 minutes ago
By Augustine Anthony

ISLAMABAD - A Pakistani passenger plane crashed in heavy rain near Islamabad on Wednesday, killing at least 90 people and officials said it was unlikely that there would be any survivors among the 152 people on board.

The Airbus 321, belonging to private airline Airblue, crashed into a heavily wooded and hard-to-access hillside while flying from the southern port city of Karachi. Rescue workers were scouring the site for bodies, officials said.

"Most of the bodies are charred. We're sending body-bags via helicopters. It's a very difficult operation because of the rain," said Aamir Ali Ahmed, a senior city government official.

"We can pray and hope but what experts are saying is that there's no chance of any survivors," he added.

Earlier reports that five survivors had been pulled from the wreckage were wrong, said Imtiaz Elahi, chairman of the state-run Capital Development Authority, a city municipal body.

"It would be a miracle but we're not expecting any survivors," said another official, who declined to be named.

Rescuers said they had to dig through the rubble with their bare hands, with fire and thick smoke hampering their work. The fire has since been extinguished, but access to the hillside remained limited to pedestrians and helicopters.

"You find very few intact bodies. Basically, we are collecting bodies parts and putting them in bags," Bin Yameen, senior officer in the Islamabad police, told Reuters from the scene of the crash.

"I don't know the exact death toll but one can imagine not many could survive in such a bad situation.

The plane lost contact with the control room of the Islamabad International Airport at 5:43 a.m. British time. It was carrying 146 passengers and six crew members.

The crash site is on the Margalla Hills facing Islamabad, about 300 meters up the side of the hills. Smoke could be seen from some districts of the city after the crash.

"It was raining. I saw the plane flying very low from the window of my office," witness Khadim Hussain said. Heavy monsoon rains have lashed the area for the past few days.


The military said it had sent three helicopters to the site and troops had also been moved there. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani was surveying rescue operations from the air and the government declared Thursday a day of mourning for the victims.

Airblue began operations in 2004 with a fleet of Airbus A320 and A321 aircraft, according to its website It flies primarily domestic routes as well as to the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Manchester in Britain.

Spokesman Raheel Ahmed said this was the first crash for the airline and that an investigation was being launched.

"It's too early to speculate," he said about the cause of the crash. "The civil aviation authorities will also be involved."

Airbus confirmed one of its planes was involved in the Airblue crash.

"We regret to confirm there has been an accident with an Airbus aircraft and we will provide more information when we have more confirmed data available," said Airbus spokesman Stefan Schaffrath.

At Islamabad's international airport, passengers in the departure lounge scanned the television screens for news.

"I'm not surprised something like this has happened," said Ahmed Fairuz, a passenger awaiting departure. "The weather is just too bad for flying."

Aviation industry sources in Europe said the aircraft was leased from International Lease Finance Corp, the leasing unit of U.S. insurance giant AIG

Los Angeles-based ILFC was not available for comment and there was no immediate confirmation of these details.

The A321 is the largest of the A320 family of single-aisle jets produced by EADS subsidiary Airbus. This particular type of aircraft, which can seat up to 185 passengers, has been in service since 1994.

Forty-five people were killed when a passenger plane belonging to Pakistan International Airlines crashed near the central city of Multan in 2006.

Including the 2006 incident, PIA has had 11 crashes since 1957, according to

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Boeing's Dreamliner completes first flight outside US


FARNBOROUGH, United Kingdom (AFP) - – Boeing's 787 Dreamliner jet, whose delivery to clients faces fresh delay, landed in Britain on Sunday after its first flight outside of the US ahead of the Farnborough International Airshow.

The test plane landed at Farnborough airport at 9:08am (0808 GMT), watched by journalists from around the world, ahead of the major week-long trade show that begins on Monday, where aircraft makers are hoping to secure major orders.

"It's such a nice plane," Mike Bryan, the pilot who flew the Dreamliner to Britain from the United States told reporters after landing.

"I can't find a pilot who doesn't love it. I'm privileged enough to fly it."

Last week, US aircraft maker Boeing said it may be forced to delay the delivery of its first fuel-efficient Dreamliner to 2011 from late this year -- a date that was already more than two years behind schedule. It has secured 860 orders so far.

Last month, Boeing said it had detected a "workmanship issue" with the horizontal stabiliser of the aircraft, whose innovative structure and manufacture across more than 100 sites has created many technical problems.

The company is hanging its future hopes on the mid-sized plane -- Boeing's first new model in more than a decade -- which draws on huge advances in aviation technology and is capable of flying long-haul routes with up to 20 percent less fuel.

The fuel efficiency is largely down to the fact that up to half the twin-aisle Dreamliner is made of lightweight composite materials, such as carbon fibre-reinforced resin, according to the company.

Boeing launched the programme in April 2004 and initially had planned to deliver the first plane to Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways in the first half of 2008 -- a deadline which may now be pushed back until the start of 2011. The plane can seat up to 330 passengers.

Boeing's fierce European rival Airbus is meanwhile working on a new long-haul plane of its own -- the A350 XWB (Extra Wide Body). Another big project for Airbus is its long-delayed A400M military transport plane.

The head of Airbus parent company EADS, Louis Gallois, said on Sunday that he expected contracts with clients for the A400M to be signed in the European autumn later this year.

"I expect it will be at fall," Louis Gallois told reporters.

The client countries for the Airbus transporter are France, Germany, Spain, Britain, Belgium, Luxembourg and Turkey.

The seven states, after tense negotiations in the face of production difficulties with the A400M, reached an agreement in March with EADS on sharing out 5.2 billion euros (6.4 billion dollars) in cost over-runs.

The European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company plans to deliver the first A400M to France in early 2013.

Gallois meanwhile added on Sunday that he expected the military plane market to face a tough few years as governments look to slash their defence spending in a bid to reduce massive state deficits.

"We think that we have ahead of us three or four years that will be difficult," said Gallois.

On the civilian side, any new orders for aircraft at Farnborough -- one of aerospace's biggest events -- are likely to be dominated by airlines from emerging economies across Asia and the Middle East where air traffic is growing rapidly.

Boeing and Airbus meanwhile head to the show facing increased competition for their mid-sized civilian jets from smaller manufacturers, such as Brazil's Embraer and Bombardier of Canada.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Top 5 Airlines 2009

The top 5 airlines from from 81 to 118.3 Billion Passenger Kilometres

1) Emirates 118.3 Billion Passenger Kilometres

2) Lufthansa

3) Air France-KLM

4) Singapore Airlines

5) Cathay Pacific 81 Billion Passenger Kilometres

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Russia to buy 50 Boeing 737s worth four billion dollars

AFP - Friday, June 25

WASHINGTON, USA (AFP) - – President Barack Obama on Thursday said that Russia was buying 50 Boeing aircraft valued at four billion dollars that could create 44,000 jobs in the struggling US economy.

Obama, speaking after White House talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, said the order was part of a broad array of trade and investment deals between the two countries.

"Consistent with my administration's national export initiative, this includes the sale of 50 Boeing aircraft worth four billion dollars that could add up to 44,000 new jobs in the American aerospace industry," Obama said.

In a statement released after Obama's comment, Boeing said that it had signed a document with the Russian state corporation Rostechnologii "confirming the decision by Rostechnologii to place an order for 50 Boeing Next-Generation 737 airplanes."

The document was signed during Medvedev's official visit to the United States, the aerospace giant said, without providing further details.

"Rostechnologii's selection of Boeing airplanes demonstrates its commitment to deploying the optimal solution for the market needs," the Chicago-based company said.

Touting "the economic benefits and operating efficiencies" of the Next-Generation 737, Boeing said the planes would "directly support Rostechnologii's plan to provide Russian airlines with efficient and reliable airplanes that will help them to consolidate and grow their domestic and international operations."

"We look forward to continuing our long-term partnership with Rostechnologii and finalizing the contract," the company said.

Jim Proulx, spokesman for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said in an interview with AFP that the 50 Next-Generation 737s were worth "3.6 billion dollars at current list price."

Commercial aircraft are often sold below list value.

Proulx noted the agreement signed was for the Russian state firm to purchase the planes, but further details needed to be worked out for a firm contract, such as which airlines would be taking the planes, delivery dates and deposit amounts.

The US company briefly announced at the end of May that the Russian state firm had selected the Next-Generation 737 for its aviation business development.

Boeing currently has an order backlog of 2,000 for the planes.

Last week Boeing announced a second production rate increase on the Next-Generation 737 program, taking the rate from the rate of 34 airplanes per month, previously announced in May, to 35 planes in early 2012, citing continued strong demand.

Spending Spree by Emirates Shakes Up Airline Business

Published: June 23, 2010

LONDON — Emirates, the international airline, is rattling rivals in Europe and Asia with a growth splurge that may be as game-changing for long-distance carriers as the expansion of Ryanair and Southwest Airlines was over shorter routes.

Emirates, a 25-year-old company, is building up a fleet of 90 Airbus A380 superjumbo aircraft with a total of 45,000 seats and operating costs that the manufacturer says are 12 percent lower than those for Boeing’s latest 747.

That is a threat to European carriers that specialize in the same long-distance transfer traffic, the chief executive of British Airways, Willie Walsh, said during an interview.

Emirates’ latest order, for 32 A380s worth $11 billion, was announced this month. It will give the airline 70 more superjumbos than any other airline, funneling price-sensitive passengers through its Dubai hub in a challenge to network carriers including Lufthansa, Air France-KLM and Singapore Airlines. Competitors say that the company is benefiting from government ownership and that they cannot compete with its purchasing power.

“It’s a miracle that Emirates already has more intercontinental seats than Air France and British Airways combined,” said Wolfgang Mayrhuber, the chief executive of Lufthansa. “It took us 40 years to get 30 747s in the air in one of the biggest global economies, so one must assume that this is an investment for the world.”

Emirates ranked only 24th among international airlines as recently as 2000, putting it on a par with Sabena, the state-owned Belgian carrier that failed a year later. In the intervening period the Gulf carrier has increased traffic sixfold, overtaking Lufthansa last year to become the biggest carrier for international flights. British Airways, ranked No.1 in 2000, now is fourth.

“We always planned to grow,” Maurice Flanagan, the founding chief of Emirates and current executive vice chairman, said during an interview. “We were just never able to put our finger on how quickly. Now we’re short of capacity all the time.”

Rivals should follow the Emirates example in buying more large planes to reduce expenses per head, he said.

“I can’t understand why other airlines have been so slow to pick up on the A380,” Mr. Flanagan said. “The economics are fantastic.”

Emirates, which reported net income of $964 million for the year ended March 31, has reached the top spot while remaining outside the three main airline groupings, choosing instead to build Dubai into a transfer hub to compete with alliance bases in London, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Paris, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Chris Tarry, an independent analyst who has followed the airline industry for two decades, said the model was largely the result of improved jetliner range and Dubai’s fortuitous location midway between Europe and Asia.

“First, there’s now the technological capability to join any two places on the globe with just one stop,” Mr. Tarry said from London. “Second, Dubai is very well placed to capture those intercontinental traffic flows from North America to Asia and Europe to Asia and Australia and so on.”

Emirates has 14 daily routes from six British airports, including five from Heathrow, the busiest European hub, and three from London Gatwick. Starting in September, one of two daily flights from Manchester in northern England will handle the A380, the plane’s first service to a secondary city.

Weight reductions and improved fuel loads should allow the superjumbo to reach the West Coast of the United States from Dubai by 2014, Mr. Flanagan said. The chief salesman for Airbus, John Leahy, predicted that more airlines would buy the plane to defend market share from Europe to Asia and across the Pacific.

While Mr. Flanagan estimates that 40 percent of traffic from Britain connects to other cities via Dubai, Mr. Walsh, the British Airways chief, says that the Gulf carrier is a bigger threat to Lufthansa and Air France-KLM because of the greater proportion of transfer passengers who travel through Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam.

“It’s definitely going to have an impact on the business,” Mr. Walsh said last week. “It’s challenging a segment of the market that is important for B.A. But there are other European hubs where the reliance on transfers is bigger.”

The British carrier’s Oneworld alliance partner, Cathay Pacific, will aim to counter the expansion of Emirates with “enhanced connectivity” from its own hub in Hong Kong, a spokeswoman said in an e-mail message.

The Emirates model is eroding network carriers’ long-distance traffic in the same way that discount airlines have eaten into short-haul operations.

The effect could be even greater, since much of the success of Ryanair, which has increased revenue eightfold, to €3 billion, or $3.7 billion, in a decade to become the biggest European low-cost airline, came from linking cities with no air service, whereas Emirates is confronting established carriers more directly on some of their most profitable routes.

Basic to the strategy is the use of so-called sixth-freedom treaties that permit flights between two nations by an airline from a third via its home country. The model works best on long-distance routes requiring refueling, on which Emirates does not lose out to competitors by stopping in Dubai, and for passengers who care more about ticket prices than the duration of a journey.

Andrea Rothman reported from Paris.
Bloomberg News

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Berlin Air Show takes off with record 'superjumbo' order

AFP - Wednesday, June 9

The 100th edition of the Berlin Air Show took off with a roar Tuesday as Dubai-based airline Emirates snapped up 32 Airbus A380 superjumbos, hailed as the largest order ever for commercial aircraft.

In the year's first order for the massive A380 plane, Emirates splashed out 11.5 billion dollars, providing a much-needed boost to Airbus and a headline-grabbing start to the Show.

"It's the largest order ever placed for civil aircraft by dollar value based on catalogue prices in aviation history," said a delighted John Leahy, chief commercial officer at Airbus.

Airbus also announced that TAM Airlines of Brazil had ordered 20 A320 planes and five of its new long-haul A350-900 aircraft, with the deal worth around 2.9 billion dollars (2.43 billion euros) at catalogue prices.

And in another boost for Airbus, France, Germany and Spain pledged cash to help the firm develop the A350 XWB wide-bodied aircraft.

Paris would stump up 1.4 billion euros, Berlin 1.0 billion euros and Madrid 350 million euros, representatives of the various governments said at the Show.

Running until June 13, the Berlin Air Show (ILA) was set to attract about 1,150 exhibitors from nearly 50 countries presenting all manner of planes, helicopters, rotors, motors and other technology to around 200,000 visitors.

The ILA this year was opened by Chancellor Angela Merkel who hailed the special role played by the aviation industry in Germany's economy.

"Aviation is, as it has always been, an area of the economy that pushes forward the development of technology in general," she said.

"Therefore, for a business location such as Germany, aviation technology has an influence that goes far beyond its own domain," added the chancellor.

With the annual gathering of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) also taking part in Berlin at the same time, almost all of the high-fliers in the aviation world were to be found in the German capital.

However, while the aircraft suppliers were feting Merkel at the ILA, on the other side of town, their main customers at the IATA meeting were attacking her after she announced Monday a new tax on passengers leaving German airports.

The tax, which Merkel outlined Monday as part of a multi-billion package of belt-tightening measures, is set to run until the carbon-emissions trading scheme that has already been agreed comes into effect for air travel in 2012.

It is expected to bring in about one billion euros annually.

IATA's director general, Giovanni Bisignani, called for the tax to be scrapped immediately, saying it threatened to bring airlines down just when they were starting to see a recovery after several years of massive losses.

"This is the worst kind of short-sighted policy irresponsibility. It's a cash-grab by a cash-strapped government," he told reporters in Berlin.

"If this is related to the environment ... I would like the chancellor to say to us, where is the investment? How many trees is she planting with this one billion?" he said.

"This is not the time to burden the aviation industry with more taxes ... this tax is a body blow to the weak economy and a fragile industry," he added.

IATA had earlier revised up its forecasts for this year, projecting the industry's first profit since 2007.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Thousands flee Ecuador, Guatemala volcanos

GUATEMALA CITY : Thousands of people were evacuated and airports were closed as two volcanos erupted in Guatemala and Ecuador Friday, choking major cities with ash, and leaving two dead, officials said.

Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom declared a 15-day state of emergency around the Pacaya volcano, 50 kilometres (31 miles) south of the capital.

The volcano erupted again Friday after first bursting back to life Wednesday, killing two people, including a television reporter covering the event.

In Ecuador, the Tungurahua volcano exploded into action Friday, forcing the evacuation of at least seven villages and closing down the airport and public schools in Guayaquil, the country's largest and most populated city.

As the 2,552 metres (8,372 feet) Pacaya volcano exploded anew on Friday, with billowing clouds of ash and dust, Colom said La Aurora International Airport, in Guatemala City, would remain closed until Saturday "because we've got to clean the runways and surrounding areas" of ash.

The airport closures were reminiscent of the massive blanket of ash Iceland's Eyjafjoell volcano spewed out last month causing the biggest aerial shutdown in Europe since World War II, affecting more than 100,000 flights and eight million passengers.

President Colom said the eruptions of Pacaya since Wednesday had killed two people, injured 59, left three children missing and destroyed 100 homes.

The Emergency Management Coordinator said between 1,700-1,900 people have been evacuated from their homes to nearby shelters in three departments affected by the emergency decree.

The education ministry also suspended classes in the emergency area.

On Friday, the volcano was rocked by constant explosions and spewed bright-colored plumes into the air.

Guatemala City was covered in a blanket of ash and dust, as people evacuated from the danger zone wandered the streets darkened by the ash cloud and the city's two million inhabitants tried to cope with the catastrophe.

The head of the national seismological institute warned more eruptions could take place "in the coming days" at the most active volcano in Central America.

The Pacaya volcano has been active for 49 years and has experienced six large eruptions.

The head of the national seismological institute Eddy Sanchez said the volcano had accumulated a lot of energy over several years. "Like a pressure cooker, it will release the pressure violently," he told reporters.

He warned that lava would continue to spew out at high altitudes.

The charred body of television journalist Anibal Archila was found near the volcano by a colleague, who said the victim could not escape the raining rocks and other projectiles thrown out when the volcano exploded late Thursday.

"We decided to stay a few minutes longer taking more photographs. Suddenly, we heard rumblings and rocks began falling all around so we had to get out running," a driver for one of the reporters covering the scene with Archila told the Nuestro Diario newspaper.

The second eruption-related fatality was that of a 22-year-old man who fell to his death as he cleaned volcano ash from the roof of a school.

Colom vowed government action to clean up the gray mess.

"The people must feel confident that the state is responding," the president said as he announced he would travel to the most affected municipalities to work with emergency committees.

Within a 100-kilometre (62-mile) radius of the volcano, locals armed with brooms and shovels scrambled to remove sand and ash from the roofs and courtyards of their homes.

"We've only cleaned the backyard so far and we've already filled a large garbage bag," Isabel Estevez told AFP. She and her husband began cleaning the sediment dumped by the volcano, up to five centimetres (two inches) thick in some places.

In Ecuador, meanwhile, the Tungurahua volcano experienced one of its biggest eruptions Friday, spewing columns of ash and rock prompting evacuations of at least seven surrounding villages.

"Certain measures have been taken, including the closure of Guayaquil airport until further notice and the suspension of classes in Guayas province, as we make a new assessment" of the situation, said Yuri De Janon, regional coordinator of risk management.

He said the ash fallout from the volcano was affecting Guayaquil and four other towns in Guayas.

Hugo Yepes, director of Ecuador's Geophysical Institute, noted that the volcano was at one point spewing molten rocks and large clouds of ash and gas 10 kilometres (33,000 feet) into the sky. But he said the volcanic activity had since decreased. - AFP/jy

Friday, May 28, 2010

Guatemala volcano forces airport closure, kills one

GUATEMALA CITY : Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom has declared a state of emergency after a powerful eruption at the southern Pacaya volcano killed one person and forced the international airport to close.

Ash blanketed the region as rocks and lava spewed from the volcano 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of the capital, as Colom late Thursday issued the emergency decree lasting at least 15 days for the three departments nearest the eruption, which began Wednesday night and has since built in intensity.

The La Aurora International Airport was closed to ensure planes were not flying through the volcano's hazardous ash cloud or landing on the ash-strewn runway, said spokeswoman Monica Monge. Incoming flights were being diverted to airports in other parts of the country, she told reporters.

Some 1,600 people were evacuated from the slopes of the volcano, which rises 2,552 meters (8,372 feet) above sea level in the tropical Central American nation.

The burnt body of Guatemalan television journalist Anibal Archila was found near the volcano by a colleague, who said the reporter had been unable to escape the raining rocks and other projectiles thrown out in the eruption.

Three children aged seven, nine and 10 are also missing in the area, officials said.

There are 288 volcanoes in Guatemala, eight of which are active.

- AFP /ls

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Confessions of a frequent-flier program skeptic

Christopher Elliott, Tribune Media Services
May 18, 2010 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)

(Tribune Media Services) -- Call me a frequent-flier program skeptic.

I take a dim view of any scheme that promises you the world in exchange for all your business. Not that I don't like sitting in first class, staying in a suite or being treated like a movie star. I mean, who doesn't?

Having covered the travel industry for most of my career, I just don't believe in "win-win" propositions. I think there's a steep and often hidden price to be paid when you collect miles. The game can easily turn into an obsession that disables your common sense, compelling you to make completely irrational purchasing decisions.

Fact is, offers of "free" products, perks and preferred status in exchange for racking up points through travel or credit card purchases aren't for everyone. They probably aren't for you.

I won't suggest that loyalty programs are morally wrong and that they divide travelers into haves (the ones who get to board anytime on the red carpet) and have-nots (the unlucky schlubs wedged into the middle seats), even though I could probably write an entire column on that topic.

When I say I don't believe in "win-wins" I'm not even referring to the recent precipitous devaluations in mileage programs. For example, at the beginning of this year, Hilton "updated" its award levels for free stays, increasing the number of points you need. An exasperated reader in Philadelphia sent me the notice with the following advice for his fellow frequent guests: "Use your points -- now!"

Nor am I talking about the onerous "co-pays" that some airlines recently added for mileage redemption, like the one Perry Bird had to shell out when he recently tried to book an upgrade on a flight from Dulles International Airport to St. Martin. It used to cost 60,000 miles for a bump to business class on United Airlines. "Now, United wants my 60,000 miles and an additional $1,400 for the same upgrade," he told me. "Puhleese!"

I don't even have a problem with the maddening terms and conditions that stipulate that the points and miles don't belong to you and that companies reserve the right to change the rules anytime without notice. I'm not making this up. Here's an excerpt from American Airlines' terms and conditions: "Accrued mileage credit and award tickets do not constitute property of the member. . . . American Airlines may, in its discretion, change the AAdvantage program rules, regulations, travel awards and special offers at any time with or without notice."

No, in my view, the winners obviously are the travel companies that have seduced their best customers with creature comforts that they probably ought to be giving everyone, and the losers are the elite-level lemmings, who have become blindly brand-loyal.

Don't bother sending me hate mail. When word got around that I -- a loyalty-program atheist -- was working on a story about the value of reward programs, it didn't take long for the true believers to offer me a piece of their mind.

"Of course they're worth it," snapped Charles Owen, a college professor in East Lansing, Michigan. "You look at the costs and the benefits. The only cost associated with collecting miles is our decision to have a SkyMiles American Express with the associated fee. Other than that, they just accumulate, and every now and then we use them."

And use them he has, to visit Europe and the Caribbean. Owen said he takes two "free" flights a year, thanks to a credit card that allows him to collect miles, which is also known as an affinity card. Apart from the annual fee on a card, these programs appear to have no downside. Sure, there are blackout dates and restrictions, and award seats aren't always available. But it's a free ticket, right?

Not right. There's more to loyalty programs than meets the eye, according to consumer advocate Jo Anne Shumard. "Cards that offer perks to consumers often do so at a premium interest rate," she warned. "I even have one for airline miles, but it's almost three times the interest rate of my lowest credit card interest rate."

Who should participate in a loyalty program?

If you're a managed frequent business traveler, you have my blessing. By "managed" I mean that your company works with preferred vendors, and you fly, drive and stay with a set of companies whether you want to or not.

Your loyalty isn't for sale. Your points are just a byproduct of your business trips, and you're far less likely to participate in irrational point-collecting or making silly mileage runs at the end of the year to qualify for coveted elite status, which entitles you to extra-special treatment when you're on the road.

For instance, "Chairman's Preferred"-level frequent fliers on US Airways get priority check-in, security lanes and early boarding, unlimited free upgrades in the United States, up to three free checked bags and complimentary airport club membership. Alas, to reach that level, you have to fly 100,000 miles within a calendar year (other terms also apply).

Christina Pappas, a Boston-based marketing consultant and frequent traveler, thinks it's important that you control the miles, not the other way around. "All things being equal, I'll try to remain loyal when possible," she told me. "But there are times when it doesn't make sense for me to make two connections just to get my points."

If you're an unmanaged frequent business traveler, and you want to collect points, you're playing a dangerous game. Falling in with the wrong crowd on FlyerTalk, a popular hangout for frequent travelers, isn't the biggest risk to you. It is, instead, making purchasing decisions that are in the interests of your program, but not you.

Bernard Pollack, a frequent traveler and loyalty program member who lives in Dakar, Senegal, and is an elite-level frequent traveler with US Airways, United, Hilton and Starwood, thinks that programs warp your perspective, often enticing you to spend more on travel or ignore better prices with a competitor.

"I don't believe people should choose, and certainly not pay more for, certain airlines, hotels and cars because of the loyalty programs," he said.

What if you're traveling for pleasure? If your trips are infrequent, you should stay on the sidelines, says Allison Danziger, director of TripAdvisor Flights. "One specific case is where a traveler would fly less often than the frequent flier mile expiration window for their program," she added.

"Frequent flier miles on most carriers expire after one to three years of inactivity." In other words, your miles would expire before you could use them, obviously negating any benefit.

If you're a frequent leisure traveler, then sure, go for it, but with the same caveat I offered the unmanaged business travelers: Don't get addicted and don't let it control you.

Look, I could spend a couple of paragraphs talking up loyalty programs in an effort to convince you that I can be balanced on this subject. And while it's true that these schemes aren't without benefit, I figure that they have enough apologists already. Besides, that's not my department; I handle the complaints.

Speaking of complaints, here's a cautionary tale for anyone thinking of offering their loyalty to a travel company. It comes to us by way of Robin Forman, a retired librarian in Miami and a frequent leisure traveler.

She used some of the American Airlines miles that she'd collected by flying and making purchases with a Citibank MasterCard to upgrade on a flight from Brussels to Chicago. But when the flight was canceled after the recent volcanic eruption, the carrier pocketed a $350 "service charge" for using the miles.

Forman asked for a refund. "Service charges are necessary to help offset the costs associated with these transactions," an airline representative told her in an e-mail rejecting her request. "I'm sorry my response couldn't be more positive."

Yeah, me too.

Mileage addicts may argue that people like Forman should double down and focus their loyalty on a single company. After all, top-tier elites don't have to pay a lot of the fees that garden-variety frequent travelers do. But I see her story as a reason to reconsider loyalty programs entirely. Not to pick on American Airlines -- a lot of the legacy airlines have these annoying fees for ticket awards -- but if this is loyalty, what's the point?

And that's the thing: The harder you look at so-called "rewards" programs in travel, the harder it is to believe in them. They successfully entice travelers to drive, fly and stay with a particular company, giving them a level of service the companies should offer every customer.

But more often than not, the loyalty goes only one way.

(Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. You can read more travel tips on his blog, or e-mail him at

Saturday, May 22, 2010

British Airways reports record annual loss of 531m

LONDON (AFP) - – British Airways on Friday posted a record annual pre-tax loss of 531 million pounds (609 million euros, 765 million dollars) on slumping sales but forecast it would break even this year.

BA, which faces a cabin crew strike next week, said its net loss widened to 425 million pounds in the 12 months to March from 358 million pounds in the previous year. Revenues tumbled 11.1 percent to 7.99 billion pounds.

"This is our second consecutive year of record losses but we take heart from the fact that, while our revenue has fallen by one billion pounds, so have our costs," Chairman Martin Broughton said in a statement.

Market expectations had been for a larger pre-tax loss of 600 million pounds after the group had a smaller shortfall of 401 million pounds in the previous 2008/2009 financial year.

The airline, which is slashing costs and merging with Spanish rival Iberia in a bid to return to profitability, has been hammered by the global economic downturn which has hurt demand for air travel.

Other airlines have also suffered badly, with peer Air France-KLM earlier this week announced record losses of 1.55 billion euros in its year to March.

BA said Friday that it cut almost 3,800 jobs, or about 9.4 percent of its total workforce, during the 2009/2010 financial year. Since September 2008, it has axed more than 6,000 positions in total.

British Airways said it was aiming to break even in the current 2010/2011 financial year.

"Market conditions are showing improvement from the depressed levels in 2009/10," the company said.

"Cargo is showing significant signs of improvement. Passenger revenue is recovering, with increased corporate activity, particularly across the Atlantic.

"On the basis of these market improvements, we are targeting revenue growth of some six percent and breakeven at the profit before tax level."

BA cabin crew plan to go ahead with a five-day strike next week after a court upheld their right to stage the action on Thursday, according to officials at the Unite trade union.

The strike is set to begin Monday. Two further five-day strikes, starting on May 30 and June 5, will also go ahead if the dispute is not settled.

Unite won an appeal on Thursday against a court injunction which had blocked a planned stoppage in the long-running row over pay and conditions.

Group chief executive Willie Walsh lashed out at Unite.

"Returning the business to profitability requires permanent change across the company and it's disappointing that our cabin crew union fails to recognise that," he said in the results statement.

"Structural change has been achieved in many parts of the business and our engineers and pilots have voted for permanent change."

But joint Unite leader Derek Simpson fought back, telling BBC radio on Friday that there was a "total lack of confidence" in BA management.

Cabin crew staged walkouts in March which were marked by sharp disagreements between the union and BA over the impact of the industrial action.

Walsh added Friday that the Iberia merger was on track to complete in late 2010 and would lead to annual cost savings of 400 million euros after five years.

The combined company will be known as International Airlines Group, with both BA and Iberia retaining their separate operations and brands.

The results did not show the impact of the volcano ash chaos which occurred after the end of BA's financial year.

BA said earlier this month that passenger numbers fell by almost one quarter in April as a result of travel chaos sparked by a huge ash cloud from an Icelandic volcano.

"The current financial year could hardly have had a worse start with the unprecedented closures of UK airspace following the eruption of the volcano in Iceland," Walsh said.

"This added to the aviation industry's current financial woes while highlighting its crucial contribution to the economy.

"We are pleased that the European Commission has agreed that national governments can compensate airlines for the losses incurred."

Airspace across Europe was closed for up to a week last month after Iceland's Eyjafjoell volcano began spewing a cloud of ash on April 14. The shutdown was the biggest in Europe since World War II.

Friday, May 21, 2010

At least 160 dead in India plane crash

Reuters - 52 minutes ago

NEW DELHI - An Air India Express passenger plane from Dubai overshot a runway and crashed outside an airport in southern India on Saturday, killing at least 160 people in one of the worst air accidents in India in years.

The accident occurred near Mangalore airport in Karnataka state. There may have been five or six survivors, local media said.

Air India said the plane was a Boeing 737-800, with 166 people on board, including six crew members. Earlier estimates of the number of people on the plane had varied slightly.

Air India Express is a budget airline ran by state-run carrier

"At least 160 passengers have died in the crash," V.S. Acharya, home minister of the southern state of Karnataka, told reporters. "At least five to six people have been taken to hospital, their condition is not known."

Television channels said the plane crashed around 6.30 a.m. . TV images showed it struck a forested area. Flames were seen blazing from of some of the wreckage as rescue workers fought to bring the fire under control.

One television channel showed a fireman carrying in his arms what seemed to be the mangled remains of a child.

"The aircraft has broken up into pieces and fire has engulfed the aircraft. There is lot of smoke," said Gopal Hosur, a senior police officer in Mangalore.

"The plane apparently overshot the runway and has crashed. We have news that the plane caught fire after crashing," said Rohit Katiyar, a top airport security official.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Boy survivor of Libya air crash 'stable but confused'

AFP - Friday, May 14

TRIPOLI (AFP) - – A Dutch boy who miraculously survived a Libyan plane crash that killed 103 people including his parents is confused but stable, a doctor said Thursday, as relatives arrived in Tripoli to comfort him.

The boy, identified only as "Ruben" by the Dutch foreign ministry but more fully named by the Dutch media as nine-year-old Ruben van Assouw, has come round after surgery to his smashed legs, the doctor treating him in a Tripoli hospital said.

"He woke up (late Wednesday night) and is in good condition," the doctor said, while stressing that the boy, the sole survivor of Wednesday's disaster, was confused and "still is not reacting well to his surroundings."

"The child underwent several rounds of surgery to his legs. He had simple fractures and double fractures," the doctor said on Libyan state television, which also showed pictures of Ruben's legs in casts.

A Dutch foreign ministry spokesman said an uncle and an aunt arrived in Tripoli Thursday on a Netherlands government plane and were taken to the hospital "to make sure that Ruben will see family faces next to his bed." Facts:Deadly plane accidents in the past five years

According to the Dutch NOS public broadcaster, the boy recognised his family and smiled when they entered his hospital room.

Ruben would be flown back home "as soon as his medical condition allows," the spokesman said.

Ministry spokesman Christoph Prommersberger told AFP that Ruben was doing "reasonably well."

"A colleague from the embassy (in Tripoli) was able to speak with him. He told her he was Ruben, nine years old, from the city of Tilburg," Prommersberger said. "He is not in a critical condition."

Dutch newspaper Babants Dagblad said the boy was likely Ruben van Assouw from Tilburg in the southern Netherlands who had been on safari in South Africa with his mother Trudy, 41, father Patrick, 40, and his brother Enzo, 11.

Also on board the Dutch government plane to Tripoli were forensic experts, consular staff and transport ministry staff, the foreign ministry said.

Libya's Transport Minister Mohammed Ali Zidan said a total of 103 people -- 92 passengers of nine nationalities and an 11-strong Libyan crew -- died when an Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A330 coming from Johannesburg disintegrated on landing at Tripoli airport.

The Dutch ministry said on Thursday that 70 Dutch nationals were among the dead, while a diplomat said family members from the Netherlands have been flown in to Libya courtesy of Afriqiyah to identify the bodies and prepare their repatriation.

The ministry added in a statement that "the family of the nine-year-old Ruben, the sole survivor of the disaster", were among those who perished.

Johannesburg private Talk Radio 702 reported on Thursday that at least 10 South Africans died in the crash.

Libya's transport minister said the rest of the dead included two Germans as well as passengers from Britain, France, Finland, the Philippines and Zimbabwe, although he could not give a breakdown of their numbers.

With the plane's black boxes recovered, investigators from manufacturers Airbus and France where the plane was built have also flown to join the inquiry led by Libya, which has ruled out terrorism as the cause of Wednesday's crash.

Witnesses spoke of the aircraft inexplicably breaking up as it came in to land in clear weather.

"It is too soon to know the causes of the accident," Sabri Shadi, the chairman of the board of Afriqiyah Airways, said about the probe into the crash.

"Several committees have been set up to investigate and we need some time before we can draw any conclusions," he said.

"A preliminary report should be published in the next few days but definitive results will not be know for several days, even weeks," the chairman added.

Shadi said that after a first meeting which grouped the team that US investigators were to join the probe on Friday. The crash scene, meanwhile, has been placed under police guard.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Boy survives as 103 killed in Libya plane crash

AFP - 1 hour 47 minutes ago

TRIPOLI (AFP) - – A Libyan plane arriving from South Africa disintegrated on landing at Tripoli airport Wednesday, killing 103 people but leaving an eight-year-old boy as the sole miracle survivor, officials said.

Sixty-one Dutch citizens were killed in the crash, the Dutch tourism federation ANWB said, while Libyan Transport Minister Mohammed Ali Zidan listed "Libyans, Africans and Europeans" as among the dead.

Zidan told a media conference that an inquiry was under way to determine what caused the Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A330 to break up massively as it was landing, but he ruled out terrorism.

Libyan television showed teams of emergency workers wearing face masks sifting through the wreckage of the plane, which was scattered in a wide arc across the landing area.

"There were 104 people on board -- 93 passengers and 11 crew members," Zidan said, adding that the remains of 96 victims had already been recovered.

There was only one survivor, an eight-year-old Dutch boy who was being treated in hospital, he said.

The Dutch foreign ministry said the boy was undergoing surgery at a Tripoli hospital for broken bones.

"He is being operated on for fractures from the crash," ministry spokeswoman Ozlem Canel told AFP in The Hague.

"We don't know how serious his injuries are. We know he is being operated on for fractures," she said.

Canel said the government could not confirm that the boy was, indeed, Dutch.

"We don't know for absolutely sure that he is a Dutch citizen," she said. "Hopefully when the operation is over and we are able to see the boy, then we will be able to confirm that he is a Dutch citizen."

Last June, a 12-year-old girl was the sole survivor of a Yemeni plane crash off the Comoros.

Witnesses spoke of the Afriqiyah Airways plane inexplicably breaking up as it came down to land in clear weather at around 6:00 am (0400 GMT).

"It exploded on landing and totally disintegrated," one security official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. Another official said the plane had burst into flames just before landing.

Bongani Sithole, an official of Afriqiyah Airways at Johannesburg airport, said the crash happened "one metre (yard) away from the runway."

Minister Zidan said no terrorism was involved.

"We have definitely ruled out the theory that the crash was the result of an act of terrorism," he said, adding that the two black boxes of the aircraft had been recovered.

The plane was new and had only been acquired by the airline in September.

Afriqiyah Airways listed 93 passengers and 11 crew members on board its flight 8U771 from Johannesburg, which was reportedly due to fly on from Tripoli to London's Gatwick airport.

"Sixty-one Dutch people were killed in the accident," ANWB spokesman Ad Vonk told AFP.

The passengers had been in two separate organised tour groups on their way to Brussels and Dusseldorf, with a stop-over in Tripoli, he added.

A South African aviation official said most of the passengers on the plane were making connections to Europe.

Seven passengers were booked to connect to Gatwick in London, 32 to Brussels, 42 to Dusseldorf in Germany, and one to Charles de Gaulle in Paris, said Nicky Knapp, spokeswoman for Airports Company South Africa.

Britain said it was "urgently" investigating reports that Britons were on board the plane.

Afriqiyah Airways said in a statement on its website that it will offer transportation, assistance and accommodation to relatives of victims of the crash wishing to get to Tripoli.

Wednesday's crash was the deadliest air accident in Libya since December 22, 1992 when a Libyan Arab Airlines plane crashed near Tripoli airport killing 157 people. Related article: Recent deadly plane accidents.

Twenty-two people were killed in an oil company plane crash in January 2000.

In other major accidents, 79 people were killed when a Korean Air crashed in Tripoli in July 1989. And 59 people died in a Balkan Bulgarian Airlines crash near Benghazi in December 1977.

Afriqiyah started operations with five leased planes and signed a contract with Airbus at an exhibition in Paris in 2007 for the purchase of 11 new planes.

It was founded in April 2001 and at first fully owned by the Libyan state. The companys capital was later divided into shares to be managed by the Libya-Africa Investment Portfolio.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

United, Continental forge world's biggest airline

AFP - Tuesday, May 4

WASHINGTON (AFP) - – United and Continental sealed a three-billion-dollar merger to become the world's biggest airline, in a deal forged to help them navigate strong economic headwinds.

The deal would fuse United's strong Asian presence with Continental's extensive links to Europe and Latin America, a tectonic shift in an industry battling to survive recession.

Airlines around the world are struggling with fallout from the worst recession in a generation, terrorism and costs brought on by an Icelandic volcano which forced the suspension of thousands of flights.

The new airline will fly under the United Airlines name and will hold around seven percent of global airline capacity. It has a market value of around 6.75 billion dollars.

Jeff Smisek, the Continental chief executive who moves to the same position in the new company, said the merger would create "a stronger, more efficient airline, both operationally and financially, better positioned to succeed in a highly competitive global aviation industry."

The companies said they hoped to generate annual savings and new revenues of up to 1.2 billion dollars by 2013.

The deal needs approval from shareholders of the two carriers and US anti-trust authorities, who turned down a United-US Airways deal in 2001.

But Smisek told reporters: "We are confident. There are no material anti-trust concerns. We are increasing competition, we are not reducing competition, with more consumer choice, better consumer choice."

The economic crisis and the rise of low-cost carriers has driven airline alliances and steep cost cutting.

The deal is the latest step to consolidate the US airline sector after Delta's 2008 takeover of Northwest.

British Airways is tying up with with Spanish carrier Iberia to avoid being sidelined by European rivals Air France-KLM and Lufthansa.

United and Continental both had a turnover of more than three billion dollars in 2009 but both reported losses.

"Together, we will have the financial strength necessary to make critical investments to continue to improve our products and services and to achieve and sustain profitability," Smisek argued.

Glenn Tilton, president and chief executive of United parent UAL Corporation, will serve as non-executive chairman of the new United Continental Holdings Inc board until the end of 2012.

He called the deal "a merger of equals to create a world-class and truly global airline with an unparalleled network."

A statement announcing the merger said the boards of both airlines had unanimously approved the deal.

Under the accord, Continental shareholders will receive 1.05 shares of United stock for each Continental share. United shareholders would own approximately 55 percent of the equity in the new company and Continental shareholders 45 percent.

The companies said they expected to complete the transaction by the end of 2010.

The merged giant will maintain United's base in Chicago as its headquarters, while Continental's home city of Houston, Texas will be the number one air hub, the statement said.

Texas Governor Rick Perry clearly thought the headquarters should have been in Houston.

"While we disagree with the decision to locate the headquarters in Chicago, we are encouraged by the company's commitment to Texas and its stated intent to create more jobs for Texans in the future," he said in a statement.

No announcement of job cuts was made, although pilots' unions for both carriers demanded job security and pension guarantees.

United pilots said they would take a "wait-and-see" approach, but believe the format is in place for such a combination to work.

The companies said the new airline will serve more than 144 million passengers per year with 370 destinations in 59 countries.

The combined company promised to offer enhanced service to Asia, Europe, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East from its 10 US hubs.

They said there were no international route overlaps and only "minimal" domestic copying.

US Airways broke off merger talks with United last month, but said it expected consolidation of the fragmented airline sector in the near future.

"It remains our belief that consolidation makes sense in an industry as fragmented as ours," said US Airways chairman Doug Parker.

Few market watchers expected mergers to end with the one announced Monday, and rumors are swirling about a possible American Airlines tie-up with US Airways.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

SIA reinstates full European flight schedule

Channel NewsAsia - 39 minutes ago

SINGAPORE : Singapore Airlines (SIA) has reinstated its full European flight schedule.

The airline said in a statement that customers who had booked on scheduled flights to and from Europe will now be able to travel as planned.

"At this point, we are able to resume operations as scheduled, as all airspace at destinations to which we operate has opened. We are also looking into the possibility of mounting additional flights, and using aircraft with larger capacity on certain routes, where possible," it said.

It added that customers who had their previous flights cancelled will be re—booked on departing flights, subject to availability.

Priority will be given to special needs or elderly customers, and those with infants or young children. Following that, customers who have the earliest original departure dates will be assigned seats on the flights.

It advised customers to proceed to airports only if they have confirmed tickets.

SIA said any changes or updates will be provided through its website.

Airlines lost '$1.7 bln' from ash chaos


BERLIN (AFP) - – The grounding of European flights from volcanic ash cost airlines 1.7 billion dollars in lost sales alone, the head of their main industry body said Wednesday, calling for "urgent" government help.

"For an industry that lost 9.4 billion dollars (7.0 billion euros) last year and was forecast to lose a further 2.8 billion dollars in 2010, this crisis is devastating," Giovanni Bisignani, chief of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), said in Berlin.

At its height, "the crisis impacted 29 percent of global aviation and affected 1.2 million passengers a day. The scale of the crisis eclipsed 9/11 when US airspace was closed for three days," he added.

For a three-day period from April 17-19, when disruptions were greatest, lost revenues reached 400 million dollars per day, he said, calling an earlier IATA estimate of 200 million dollars per day "conservative."

In addition to the loss in revenues, and despite paying less for fuel, carriers had to pay for accommodation for stranded customers as well as food and alternative modes of transport to get them home, he said.

"We've seen a week without revenue but that has not stopped the costs," Bisignani, whose organisation represents some 230 airlines worldwide, said.

Bisignani urged governments to look at ways to compensate airlines for the "extraordinary" crisis, something he said was exacerbated by "a poor decision-making process by national governments."

In the aftermath of the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, the US government provided five billion dollars to compensate airlines for the costs of grounding the fleet for three days, he said.

"I am the first one to say that this industry does not want or need bailouts. But this crisis is not the result of running our business badly," he said.

"The airlines could not do business normally. Governments should help carriers recover the cost of this disruption."

He also called for "urgent" government measures like relaxing airport slot rules, lifting night flight restrictions and addressing "unfair" regulations whereby airlines have to pay for stranded travellers' hotels and meals.

"This crisis is an act of God, completely beyond the control of airlines. Insurers certainly see it this way," he said. "It is urgent that the European Commission finds a way to ease this unfair burden."

He also called for Europe to develop more quickly a unified policy on regulating its airspace.

"The chaos and economic losses of the last week are a clarion call to Europes political leaders that a Single European Sky is critical and urgent," Bisignani said.

Europe's airspace reopened for business on Wednesday after all its major airports resumed operations, with three-quarters of flights scheduled in Europe expected to take place.

Monday, April 19, 2010

European flights resume, new cloud on horizon

Reuters - 2 hours 29 minutees ago
By Greg Roumeliotis

AMSTERDAM - Flights from large parts of Europe are set to resume on Tuesday under a deal agreed by the European Union to free up airspace closed by a cloud of ash hurled into the sky by an Icelandic volcano.

However, with the cloud still spreading and only sketchy details of how the authorities would split European airspace into areas where aircraft could fly or not, other countries are adopting a more cautious approach.

"From tomorrow morning we should see more planes flying," EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas told reporters on Monday after EU transport ministers held a video conference.

The deal brought relief to some of the millions of passengers whose travel plans have been disrupted worldwide since Thursday, and offered hope to frustrated airlines worldwide losing $250 million a day from the shutdown and seeing their shares tumble.

"I'm so happy," said one man with tears in his eyes as he ran for his flight from Schiphol Airport on Monday night, one of three bound for New York, Shanghai and Dubai from Amsterdam with almost 800 passengers on board.

Dutch Transport Minister Camiel Eurlings promised weary travellers that the Netherlands was "taking a lead" in getting Europe moving, but said its airspace could be closed again if ash levels rose.

But neighbouring Germany will mostly maintain its no-fly zone until 1200 GMT, and in Britain, where some northern airports excluding London's international hubs will reopen from 0600 GMT, National Air Traffic Services warned ominously:

"The volcano eruption in Iceland has strengthened and a new ash cloud is spreading south and east towards the UK."

The cloud brushed up against Canada's eastern seaboard on Monday, but Environment Canada said it was diffuse, moving slowly and should not affect Canadian airports.


The EU deal was reached under pressure from the airline industry, which says it is losing $250 million in revenue a day. The global freight supply chain is also beginning to sag.

Under the agreement, which Kallas said would go into force from 0600 GMT, the area immediately around the volcano will remain closed.

But flights may be permitted in a wider zone with a lower concentration of ash, subject to local safety assessments and scientific advice, the European aviation control agency Eurocontrol said in a statement.

Airlines had declared numerous test flights problem-free over the past days, but experts have disagreed over how to measure the ash and who should decide it is safe to fly. A British Airways jet lost power in all four engines after flying through an ash cloud above the Indian Ocean in 1982.

France said it was reopening some airports to create air corridors to Paris. Italian airspace will open from 0600 GMT.

Eurocontrol said it expected up to 9,000 flights to have operated in Europe on Monday, just a third of normal volume.

"The scale of the economic impact head Giovanni Bisignani said.

"We must move away from this blanket closure and find ways to flexibly open air space, step by step."

Worldwide, industry losses for passenger airlines and cargo companies could reach as much as $3 billion from the cloud, Helane Becker, an analyst with Jesup & Lamont Securities, told Reuters Insider on Monday. For U.S. airlines, she estimated the impact at $400 million to $600 million.


Firms dependent on fast air freight were feeling the strain.

Kenya's flower exporters said they were already losing up to $2 million a day. Kenya accounts for about a third of flower imports into the European Union.

"Everything pushed back down the pipeline," said Greg Knowler, editor of Cargonews Asia in Hong Kong. "The freight forwarders are actually sending stuff back to the factories ... One German forwarder that's based here reckons they have 4,000 tonnes of backlog in Hong Kong."

Millions of people have had travel disrupted or been stranded and forced to make long, expensive attempts to reach home by road, rail and sea, as well as missing days at work and school at the end of the busy Easter holiday season.

British businessman Chris Thomas had been trying to get home from Los Angeles since Thursday, when the air shutdown began.

He first flew to Mexico City. From there, he aimed to fly to Madrid and spend $2,000 to rent a car for the 14-hour drive to Paris. He was booked on the Eurostar Channel tunnel train to London, and then planned to drive four hours to Wales.

"It's all a bit crazy but you have to err on the side of caution," Thomas said. "Nobody wants to be on the first plane to go down in a volcanic cloud."

In sport, soccer's European Cup holders Barcelona set off on a two-day road trip of nearly 1,000 km on Sunday to play Inter Milan in a Champions League semi-final on Tuesday.

Businesses have had to find alternative ways of operating. Communications provider Cisco Systems said companies were turning to videoconferencing to connect executives.

"We have seen a huge spike in usage," said Fredrik Halvorsen, head of Cisco's TelePresence Technology Group.

Britain is deploying three navy ships including an aircraft carrier to bring its citizens home from continental Europe. The British travel agents' association ABTA estimated 150,000 Britons were stranded abroad. Washington said it was trying to help 40,000 Americans stuck in Britain.

About 25,000 travellers are stranded in the Philippines. "Lucky for me, I have my laptop and I could still do some work," David Hampson, a humanitarian worker from Manchester, England, told reporters at Manila's international airport.

Volcano cloud pushes European airlines to the brink: analysts

AFP - Monday, April 19

PARIS (AFP) - – The volcanic ash hanging over Europe has mushroomed into a dark 1.5 billion dollar cloud with no hope of a silver lining, analysts warned.

Airlines and other travel industry sectors already face a huge bill from the four-day closure of European airspace and there will be growing pressure for the European Union to give financial aid, analysts said.

And the longer the disruption goes on the bigger the threat to the European economies struggling to come out of recession, they added.

European carriers such as KLM, Lufthansa and Air Berlin are stepping up pressure to get passenger carrying jets back in the air. They have questioned experts who state the mineral dust blown over Europe from an Icelandic volcano is a threat to jet engines.

While the European Union is investigating the extent of losses, Brussels Airlines has already called for government help to survive. Many of their counterparts are also in a desperate state.

"After the banks, we will now be expected to help the airlines," one European Union official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Crisis advisory company Lewis PR estimated that the shutdown has so far cost the European travel industry more than 1.0 billion pounds (1.2 billion euros/1.5 billion dollars) in cancelled flights, lost hotel rooms and empty cruise liners.

It has warned the disruption could go on for another two weeks.

Paul Charles at Lewis PR said: "Airlines alone are facing a massive bill from lost revenues and the enormous costs of reaccommodating and repatriating stranded passengers.

"Travel and transport firms have faced a double-whammy of disruption this year, with snow-related cancellations and now the ash cloud crisis, and several firms are at breaking point."

The International Air Transport Association has said the travel mayhem was costing airlines more than 200 million dollars (230 million euros) a day at a "conservative and initial" estimate.

John Strickland, aviation analyst at the JLS consultancy, said the final losses are "an unknown quantity".

"A lot of people were being quite dismissive, but we are now running to three, four, five days' worth of disruption," he said, highlighting the "enormous losses" the airline industry is already struggling with.

"Airlines have got the closed sign up and are hemorrhaging revenue every day. It started having a major impact for UK carriers but now it's become pretty well a Europe-wide phenomenon."

Accountancy firm Deloitte said "the big concern" will be if the volcano keeps sending the sulpherous cloud toward Europe for a prolonged time.

"Following one of the worst years for financial performance the aviation industry has ever seen, a prolonged period of losses for an industry that is already in a difficult financial position could have serious repercussions."

Charles at Lewis PR said there would be a fallout for the wider economy.

"The wider implications will add further costs to the economy, in terms of staff not being able to get back to work because they are stranded and cargo, such as fresh food and vital medicine supplies, not being delivered," he said.

Howard Archer, chief European economist at IHS Global Insight consultancy, said the impact on the economy would be limited as long as the chaos is quickly controlled.

"Obviously though the longer that the problem does persist, the more serious will be the economic repercussions.

He said the pharmaceutical industry may be "hit significantly" as many of its products are moved by air to be meet tight delivery schedules. "Individual companies could also be affected if they need spare parts or inputs brought in quickly from overseas."

EU transport ministers are to hold a teleconference on Monday on the crisis, with talk inevitably turning to aid for the stricken airlines.

Spanish Finance Minister Elena Salgado said that so far no country has proposed giving aid.

But European Commission official Francisco Fonseca said that aid is possible. "In exceptional circumstances, the commission will study the situation, in its own time," he said.