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.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Passenger plane skids off runway in Indonesia


MANOKWARI, Indonesia (AFP) - – A routine domestic flight almost ended in disaster Tuesday when a jet carrying more than 100 passengers broke apart on landing in Indonesia, injuring about 20 people, officials said.

The Merpati airline Boeing 737 bounced off the tarmac at Rendani domestic airport in Manokwari, West Papua, hurtled into trees and skidded into a shallow river, director general of civil aviation Herry Bhakti Singayuda told AFP.

"All the passengers were in a total panic, some even screamed and cried," said passenger Zainal Hayat, 52, who crawled out of a crack in the fuselage and was being treated at hospital with facial injuries.

"We flew safely and the plane touched down smoothly on the runway but it just didn't stop. It skidded very fast and I felt it hit something twice before it stopped and tumbled down."

"I got out through a crack in the plane near my seat."

Singayuda said the plane came to a halt with its tail section in the river about 200 metres (220 yards) from the end of the landing strip.

"All 103 passengers and six crew members are safe. Some are injured. They have been rushed to hospital," he said.

Heavy rain and fog were suspected of playing a part in the crash, he added, although expert investigators had yet to arrive at the scene.

Manokwari Hospital emergency unit nurse Benget Hutagalung said "about 20" people had been brought in with shattered limbs and head injuries.

Witnesses said the left wing broke off as the plane smashed into the trees at the end of the runway. The cockpit was also almost completely separated from the rest of the fuselage.

The plane was flying a routine domestic route from Sorong, also in West Papua province, to Manokwari, a distance of about 340 kilometres (210 miles).

Transport ministry experts from the capital Jakarta were on their way to the rugged province in the far east of the country to investigate the crash, an official said.

The state-run Antara news agency reported that the plane was believed to have experienced engine trouble, but this was not confirmed.

Merpati corporate secretary Sukandi suggested that rain played a part in the crash and ruled out pilot error.

"It was raining when the plane landed. The pilots followed all the safety procedures regarding landing in wet conditions," he said.

The vast archipelago of Indonesia relies heavily on air transport but has one of Asia's worst air safety records.

The European Union banned all Indonesia-registered aircraft from flying over its airspace in June 2007, acting on a report from the International Civil Aviation Organization which criticised the country's safety standards.

Four airlines including national carrier Garuda Indonesia were taken off the list in July last year due to safety improvements, but Merpati, which flies only domestic routes, remains banned.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Polish president, top officials killed in plane crash

Reuters - 1 hour 51 minutes ago
By Lidia Kelly

SMOLENSK, Russia - Poland's President Lech Kaczynski, its central bank head and the country's military chief were among 97 people killed when their plane crashed in thick fog on its approach to a Russian airport on Saturday.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk described the crash as "the most tragic event of the country's post-war history." Ashen-faced and wearing a black suit and tie, Tusk told a news conference he would fly to the crash site.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin talked to Tusk by telephone and has also gone to the scene of the crash, a spokesman said.

The death of Kaczynski, who with his twin brother was a dominant force in Polish politics, brings political uncertainty. A presidential election had been due in October but now must be held within two months, according to the constitution.

The president's wife and several other high-ranking government officials were also aboard the aged Tupolev Tu-154, which plunged into a forest about two km from the airport in the western Russian city of Smolensk.

Pilot error was a possible reason for the crash, said Andrei Yevseyenkov, spokesman for the Smolensk local government. Local officials said the plane had clipped treetops on its way down.

Thousands of mourners gathered outside the presidential palace, laying flowers, lighting candles and saying prayers. Church services in the predominantly Catholic country were hastily arranged.

Kaczynski, 60, was a one-time ally of Solidarity hero Lech Walesa and a co-founder of the rightist Law and Justice party with his brother. He resigned from the party when he became president in 2005 but continued to support it.

A party source said his twin Jaroslaw Kaczynski was not on board the plane that crashed.

Kaczynski's death, along with the that of many high-ranking members of Law and Justice who were also on the plane, at a stroke changes the nature of Polish politics by decimating the opposition.

"The political consequences will be long-term and possibly will change the entire future landscape of Polish politics," said Jacek Wasilewski, professor at the Higher School of Social Psychology in Warsaw.

While the president's role is largely symbolic, the holder can veto government legislation. Lech Kaczynski infuriated the government of Tusk several times by blocking legislation including health sector reform.

The speaker of the lower house of parliament, Bronislaw Komorowski, has been named acting president, as the constitution stipulates. Komorowski is also Tusk's presidential candidate in the centrist Civic Platform party.

Russian television showed the smouldering fuselage and fragments of the plane scattered in a forest. A Reuters reporter saw a broken wing some distance from the rest of the aircraft.

The plane was one of two Tupolev TU-154M's in the Polish government fleet, both about 20 years old. Government officials had complained about the age of Poland's official fleet.

Russia's Emergencies Ministry said 97 people were aboard the government plane, including 88 members of a Polish delegation en route to commemorate Poles killed in mass murders in the town of Katyn under orders from Soviet leader Josef Stalin in 1940.

Earlier reports had said 132 people were aboard. Smolensk regional governor Sergei Antufyev and Polish state news agency PAP said there were no survivors.

A Russian mission control official who had been present during conversations with the pilot told Reuters the pilot had ignored advice.

"The pilot was advised to fly to Moscow or Minsk because of heavy fog, but he still decided to land. No one should have been landing in that fog," he said, on condition his name was not published.

Polish Justice Minister Krzysztof Kwiatkowski said he would order a special inquiry into the crash. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Russian investigators would cooperate with the Polish side.

Among the other casualties of the crash were Kaczynski's wife Maria, along with Slawomir Skrzypek, 47, who had been central bank governor since 2007, the chief of Poland's military Franciszek Gagor and Deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Kremer.

Analysts said Polish markets would not be severely jolted. "Although tragic, we do not believe that this event threatens political and financial stability in Poland in any fundamental way," Goldman Sachs said in a research note.

Some relatives of victims of the Katyn massacres were also on board the plane, said a Polish government official in Smolensk.

Thousands of Polish prisoners of war and intellectuals were murdered at Katyn by Soviet forces in spring 1940 in an enduring symbol for Poles of their suffering under Soviet rule.

The government declared a week of national mourning.