Sunday, 27 May 2012

IAG is Spanish-Forget BA being British and don't complain.

Forget BA Chairman Martin Broughton's pre-IAG cuddly assurances that despite the company's forthcoming absorbtion by its new owner BA would remain essentially British.  As far as ownership was concerned that was never going to be the case .

For any who believed otherwise,including former BA shareholders whose holdings came from a one-for-one swap from BA to IAG paper , the notice of IAG's first AGM to be held on 20th June sets the record straight once and for all.

It says "As IAG is a Spanish company the meeting is subject to Spanish legislation and will be held in Spanish in Madrid....There will also be a UK venue for ..(essentially UK) shareholders ...where the meeting can be followed by video link with simultaneous translation." A separate website confirms that attendees at the UK venue will not be able to either speak or vote there. They can only speak if they go to Madrid, although they can vote in advance by proxy if they wish.

That is clear then. BA is Spanish owned, pure and simple. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that and nobody can complain about it. It's what BA's shareholders, who include many of its staff , had the opportunity to vote for and had the chance of rejecting. At the last BA AGM in 2010 there was barely a murmur about the merger, and certainly nothing hostile. The vast majority of floor time was taken up by cabin crew berating the management for trimming back some of the excesses of former terms and conditions. They obviously thought this was far more important. The unions similarly had nothing public to say. They can not therefore complain about the new ownership structure or nationality. When the opportunity was there, those few who didn't vote against the proposed demise of BA as a standalone British company were presumably either all for it or weren't interested.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

UK: The Queens's Speech- No crumbs for transport.

The Queen's Speech, an occasion when the unfortunate monarch is obliged to dress up in her finest and make her way to place she would probably rather not visit (she tends to be fussy about the company she keeps) and read out "her" government's legislative programme for the next twelve months came as a huge disappointment to anyone who looks towards improvement to transport infrastructure as a way out of the current flatlining economy.

It also came over the same way to anybody interested in a dynamic "Let's do it" programme of building capacity for Britain's future. There was nothing whatever to indicate an exciting vision of a 21st century country.

The planned HS 2 Bill to clear the way for the London to Birmingham first stage of a high speed railway line from London to the midlands, north and ultimately Scotland has been deferred by a year. The only advantage of this is that it may now be possible to add in to it the separate Y shaped extensions to the north east and north west and thereby avoid the need for further legislation later to cover these. The immediate reason for delay was though a failure of courage in the face of Conservative opposition in the string of largely Chiltern constituencies along the line's preferred and most sensible route. The fact that listening too closely to these means ignoring the needs of the midlands, the north and Scotland has not been understood .The party is not strong on things north of Watford and many appear not too clear about where that actually is. The Lib Dems just don't seem too bothered. For many of them transport presents too many conflicts of idealism to be able to cope with. Whether the line is high, low speed or any other speed is irrelevant. After 130 or so years of relying on the Victorian's work and removing some of it, notably the last and best (European guage) built Great Central line, the need for new capacity via a new line is urgent and will only worsten with continued political procrastination.

There were no words of comfort either in the speech for any other measures to improve Britain's increasingly sclerotic transport system. The punitive levels of Air Passenger Duty have become too big a contributor to the exchequer to be reversed or abandoned without political screams about favouring the rich above the poor and are set to increase rather than diminish. The review of runway capacity in the South East is to consider anything but the most necessary, most obvious and easiest done building of the 3rd runway at Heathrow. Even Labour, the orginal promoter of the scheme has turned against it and its champion Lord Adonis on returning today to the shadow cabinet has been warned by his masters not to revisit the subject,-as he had in fact very recently done. Maybe the terms of his reinstatement include silence on the matter.

There are no plans to substantially improve the UK's road system either. No new motorways are planned and only tinkering at the fringes with some additional lanes and cheap conversions of hard shoulders into roadway is envisaged. A few bottlenecks here and there may be eased but essentially the policy is for no substantial growth. That is bad news to industry and to depressed coastal towns such as Hastings, Eastbourne, Gt Yarmouth, Skegness and others which are pretty much strangled by being at the end of what in effect are long, low capacity country lanes.

Ports remain largely only just about adequately served by road and rail. There have been recent guage and other enhancements on rail routes from both Southampton and Felixstowe to the midlands but also needed are increases in line capacity including the doubling of approximately 7 miles of track between Felixstowe and Ipswich (no big deal but no plans for it),the electrification of the Barking to Gospel Oak line in north London(thanks to nobody wanting to take responsibility for the cost) and further capacity enhancements for Felixstowe trains west of Ely. The re-doubling of the very restricted Leamington-Coventry link also needs to be brought forward. All are relatively minor in the scheme of railway expenditure but are surrounded by a lack of urgency.

As for getting the nation cycling, until it is accepted that bicycles need lanes entirely separate from roads rather than just a lethal narrow strips marked along the side of them, Britain is not serious about the idea. Improvements tend to be very piecemeal and are hindered when more than one local authority is involved.

Given big picture vision from politicians and planners, a "just do it " approach and freedom from inter departmental and inter local authoritity conflicts and other obstructive feet out and logs across the roads,railways and runways, much could be achieved quite quickly. Unfortunately ,while there is some talk, there is no sign of much action and certainly no sense of urgency and dynamism. The first requirement is strong political leadership and direction. The spring Budget and the Queens Speech have given none of this.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

The joys of real air travel, - Andrew Woodrow at Luanda airport c2009

Luanda airport, c 2009, written while waiting. The balcony is sadly no more, subsumed by the modernisation project that has produced a much better airport, if one excludes the fact it lacks a good vantage point. The windows in the departure hall are at least large, but it’s not quite the same thing.

Luanda has one of Africa’s finest plane-spotting airports – not from the departure lounge, where narrow windows, thick concrete and blinds obscure the view, but from the small cafĂ© on the first floor, accessible only before immigration. You check-in, assure your agent that you can manage on your own, and pass back through the passenger check and up the stairs. Agents generally do not like this as they are instructed to ensure you have gone through immigration and therefore, barring delays, have left their area of responsibility. This probably explains why there are relatively few foreigners amongst the coke-sipping Angolans out on the terrace.20 or so tables are arranged outside, with umbrellas against the sun and potted palms around the edge, and there is a clear view over a low railing across the apron. To the left, the international airlines – today a pair of TAAG 777s, a TAAG 747 preparing to leave for Rio, and the Air France 777. I too will be on AF later, but from Johannesburg, 1500 miles to the south – booked out flights to and from Angola mean the 12 hour deviation via South Africa is often the only way to get in or out.

Ahead is the taxiway to the 2 runways, reasonably busy with helicopters heading offshore – ‘Super Puma’ 18-seaters and smaller Dauphins. To the right are the domestic airlines, beyond that the military aircraft, and in the distance the hulks of ageing aircraft in various states of disrepair. Domestic airlines in Angola are many and varied, – and include the not overwhelmingly popular 737s of the national carrier, TAAG, Sonair’s yellow-tailed fleet of Embraer 120s, Fokker 50s, 727s and 737s mixes with the orange logo’d Embraers of Air 26. Those two are my preferred Angolan carriers; Diexim is similar with Embraer 120s. Air Gemini with colourful MD80s in yellow and red with a pair of elephants on the forward fuselage, ‘Airjet,’ which appears to have abandoned its jets in favour of turboprops, ‘Heli Malongo,’ Chevron’s own chartered Dash-8s in a smart red and grey, assorted 727s with various paint jobs that look more-or-less operational; a lone ‘Afrik-Trans’ 727 that looks decidedly un-operational.

Beyond them, the heavy-lift aircraft, both military and civilian and largely Russian-built Antonovs or Ilyshyns. Every now and then one lumbers out to the runway, puts on the brakes and cranks up the engines, to lurch forward once under full power and roar slowly forward and skyward with thick smoky trails in their wake. Almost as noisy are the smaller propeller-driven transports, their huge engines on top of the high, anhedral wings with a parachute ramp at the back. Dotted in and around these are various museum-pieces, many covered in a thick layer of dust.

The only problem is that immigration in Luanda can take an hour to work through, so it is necessary to leave the balcony well in advance – even before my South African 747 has arrived – to join the queue to be stamped out of Angola, x-rayed, searched and checked for Angolan currency, to join the majority of travelers who either do not know about the balcony or have been herded through security by their agent who wants to see the back of them and go home. Many are quite happy to do that, thinking they need assistance like an ‘Unaccompanied Minor’ to negotiate their passage through the airport. But as when I was an Unaccompanied Minor, I’d rather get rid of my escort, sit on the balcony, and take my chances in the scrum downstairs. It may be Luanda, but getting on a plane at the end of the day is not so different to anywhere else.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Why do it?- Etihad's investment in Aer Lingus-and Air Seychelles.

Many found Etihad's commitment of up to $80 million in Air Seychelles difficult to square with an easily understandable strategy. The same people may well be reacting the same way to today's revelation that the company is taking a nearly 3% stake in Aer Lingus. Again, the question is why do it? There doesn't appear to be an obvious need. Not even a defensive one.

Despite being off the eastern coast of Africa, Seychelles isn't well placed as a hub and anyway Etihad is building its own portfolio of destinations direct from Abu Dhabi. Air Seychelles, with its limited operation, was no competitive problem for the airline and it doesn't go on to anywhere particularly useful. Nor even with reinvigoration and new investment is it likely to. Etihad's own flights into Seychelles were doing well in any case on the back of traffic hoovered up from multiple sixth freedom cities so why bother to part with $80 million?

The same question now arises with Aer Lingus.The big Gulf trio, Etihad, Emirates and Qatar are all doing well in both the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. Not a lot of their business is actually to and from their home airports. It is heading on to points south and east. The big attraction in Ireland is to bypass the much disliked Heathrow with its scattered terminals and laborious, time consuming security proceedures. This sentiment provides a ready market to anyone whose favoured view of the airport is the one from directly above it while heading somewhere else. Aer Lingus can do little to add to the flow. Talk of Etihad possibly flowing Europe destined traffic over Dublin defies a quick look at an atlas. The city is too far west to attract more than a trickle of backtrackers and anyway Ethihad itself flies to most major and some secondary European cities.

So why do these tie-ups? They look like a distraction from Etihad's core business and possibly its recent slowing down of growth. We may be missing something but despite some similarities between the two recent ventures, the hard financial or strategic logic is difficult to discern. Enlightenment and being proved wrong would be welcome but in the meantime we can't see any alarm bells being set off elsewhere.