All-night flights at Heathrow

Emirates have floated the idea of flying their Airbus A380′s into Heathrow during the current curfew hours. They argue that the A380′s are much quieter than other aircraft and disruption will be minimal.

Unfortunately, this rather misses the point.

If you live in a city, especially if you are near an aircraft flight-path, you get used to noise. It is not just aircraft noise but traffic, police sirens and all the general hub-hub of a big city.

At the moment, the airport is allowed to accept some flights during its normal closed hours when there has been significant disruption to schedules due to weather or some other problem. During normal hours, aircraft are taking off or landing every minute or so. The noise just blends into the background, along with all the standard noise of the city. The occasional “out of hours” landing causes much more disruption because it happens when there is relatively little other noise. Instead of a fairly constant drone, which your brain blocks off, there is a sudden, loud noise for a couple of minutes as the aircraft passes above.

As for A380′s being so much quieter than other jets. Maybe they are, but they are certainly not silent!

In other words, a couple of one-off landings by A380′s during the middle of the night will cause much greater disruption than any normal flight during the day.

Definitely not a good idea!

Emirates goes double-daily to Glasgow

Emirates is launching the second daily service from Dubai to Glasgow on 1st June. The current service has carried more than 1.7 million passengers and over 46 million kilos of cargo to and from the Middle East and beyond since its launch in 2004.

Another Embarassment for Emirates

Reports on minor aviation incidents virtually never make it into the news but they can tell you a great deal about the standards of the airlines involved.

In April this year a Boeing 777 of Emirates suffered severe turbulence on a flight from Dubai to Kochi. The official report has just been published and, whilst it could be that the Indian authorities are being a little over-zealous, it is far from complimentary about the way the airline behaved.

The report criticises the pilots for not communicating properly with the control tower at Kochi as soon as they were aware of the problem. It also states that the pilots did not turn on the Seat Belt signs when the aircraft first hit turbulence. Maybe most damning of all is the complaint that the airline “tried to suppress” the number of injured. Emirates claimed there was just one injury but, in fact, eighteen passengers and one crew member were injured.

We are more than happy to accept cultural differences and we do appreciate some Arabs have a genuine problem dealing with negative news, but Emirates cannot pretend to be a major First World airline one minute and then behave like a Third World one the next.

"Emirates and Etihad are top airlines in customer survey"

Or so the headline says in a press release which seems to have found its way into a number of travel trade publications. The results of the survey by Ethos Consultancy were:

Emirates 92.3%

Etihad 91.5%

Swiss Air 86.6%

British Airways 84.3%

Virgin 79.8%

Air France 72.3%

Qatar 71.5%

Those publications that have printed the story have done so without comment but, if the survey is to have any credibility at all, it might be worth pointing out the following:

1/ The report refers to an airline called “Swiss Air”. If they do not even know the proper name of one of the airlines they are supposed to be measuring, one wonders just how comprehensive the survey has been or, indeed, how much the consultants know about the airline business.

2/ The survey is based on just “fourteen flight experiences”. We don’t claim to be experts in measuring customer satisfaction but this looks an incredibly small number.

3/ There is no information about who commissioned and paid for this report.

4/ It is interesting to note that Ethos Consultancy is based in Dubai. No doubt it is just a coincidence that their top-rated airline is based in Dubai and the second-best (by a waver-thin margin) is based in Dubai’s friendly neighbour, Abu Dhabi.

5/ Many other surveys show Qatar as one of the best-performing airlines in the world, frequently edging out Emirates and Etihad. Qatar is clearly a major threat to both airlines. In this survey it comes bottom.

Missing destinations mystery?

Today Emirates announced another new service for 2010, a daily round-trip between Dubai and Prague, launching next July. About time too you might say. But consider other European cities not already in their network, with no imminent plans for connection:  Barcelona, Brussels, Copenhagen (or anywhere else Scandinavian), Geneva, Madrid, not to mention Berlin, Helsinki, etc etc. Amsterdam only comes on line with Emirates in May 2010. And yet the airline has been flying to six UK airports for some years, including Newcastle and Glasgow.  Conspiracy afoot? Probably not, as in all likelihood commercial considerations rather than bilateral agreements and other restrictive practices are governing Emirates’ choice of destination. The array of UK destinations is more a testament to the boom the country was experiencing up to 2008 rather than anything else.

This is perhaps not however the case of KLM and Dublin. Dublin Airport earlier this year played host to well over 70 airlines. KLM was not one of them and never has been. If you want to fly direct between Dublin and Amsterdam only Aer Lingus will take you. Why? Well who knows for sure, (let us know if you do), but it has been the case since the dawn of time that it’s commercially convenient for both KLM and Aer Lingus not to compete on this route, so they don’t, and stuff the travelling public.

Emirates in Denial – When Spin Doesn't Work

The huge growth in Dubai has been partly fueled by enormous spending on PR. Dubai has had lavish and largely uncritical coverage for years. Now the newsflow has turned and those at the top seem to be lashing out in all directions.

In mid-November, Tim Clark, the President of Emirates made a speech saying people should not underestimate Dubai and that they would be surprised by its resilience and future growth. Either he was being disingenuous or he really did not know how serious the problems of Dubai World were, which would be rather surprising for a man at the top of one of Dubai’s most important companies. Now the airline’s Vice-Chairman, Maurice Flanagan, a man who should surely know better, is complaining that the press is having a “hate Dubai week” and he hopes they will resume “more sensible coverage soon”.

Companies run into trouble in any country but when a company that is owned by, or closely linked to the government makes a bald announcement that it might have trouble settling its debts, it is very serious indeed. If they make this statement just before a national holiday, without any sign of a rescue plan in place, they deserve everything that comes.

Dubai clearly does have a future but, like a drug addict, it needs a sharp dose of reality before it can be saved. Denial will not help the patient.

Whilst one might expect the head of the airline to do his best to make soothing statements at such a difficult time, Mr Clark would do everyone a favour by acknowledging the seriousness of the situation.

Selective Memories on Dubai

Almost every newspaper has been running wise editorials about Dubai’s problems saying that the crisis was foreseeable. As The Sunday Times sagely wrote in its editorial yesterday, “Even casual observers could see this was a boom built on sand.”

The problem is, I cannot remember any of these newspapers warning about Dubai’s excesses at the time. What I can remember is acres of newspaper devoted to PR puffs for tourism and property purchase in Dubai. Did the clever people who write the editorials actually tell their colleagues on the Property and Travel sections that they were helping to flog something that “everyone knew” was dodgy?

Inside Traveller has always warned against property purchase in the UAE, not least because of the complicated legal structure of such purchases. Anyone purchasing an apartment from one of the government-owned or linked companies should also have asked themselves what chance they would have had in a local court had they wished to sue the developer.

Meanwhile, there is bound to be more speculation about the future ownership of Emirates. As one of the few apparently successful assets of Dubai, it has been assumed that Abu Dhabi would want to take control of the airline in exchange for rescuing some of the other businesses. Abu Dhabi’s own airline, Etihad, has already taken over the lead from Emirates in terms of customer service and quality whilst Emirates’ reputation has been going downhill gently for some time. Eitihad openly refer to themselves as “the airline of the UAE”. It could be that Etihad do not really want Emirates anyway – though their government might wish to take some secret holding as a security for other loans. You can be sure that, whatever the legal ownership of Emirates, they will not be doing anything to upset their neighbour for a very long time.

Emirates in Trouble in Germany

The German Federal Office for Transport has written to Emirates to request that they increase their Business Class fares on some routes from Germany to destinations in Asia and Africa. Emirates say this will mean they have to increase some fares by 20% and intend to complain to the European Commission.

We have all become so used to open competition that it is easy to forget that many air services beyond Europe are still subject to restrictive bilateral agreements between the countries involved. Emirates is allowed to operate from Germany on the basis that it does not engage in “price leadership”.

This is where the argument might become complicated. It is to be expected that Emirates will undercut Lufthansa and other direct carriers on flights to Asia and Africa – no one is going to choose to fly via Dubai in preference to a direct flight unless there is a definite price advantage. But how big should this be before it becomes a question of an airline dumping capacity at any price?

It could be that the strength of the Euro is making Germany a rather tempting target for Emirates at the moment. Depending on how they handle their internal accounting, they might be able to reduce their fares ex-Germany by 20% from what they were in 2008 and still make more money – as well as increasing their passenger numbers and total yield.

The other slightly intriguing issue is that we have never seen Emirates as a particularly aggressive airline on pricing in the UK. They tend to stress their service and availability of regional departures, over price.

In itself, this is a fairly small issue – one airline’s Business Class fares on a handful of routes from one country. However, if the same line is followed by other countries, including those outside Europe, it could have some very interesting effects.

Managing the News – the Emirates Way

Every day I wade through aviation news stories from around the world to see what might be of interest to readers of Inside Traveller. On Sunday I spotted a story from The Herald in Australia suggesting fatigue was a major cause of the near-crash of an Emirates Airbus in Melbourne. The article was a typical “shock horror” Sunday newspaper effort – plenty of unquoted opinions but very few facts.

The original incident got very little coverage in the UK though our readers were given the full story. An Emirates Airbus nearly did not manage to take off from Melbourne due to a crass error in in-putting the aircraft weights into the on-board computer. The other pilot failed to notice the mistake and two other pilots on the flight-deck did nothing. This was very nearly the worst accident in Australian aviation history. The two pilots involved were told they were resigning.

The Australian authorities are currently producing their report on the incident which will make interesting reading. Whenever such an event takes place there will be a number of organisations  trying to push their own agenda. Pilots will do everything they can to defend their position and blame the company’s work practices, the airline and manufacturer will want to blame the pilots and local interests might want to stir things up as well. In this case, there are some people in Australia who will be quite happy for Emirates to have their reputation damaged. In other words, if a journalist wants to write an old-fashioned Sunday tabloid story, he will have plenty of amunition.

This is where it becomes very difficult for Emirates. The original story was “news” in Australia for a day or two but would have been unlikely to get outside the country. However, Emirates felt it necessary to produce a detailed rebuttal of the story – and this was sent all round the world and appeared in many publications that would never have bothered with the original story.

In other words, by defending their position, Emirates gave the story a huge publicity boost – and there will be plenty of people who will believe that the truth lies somewhere between the two versions of the event and that Emirates are somehow to blame.

Emirates spend a fortune on publicity but in this instance, they were stuck. Say nothing and appear guilty or defend themselves and give the story a huge boost.

We should wait for the official report into the incident before making judgements but it is fair to say that there were some pilots who complained about the working hours on this particualr trip long before the incident.

Too Many Cooks?

Earlier this year, an Emirates A 340 nearly crashed on take-off at Melbourne. The First Officer had programmed the computer with the aircraft’s weight but he made a gross typing error. The aircraft was far too heavy for the thrust the engines had been programmed to provide. Only by a mixture of skill and luck were the pilots able to get the aircraft into the air, though its tail still scraped the runway.

The two pilots flying the aircraft were handed their letters of resignation by Emirates on their return to Dubai. It is likely that they could have faced jail for potential manslaughter but we imagine Emirates would have been unwilling to press charges since they did not want to draw attention to the accident.

It might be just about understandable that the First Officer could make the error in the first place but the Captain is supposed to double-check what has been done. According to Emirates, there are four levels of checks which should have caught out the error.

However, what is even more extraordinary is that there were actually four pilots on the flight deck – the two reserve pilots who were due to take over during the long flight to Dubai were sitting on jump seats behind the two operating pilots. How did they not notice something was amiss?

This is not so dissimilar to the crash of the Turkish Airlines 737 at Amsterdam. The pilots ignored automated warnings because, so it seems, they were too busy chatting amongst themselves. As well as the standard two pilots, there was a training Captain sitting on a jump seat who was supposed to be supervising the First Officer.

Unprofessional behaviour can occur with just two pilots flying an aircraft. The crew of the Calgon commuter aircraft that crashed in the States have been accused of gossiping rather than following the “sterile cockpit” rule when an aircraft is close to landing.

Unfortunately, 2009 is proving to be a busy year for crash investigators. It should also be a busy year for air crew psychologists. They need to do some serious work on the behaviour of pilots, especially when there are more than the standard number in the cockpit.