TWO DUTCH F-16 fighters were scrambled yesterday to intercept a passenger jet en route from Malaga in Spain to Schiphol airport because radio contact could not be established with the pilot as the Airbus A320 entered Netherlands airspace.
The failure to make contact sparked suspicions that the aircraft, operated by Spanish carrier Vueling, with more than 180 passengers on board, had been hijacked and there were fears of “a calamity”, the office of the national counterterrorism co-ordinator in The Hague said last night.
The F-16s were ordered to “intercept without contact” and escorted the Airbus to a section of runway on the perimeter of the airport, where it was surrounded by armed soldiers and anti-terrorist police before being searched and allowed to taxi to its terminal.
“After a negotiator spoke to the captain we were certain there were no hijackers on board,” said Martijn Peelen, a military police spokesman.
“There was never any danger,” said a spokesperson for Vueling in Madrid.
Passengers spoke to the media by mobile phone and on Twitter – and said they had not been aware of their escort over the North Sea. “We had to circle a few more times than usual and wait in the plane with the doors closed when we landed,” said one. “But there was no hijack. Everyone was calm.”
One news agency quoted an anonymous Vueling spokesperson as saying a similar incident had happened last year over France, where a Mirage fighter was scrambled as an escort until contact was established. She could not say if it was the same aircraft or pilot.
The false alarm came as a newspaper revealed the Dutch security service, AIVD, set up a special taskforce last year when it learned two Somali students had been recruited by al-Qaeda in Karachi to carry out a suicide attack on The Hague. Both were described as Dutch nationals, travelling on stolen passports.
Before yesterday’s hijack alert, part of Schiphol had been evacuated and flights delayed or cancelled after workmen digging a trench near Pier C discovered an unexploded 500kg World War bomb. It was made safe by bomb disposal experts.
Schiphol airport was used as a military airfield by occupying German troops during the war. The bomb found yesterday is believed to have been dropped by Allied bombers that destroyed the field in 1945.
Bomb disposal experts had been called in to take the device away.
Earlier, the departure hall that serves most European destinations had been evacuated as a precautionary measure following the discovery of the 500kg German bomb during construction work.
Several flights were cancelled and dozens delayed.
The bomb was uncovered by workers digging near Pier C, which connects the main plaza with Departure Hall One, serving most destinations within Europe’s 26-country passport-free Schengen zone.
Schiphol was used as a military airfield by Nazi Germany during the 1939-45 war.
It is now one of Europe’s busiest airports, handling some 48 million passengers every year.
Unexploded bombs dating back to the war are still frequently discovered in Europe.
A 550lb (250kg) American bomb was detonated by a bomb disposal team in the German city of Munich on Tuesday.
A 1.5-tonne mortar bomb probably fired by Nazi forces was also safely removed from the Polish capital, Warsaw.
Thursday, August 30, 2012
Ryanair’s €694m takeover bid for Aer Lingus faces an extended review by European Union regulators, five years after they blocked an earlier takeover because of competition concerns.
Ryanair said the European Commission’s move forces its offer to lapse and that it plans to re-bid if the EU eventually approves the deal.
Ryanair, which owns 29.8% of Aer Lingus, in June renewed its pursuit of the rest of the company to bolster its operations in Ireland.
The bid has drawn opposition from Aer Lingus management and politicians. The commission’s initial investigation shows the airlines are direct rivals on many European routes. Regulators set a Jan 14 deadline to rule on the transaction.
“Many of these routes are currently only served by the two airlines,” the commission said. “The takeover could therefore lead to the elimination of actual and potential competition.”
Ryanair said in a statement that Irish takeover rules mean the offer lapses on the Commission’s decision to investigate the deal further. All acceptances of the offer to date are void, it said.
“Ryanair intends to re-bid for Aer Lingus if the European Commission clears its offer following its phase II review,” it said.
Aer Lingus said reasons for the EU to prevent the deal were “even stronger than before” because it competes with Ryanair with more routes to and from Ireland than it did in 2007.
EU regulators blocked Ryanair’s bid for Aer Lingus in 2007, saying a takeover would allow the discount airline to dominate 35 routes and control 80% of the market in Dublin. Ryanair lost a 2010 appeal of the merger ban.
Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary reckons the chances of clearing anti-trust hurdles have been boosted by mergers among other European carriers, falling traffic in Dublin that leaves room for new entrants and Government plans to auction its own 25% stake in Aer Lingus.
Any of the EU’s competition concerns could be addressed with appropriate remedies by Ryanair and significant synergies and cost efficiencies resulting from the deal, the company said in July.
Simon O’Connor, a spokesman for the Brussels-based Commission, said any EU decision on the Ryanair takeover would be taken independently of a commitment by the Government to sell its 25% stake in Aer Lingus as part of a bailout package.
“This investigation and the forthcoming decision will be taken on its own merits,” Mr O’Connor said in Brussels.
Mr O’Leary has pledged to lift Aer Lingus’s annual passenger total to 14 million over five years from 9.5 million today and says Ryanair would invest in expanding trans-Atlantic flights.
Ryanair is also facing an investigation by the UK’s Competition Commission of its holding in the smaller carrier after the national regulator said it might lead to higher prices.
IT’S full steam, or sail, ahead for this weekend’s Tall Ships Festival.
In all, 40 ships will be in dock by tomorrow evening, including two of the most highly anticipated vessels.
At around 10am the Mexican vessel ‘Cuauhtemoc’ will make a “spectacular” entrance to Dublin Port. Then at 1.15pm, the 355ft ‘Amerigo Vespucci’ will follow it under the raised East Link bridge.
A number of boats were in Dublin Bay yesterday as they waited to sail into the port, including the ‘Pogoria’, above, and the ‘BAE Guayas’, right.
Moscow continues to be the most expensive city for business travellers in terms of hotels, where rates were up 3 per cent in the first six months of the year according to business travel specialists HRG.
Second ranked most expensive is Lagos in Nigeria, followed by Geneva, Zurich, Rio de Janeiro, New York, Sydney, Hong Kong, Paris and Washington DC. Cities where rates decreased were Barcelona, Munich, Istanbul, Bangalaore and Mumbai.
Accor’s free wi-fi
Better news for business travellers from Accor Hotels, who have announced that they will be introducing free wi-fi in all of its almost 500 hotels in Asia Pacific by the end of the year.
Brands in the Accor stable include Novotel, Mercure, Pullman and Sofitel.
Surfing the web and checking emails will be free, but bandwidth hogs will have to pay for downloads.
Straight to Toronto
Air Canada is continuing the Dublin to Toronto service until October 14th. It will fly daily until September 30th and then four times weekly until October 14th. Germany’s centre of green technology, Münster, moves a little closer with a Cityjet service via London City Airport beginning on October 29th.
More hotels charge for internet in US
The bugbear of many business travellers is hotels charging for internet access – and the bad news from the US is that more hotels are levying a fee.
The American Hotel and Lodging Association biennial survey found 23 per cent of properties are charging for in-room internet access, up eight points since 2008. At the top end of the market, 84 per cent of luxury and 76 per cent of upper upscale properties charge for access.
Charges for using exercise facilities have become more common, with 25 per cent of hotels levying fees. On the bright side, free breakfast is becoming more common.
A trip to India
If your company is planning on doing business in India, the Irish Exporters’ Association through its Asia Trade Forum is organising a business visit to India from September 5th-7th in co-operation with the India Export Organisations and the Ireland India Business Association. There is just time to apply for a visa, details from Ashley Beston at Irish Exports on (01) 642 4171 and Carol Mullins at FCm Travel Solutions on (01) 605 3989.
Post-Olympics hotel trading in London will be tough, according to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers. The luxury market has grown 33 per cent since the Games were announced and the budget market more than doubled at 60 per cent.
Liz Hall of PwC said “such a large supply spike against an uncertain economic and travel environment is likely to mean a tougher competitive outlook.”
Expect some rate cutting in the future.
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Virgin Atlantic will go head-to-head with rival British Airways on routes between London and Manchester next year after unveiling plans to make its first foray into the British short-haul market.
The airline, founded by serial entrepreneur Richard Branson in 1984, announced plans to operate three daily return flights from London’s Heathrow to Manchester airport in northwest England from March 2013, providing competition to BA’s short-haul service.
Virgin Atlantic claims that BA, part of IAG, operates a monopoly on the Heathrow to Manchester route after its takeover of UK carrier BMI this year.
“The airline believes competition on this route has been neglected in the remedy process and aims to provide choice for the 650,000 passengers who travel between the two cities,” Virgin Atlantic chief executive Steve Ridgway said.
The new route will be Virgin’s first move into domestic flights and will feed its long-haul services from Heathrow. It also plans to launch flights between London and Scotland.
Virgin denied the new service was a response to Virgin Rail being stripped of the West Coast Mainline franchise that covers London to Manchester.
Britain’s Department for Transport last week awarded FirstGroup the 13-year franchise for the West Coast line, a decision Branson attacked as “insanity”.
Virgin, which is applying for the 12 Heathrow take-off and landing slots that BA was forced to give up as part of the bmi deal, said it would use some of its existing slots to service the Manchester to London route.
Aer Lingus is also expected to bid for some slots to enable it to offer services between Edinburgh and Heathrow.
Applications for the slots are due by the end of this week.
Commenting on possible link with an Irish airline to take on Irish routes, Virgin said: “We talk to different airlines about many different matters, but we do not comment on these discussions. We are always looking for opportunities to grow our business and most recently announced plans to fly to Moscow representing a move to build a broader network including short and mid-haul flying to feed our long-haul business.”
MIDDLE East airline Etihad could end up being the single biggest shareholder in Aer Lingus if it successfully strikes a deal with Ryanair to buy the carrier’s near 30pc stake in it.
But it would have to pay at least €206m for the privilege.
The chief executive of Abu Dhabi-based Etihad, James Hogan, said yesterday that he would be interested in acquiring Ryanair’s 29.8pc holding in Aer Lingus. He said it was a conversation Etihad would be “very happy” to have with Ryanair.
With Ryanair already having offered €1.30 a share to take full control of Aer Lingus, Etihad could reasonably be expected to have to table at least that much if it eventually made an offer to buy Ryanair’s holding in its rival.
Aer Lingus and Ryanair declined to comment yesterday.
Mr Hogan told Bloomberg news that Etihad is “keen to strengthen” its partnership in Dublin, where it operates one of its most successful routes, to Abu Dhabi.
Founded in 2003, Etihad carried 8.3 million passengers last year, recorded $4.1bn (€3.3bn) in revenue and a $14m (€11.3m) net profit.
It owns almost 3pc of Aer Lingus, having acquired the stake earlier this year and has previously made overtures to the Government regarding its 25.1pc stake in the former state-owned carrier.
Prior to launching its third bid for Aer Lingus in June, Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary had said several times that he would be willing to sell the airline’s stake in its rival at the right price. Ryanair has already written off as much of the €407m it’s spent buying Aer Lingus shares since 2006 as it’s permitted to under accounting rules.
With that offer on the table, the Government has said it’s considering the Ryanair approach. But Transport Minister Leo Varadkar has already said the €694m bid undervalues Aer Lingus, while Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said the Government won’t be “shoved into a fire sale” of its stake.
The Department of Transport declined to comment on the latest Etihad move. It said it continues to evaluate the Ryanair offer and will decide what is best for passengers and taxpayers in reaching a decision.
Under EU rules, any non-EU based airline is prohibited from owning more than 49pc of an EU-based carrier. That limits Etihad’s potential ownership profile of Aer Lingus. Etihad already owns a 30pc stake in Air Berlin, a 40pc stake in Air Seychelles. It also bought a 5pc stake in Virgin Australia and secured permission from regulators to buy up to 10pc.
Ryanair’s third bid attempt for Aer Lingus is currently under review by the European Commission, which intends to announce the results of the probe within a couple of weeks.
But that phase one investigation by its competition mandarins has a high probability of progressing to a more detailed phase two probe that could take months to complete.
Analyst Gerard Moore at Merrion Stockbrokers said that there are a number of different scenarios that could emerge in relation to Aer Lingus. He pointed out that if an ongoing UK probe into Ryanair’s stake in Aer Lingus resulted in Ryanair being ordered to sell that holding, then Etihad could prove an attractive buyer.
Shares in Aer Lingus closed up marginally at €1.07. Ryanair also advanced less than 1pc to €4.11.