East Midlands Airport set to double

East Midlands Airport has been making plans to double the number of passengers that move through the airport each year. The idea is to widen the scope of European destinations within the next year in order to attract more passengers.

A new ‘sustainable development plan’ has been launched with plans to grow from 4 million passengers a year to 10 million within the next 30 years. This will mean a huge expansion for East Midlands airport, including the creation of 7000 jobs and the building of new terminals.

This announcement comes amidst a huge push by the parent company, Manchester Airports Group (MAG) to turn around many of their less popular airports. Social Responsibility Director of MAG, Neil Robinson, has said: "We’re forecasting big increases in passenger numbers. And jobs will double in line with that."

One of the main reasons for the change is to provide more convenience for the passenger. Currently, East Midlands Airport does not offer flights to many of the top European destinations, meaning holiday-makers have to travel to other regions in order to get there. Robinson hopes to give these passengers a chance to fly from East Midlands, an airport closer to their homes, by including more European destinations in their routes.

Despite the growth in traffic, MAG are concerned about reducing the carbon footprint of the airport and have also set targets to address for this. Robinson assured the public that going forward they would be aiming to increase recycling and to put an end to waste being dumped into landfills, as part of their new environmentally-friendly policy.

Jet2 pledges new routes

Next year, travellers near East Midlands Airport (EMA) will be able to choose two new destinations from their holiday brochure, thanks to a UK-wide expansion from Yorkshire-based carrier, Jet2. The airline will begin flying from the Castle Donnington hub to the cities of Murcia and Malaga in May 2012.

Murcia is the capital of the autonomous (self-governing) region of the same name, located in southeastern Spain. The city enjoys a privileged position on the fertile Segura River, and counts lettuce, oranges, and tomatoes as its primary exports. However, Murcia is perhaps best known for its scorching summers, and the baroque styling of its buildings, which include the Cathedral of Murcia, one of the tallest in Spain.

EMA’s second new route, Malaga, needs no introduction. The Spanish city is, alongside Alicante and Benidorm, one of the most popular ‘sun and sea’ resorts in Western Europe.

Jet2’s decision to sell tickets almost a year in advance might seem unusual, but the move could prove beneficial for both the airline, and its customers. Pre-sales will give Jet2 some indication of how well its two new routes are going to perform, while customers can benefit from the low prices typically offered during advance sales promotions.

The silver and red carrier claims that “customer demand” was the impetus for its decision to add new routes at EMA. Jet2 has also cited its bourgeoning popularity for an increase in flight capacity on its routes from the airport. An alleged 4,300 extra seats will be available on aeroplanes bound for Alicante, the Algarve, Majorca, and Tenerife, from May next year.

Flights from EMA to Malaga and Murcia will operate five and three times a week, respectively. Prices begin at £34.99.

Jet2 suspends EMA-Egypt flights

Civil unrest in North Africa and the Middle East is having serious consequences for British holidaymakers, as airlines continue to suspend flights from UK airports to affected countries.

Earlier this month, Leeds-based airline, Jet2, announced a suspension of its routes from the UK to the resorts of Sharm el Sheikh and Hurghada in Egypt. The cancellation, which comes into effect at the beginning of March, will see flights lost at East Midlands and Leeds Bradford airports, and up to seven other Jet2 hubs. The carrier says that protests against the three-decade rule of Hosni Mubarak, who stepped down as the Egyptian president on February 11 2011, were a risk to the safety and comfort of travellers.

The red and silver airline will increase capacity on routes to Spain and Portugal, equal to 70,000 extra seats, to compensate for the scrapped flights to Egypt. Customers who are already booked onto flights from the UK to the Red Sea region will have their money refunded. Discounts on future bookings will be available to flyers who have been affected by the airline’s escape from Egypt. However, the promise of a cheaper holiday in future has done little to appease travellers who have been forced to return to the UK. Peter O’Reilly, a retiree from Somerset, cut his trip to Sharm el Sheikh short by seven days, amid fears that he would be abandoned by Jet2 on the return journey.

Whilst the risk of further protests in Egypt has fallen with the retirement of Hosni Mubarak from office, Jet2 has yet to abort the March 1 cancellation of its flights to the Land of the Pharaohs. Conspiracy theorists could argue that Jet2 is using the Egyptian protests as ‘cover’ for a pre-planned exodus from the region. News agency, Reuters Africa, notes that British Airways (BA), Iberia, and Air France have also cancelled routes to Egypt. “The lack of demand made the services unfeasible,” explained the website.

BA, alongside KLM and Emirates, has also cut flights to Libya, as armed conflicts wage in the cities surrounding the capital, Tripoli.

EMA seeks to control the elements

Over the years, East Midlands Airport, located in Castle Donnington, has invested a great deal of money in sustainable technologies, new power sources, and ‘eco-awareness’ events, such as the Big Green Week held during October 2010. The airport is now attempting to harness the power of the elements, by investing in two giant (45m) wind turbines. Officials hope that the twin windmills will generate around 5% of the airport’s power needs.

Described as a “significant investment for the airport and the environment” by Neil Robinson, East Midlands’ chief of sustainability, the turbines, due to be completed in March 2011, will remain at the site for two decades. The Leicestershire hub is the first major airport in the UK to have installed more than one wind turbine on its grounds. The only other site that comes close is Bristol Airport, which recently completed work on a single 20m tall windmill.

Airports are often obliged to develop and install eco-friendly technologies, due to the high levels of pollution produced by low-flying aeroplanes, but airports and windmills are poor bedfellows. Turbines, especially when clustered together, can mask the radar signature of an approaching aircraft, hiding the plane beneath ‘clutter’. Officials at East Midlands have not mentioned how this problem will be overcome, but other airports, such as Kent, were forced to spend millions of pounds on new equipment to keep radar screens clear.

Work on East Midland’s newest investments has only just begun, with “ground clearance and foundation work” forming the majority of the work conducted in January 2011. The airport has permission from Leicester City Council to build two more turbines, though it is currently unknown if the remaining structures will be built before 2030, when the first two windmills are decommissioned.

Staying with the theme of weather, East Midlands Airport is to spend £3m on new snow-clearing equipment over the next few years, in a bid to prevent the chaos that ensued after the heavy snowfall in December 2010. The Castle Donnington hub, unlike Doncaster, Edinburgh, and Heathrow, was not closed during the snowstorms, but a number of flights were subjected to delays. Brad Miller, chief executive at the airport, said that clearance crews “need the tools to do the job”.

Flights to ‘more than double,’ says Jet2

Budget airline, Jet2, has announced a huge expansion to its operations in the Midlands and Northern England, due to commence in 2011. The carrier, which is based in Leeds, will create 600 jobs next summer, including flight and engineering crews, as 26 new routes enter circulation at Manchester, Leeds Bradford, and East Midlands airports.

The airline’s parent, Dart Group, PLC, said that summer 2010 was ‘record breaking,’ in terms of passengers flown, with Jet2’s bases in the north drawing crowds of millions (2.8m, to be precise) during the peak ‘sun and sea’ season.

However, Jet2’s presence at Castle Donnington hub, East Midlands, is perhaps the biggest success story of recent months. The airline has held a base at the airport for just six months, but the regional airport has experienced faster growth than the majority of Jet2’s bases in the UK.

Philip Meeson, Jet2’s CEO, said, “We are delighted that we’ve had such a successful first summer at East Midlands.” Meeson noted that Jet2 is the “only airline” to have added routes from the Castle Donnington airport for 2011. Flights to Alicante, Bodrum, Faro, Palma, and Rhodes will begin in May and June, creating 39 jobs.

Jet2 hopes that the new destinations will boost the number of passengers flying with the carrier from the Midlands to 300,000 per year. The hike in customers will be aided by the delivery of one new aircraft to the hub, a Boeing 757.

The Yorkshire airline has also invested in ergonomic seating with “great legroom.” The new seats, says Jet2, will be a feature of all aircraft next year, and could be instrumental in reducing airfares, as they are lighter than the average airline seat.

BMIbaby adds summer sun routes

On May 28 2011, BMIbaby, a low-cost subsidiary of British Midland International (BMI), will begin flying from East Midlands Airport to the Balearic Island of Ibiza. The airline will also add a route to the city of Verona in Northern Italy, the setting of Shakespeare’s most famous work, Romeo and Juliet.

In a similar fashion to its rivals, British Airways and Flybe, BMIbaby has pounced on the opportunity to attract summer bookings early, by selling tickets for 2011’s routes long before the New Year ushers in another 12 months of budget cuts, unreliable public transport, and wintry weather that could turn a penguin’s beak blue. Known as ‘forward bookings,’ advance sales also give an airline some idea of how a route is going to perform, long before any planes roll onto the runway.

BMIbaby, which likes to affix the word ‘baby’ to its advertisements (as in, “swap your scarf for your shades, baby!”), as well as its name, will become the only airline at East Midlands to offer a flight to Verona when the flights go live next year. In fact, BMIbaby has no competition whatsoever in Northern Italy, as the airline also carries the only route from the Castle Donnington hub to Venice.

The Ibiza route will operate three times a week from the Midlands, on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday, whereas Verona will be served twice a week, on Wednesday and Saturday. BMIbaby is also adding flights from Manchester to Palma, Majorca, on May 27, and from Cardiff to Ibiza on May 28 2011. Julian Carr, director at BMIbaby, said of the new routes, “Verona is a beautiful city, the gateway to Northern Italy and the stunning Lake Garda.” Mr Carr noted that the second destination, Ibiza, was more than just a “party island,” offering idyllic beaches and “breath-taking architecture in the Old Town.”

BMIbaby has also introduced routes from East Midlands to Munich and Cologne (Köln) in recent weeks. The two destinations, which are both in Germany, entered circulation on September 17 and October 31 respectively.

‘Al-Qaeda’ bomb on EMA plane

At the end of October, an “air cargo bomb” was discovered on a UPS aircraft at East Midlands Airport.

The device, which is alleged to have been just 17 minutes from exploding, would have brought the plane down if it had been successfully detonated, according to UK Home Secretary, Theresa May.

An identical bomb, this time on a FedEx plane, was discovered in Dubai earlier on the same day. The two devices were disguised as ordinary printers, and addressed to a Jewish synagogue in Chicago, raising concerns that the Jewish community in the US might be the target of future attacks.

The ‘printers’ were packed with 400 grams of the chemical, PETN, one of the most explosive substances known, and wired up to a mobile phone.

However, the phone’s SIM card had been removed, indicating that the bombs were designed to explode when a software timer inside the phone reached a pre-set time.

The resulting explosion would have caused a “Lockerbie style” disaster. Chris Yates, a security consultant for the aviation industry, said that the characteristics of the device found in Dubai were used to identify and defuse its counterpart at East Midlands Airport.

If the Dubai bomb had not been discovered, it is entirely possible that the Midlands device could have exploded in a storage shed at the Castle Donnington hub, as security officials had already declared it “safe” and sent the plane on its way.

Newspapers say that bomb disposal experts in the UK had to examine the device between two and seven more times, before concluding that it was about to explode. Claims that it was mere minutes from blowing up have been disputed in recent days.

Experts’ rather sluggish response to the threat highlights both the sophistication of the bomb, and the low levels of security afforded to policing freight. The latter point was further highlighted by the repealing of 30 cargo exemptions on Thursday last week.

Previously, airlines could apply for a licence to allow some cargo items to pass untouched through UK security points.

However, freight planes from Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Qatar, Pakistan, and India are now subject to enhanced security procedures, as fears about another terrorist attack from countries sympathetic to al-Qaeda grow.

The recent bomb plot is iconic because of the audacity of the scheme, and for the sheer luck that was involved in preventing a disaster.

For example, the US-bound plane that stopped at East Midlands was only saved because it was overweight.

The careless behaviour of security officials has also been called into question, especially as the printer-bombs were unloaded by ordinary baggage handlers at East Midlands, who were later “horrified” to discover how close they had been to meeting their maker.

Closer to the present, on Friday, an al-Qaeda cell in Yemen claimed responsibility for the abortive attack on the plane, but the only arrest made so far has been that of a woman in the Yemini capital, Sana’a.

Yemen has risen to prominence as a haven for anti-Western terrorists, including the infamous al-Qaeda. The country has more than 300 “terror chiefs”, claims the Sun newspaper, some of which helped train the ‘Christmas Day Bomber’, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

Guernsey airline expands at EMA

Aurigny Air Services
, an airline owned by the government of Guernsey and one of the oldest carriers in the world, is to increase capacity on routes to three UK airports: East Midlands, Stansted and Bristol.

The airline provides an important link to the mainland from the Channel Islands, alongside budget carrier Flybe.

Being the most popular airlines in the area, Aurigny and Flybe enjoy a colourful rivalry, which seems to be centred on prices and Aurigny’s provision of free beverages to customers – “you have to pay for soft drinks with Flybe,” the airline exclaims.

Aurigny’s decision to bolster its UK operations was prompted by rocketing sales at East Midlands and London Stansted, and concerns about the future of Aurigny’s regular flight from Guernsey to Bristol.

The carrier had warned flyers that the Bristol-Guernsey route was facing temporary closure while a propeller-driven aeroplane belonging to the airline was sent for servicing, but a series of complaints forced the airline to rethink its plans.

Speaking about Aurigny’s route to Bristol, airline chief Malcolm Coupar said, “Aurigny does not, as a rule, disrupt its services to such a degree. We are keen to accommodate customers’ concerns".

The airline responded by guaranteeing flights to the southwest throughout December, and boosting capacity on all planes bound for Bristol Airport by 9%, equal to two extra flights a week during November 2010 and March 2011.

East Midlands and Stansted will also see flight capacity rise by 30% on Aurigny routes to the Channel Islands. The additional flights should appear on schedules in November and December 2010, and during March next year.

Planes operating in January and February 2011 will carry “roughly the same” amount of people to and from England, according to the airline, suggesting that Aurigny is pandering to the Christmas holiday market rather than winter sports fans.

Other UK airports served by Aurigny, such as Jersey, Gatwick, and Manchester, as well as French airports Dinard and Grenoble, will not receive any additional flights during the winter season.

Big Green Week is ‘most successful yet’

Big Green Week, an annual event that celebrates all things sustainable and clean, came to a close at the end of September, with organisers hailing it as the “most successful week yet”. The event, which takes place at East Midlands Airport, is an important part of the hub’s plan to become carbon neutral by the year 2012.

Demonstrating the “importance of being green in the workplace” to hundreds of people and 15 businesses, Big Green Week provided guests with tutorials on a range of activities, from composting and vegetable planting, to bicycle maintenance and ‘eco-driving.’

Eco-driving involves learning new, more efficient driving techniques on a simulator, resulting in a 16% reduction in fuel consumption.

Whether visitors will continue tending parsnips during their regular lives is debatable but, contrary to what Kermit the Frog sang in 1970, Big Green Week seeks to highlight that ‘bein’ green’ is a relatively simple affair, with many attendees choosing just one bad habit to kick for seven days.

Neil Robinson, environment boss at the Castle Donnington airport, was impressed by the turnout for the third annual Big Green Week. He stated: “We have had an exceptional amount of commitment this week and we are proud that everyone is so active in being green”.

East Midlands Airport is well known for its ecological approach to aviation, barring a few arguments with villagers over airport noise. The hub became one of the first airports to adopt biomass energy in March this year, and is currently petitioning Leicester council for permission to build several wind turbines at the site.

The airport also managed to recycle an impressive total of 84% of its overall waste in 2009, more than any other hub in the UK.

EMA is ‘Star Regional Airport’

East Midlands Airport has been handed the ‘Star Regional Airport’ trophy for the fourth year in a row. The award, which was given out earlier this month at the annual Travel Bulletin Awards, is a prestigious accolade fought over by some of the biggest airports in the UK.

The awards ceremony took place at the Landmark Hotel on Marylebone Road, London, awarding hotels, airlines and a variety of travel firms that have been judged the best in their particular field by British travel agents.

In the ‘High Fliers’ category, The Castle Donnington hub fought off competition from Bristol, Liverpool John Lennon and Bournemouth International to be crowned the best regional airport in the UK.

The same category also saw Gatwick Airport walk away with the ‘Star Major UK Airport’ award, triumphing over London Heathrow, London Luton and Manchester airports.

Middle Eastern Airline Emirates snatched the ‘Star Business Airline’ trophy from Virgin Atlantic, UAE flag-carrier Etihad and Singapore Airlines, whilst budget flight provider Avro was awarded the ‘Star Charter Seat-Only Company’.

Other winners included the popular theme parks Universal Studios in Florida and Disneyland Paris. Cruise providers Stena Line and Viking River Cruises were also victorious in the ‘Sea Captains’ category.

East Midlands’ Managing Director, Caroline Plant, referred to the Travel Bulletin trophy as “a great achievement,” adding that “in such a competitive market, it really shows the confidence, trust, and respect that our colleagues in the travel industry have for us.”

The full list of winners is available on the official Travel Bulletin website.