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Hospitality Ireland Presents Round-Up Of Global Travel, Airline And Aviation News

By Dave Simpson

Hospitality Ireland presents a round-up of global travel, airline and aviation news.

EU Countries Expected To Agree Nine-Month Duration Of COVID Pass - Sources

European Union countries are expected to agree to limit to nine months the duration of COVID-19 certificates for travel around the bloc, three EU sources told Reuters, but some states are concerned that such a limit could hinder travel.

Separately, the EU executive proposed at an internal meeting with health experts from member states on Thursday December 9 to impose PCR tests on all incoming travellers from outside the bloc, two of the sources said, a step prompted by a lack of firm information so far on the risks posed by the Omicron coronavirus variant.

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The EU introduced COVID-19 passes in July to facilitate travel for people who are fully vaccinated against coronavirus, have recovered from the disease or have a negative PCR test.

As evidence increased about the waning protection from vaccines, in November the European Commission proposed a nine-month validity limit for COVID-19 passes from the time a person has received two doses (or one in the case of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine).

If applied, such a limit would mean that EU citizens wanting to travel freely - without tests or quarantine - next summer across the bloc would need a booster shot.

One EU official and one EU diplomat said EU governments were expected to reach a consensus on the nine-month limit as early as Friday after a preliminary discussion on Thursday December 9, although one said talks could stretch into next week.

A third diplomat said there was general support for the nine-month limit, but some countries, especially in eastern Europe, were concerned about this denting the travel industry and free movement of people.

EU governments have repeatedly said a common approach is needed to avoid further disruption for the travel industry. However, they have introduced diverging rules.

France set a seven-month limit on the day the Commission proposed it should be nine months. The French rule is to apply from Jan. 15, whereas the Commission has proposed a Jan. 10 start.

A spokesman for the French Embassy at the EU had no immediate comment on the issue.

In Cyprus, the certificate is to last seven months, whereas in Greece it would expire after six months for older people.

EU officials said both countries were willing to change to a common EU limit.

EU health experts also discussed on Thursday December 9 a Commission proposal for all travellers from outside the bloc to have to present a negative PCR test, even if vaccinated, two of the sources familiar with the discussions told Reuters. The Commission's proposal is not public.

Health experts could not reach a consensus on the measure, one of the sources said, but talks were continuing. If agreed, the new measure could also pave the way for the possible lifting of curbs on southern African countries.

In line with many countries across the world, EU members agreed late in November to impose travel curbs on seven southern African nations. The variant, first detected in southern Africa and Hong Kong but now present in dozens of countries, is considered highly infectious.

EU diplomats will discuss the matter again at a meeting on Friday December 10 in Brussels.

On Tuesday December 7, EU health ministers were cautious about lifting travel curbs, but the situation is evolving rapidly as new data on Omicron emerges.

American Airlines Plans To Reduce International Flights Next Summer

American Airlines Group Inc plans to scrap, reduce or delay the introduction of flights to several international routes next summer because of a lack of widebody aircraft, according to a company memo seen by Reuters.

American, which is the world's largest carrier, said Boeing Co's delay in delivering 787 jets, including 13 aircraft that were expected to arrive by this winter, has crimped its ability to ramp up capacity.

"Without these widebodies, we simply won't be able to fly as much internationally as we had planned next summer, or as we did in summer 2019," Chief Revenue Officer Vasu Raja said in a staff memo.

The move also comes at a time when the airline industry is grappling with new uncertainty caused by the Omicron coronavirus variant. A flurry of new testing rules and border closings following the discovery of the variant late last month has set back the nascent recovery in international traffic.

Raja said American will not fly to Edinburgh, Shannon in Ireland and Hong Kong next summer. Frequency of flights to Shanghai, Beijing and Sydney will also be "significantly" reduced.

American's incoming Chief Executive Robert Isom told Reuters this week that the new travel restrictions had dampened demand in some international markets.

The company currently does not have direct flights to Edinburgh, Shannon and Hong Kong. It had expected to resume services to both Edinburgh and Shannon at the end of March and had been selling tickets for those flights.

A company spokesperson said the airline will cancel those flights and is contacting affected customers with offers for alternate travel arrangements.

The direct flights on the Los Angeles-Hong Kong route remain suspended since February 2020. The spokesperson said since the company has not been selling those flights, no ticketholders would be affected by the decision.

The spokesperson attributed the reduction in services to Asia to soft demand.

Deliveries of the 787 Dreamliner, which has faced manufacturing delays, are expected to resume by April 1 at the earliest, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported American's decision to cut flights.

"We deeply regret the impact to our customers as we work through the process to resume deliveries of new 787s," Boeing said in an emailed statement.

The 787 Dreamliner is important for Boeing's rebound from the pandemic as well as from a safety scandal caused by two fatal crashes.

United Airlines Holdings Inc, another Boeing customer, said it is "working closely" with Boeing to understand how the delivery delays might affect its schedule.

Shares of American were down approximately 1% on Thursday December 9, while those of Boeing dropped 2%.

Airbus Goes Legal As Qatar Airways Jet Row Escalates

Airbus dramatically raised the stakes in a dispute with Qatar Airways over skin flaws on A350 jetliners on Thursday December 9, accusing the Gulf carrier of misrepresenting the problem as a safety issue and calling for independent legal advice.

Airbus has been locked in a row with one of the industry's biggest buyers for months over damage to paint and an underlying layer of lightning protection, which Qatar Airways says has led to the grounding of 20 jets by its domestic aviation regulator.

In a rare statement airing a breakdown in relations between the planemaker and the launch customer of Europe's premier long-haul jet, Airbus said the A350s had been declared safe to fly by European regulators despite some "surface degradation."

"The attempt by this customer to misrepresent this specific topic as an airworthiness issue represents a threat to the international protocols on safety matters," it said.

Airbus officials confirmed the statement referred to Qatar Airways.

A spokesman for the airline said it would not comment on the Airbus statement before reviewing it.

Industry sources said there was no indication Qatar Airways was ready to back down in the dispute, which has already prompted it to exclude Airbus from a multi-billion-dollar deal to replace its 35 freighters, which is set to go to Boeing .

At stake is the credibility of two of the industry's most powerful players and a potential compensation battle over hundreds of millions of dollars in estimated grounding costs.

The row widened last week when documents seen by Reuters revealed at least five other airlines had complained about paint or other skin flaws since late 2016. Delta Air Lines joined the list of affected carriers this week, but so far only Qatar has seen jets being grounded .

Exclusive photographs published by Reuters have shown exposed and corroded lightning protection beneath cracked paint.

"We have worked actively with Qatar Airways in order to minimise the impact of this in-service surface degradation on their aircraft," Philippe Mhun, Airbus Executive Vice President Programmes & Services, told reporters.

Mhun said Airbus had offered solutions to Qatar Airways from patches, to repairs of the anti-lightning material or repainting of entire aircraft, but Qatar Airways had declined the offer.

Industry sources say Qatar Airways is reluctant to implement short-term fixes without a full breakdown of the root cause.

Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker said in London last week, "we don't know if it is an airworthiness issue. We also don't know that it is not an airworthiness issue."

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has said "no potential airworthiness issue has been identified to date" and ruled out a link with a separate manufacturing flaw which prompted it to issue a draft safety directive for 13 A350s.

Airbus says it understands the cause, though sources say a formal diagnosis may require further tests on surface ageing.

The legal step taken by Airbus comes under a contract clause allowing for arbitration, Mhun said.

Usually arbitration is carried out away from the public gaze, but Airbus said it was acting to "defend its position and reputation" while calling for a "constructive dialogue".

Qatar Airways says its own brand and wide-body operations are at stake due to the grounding of 20 of its A350 jets, less than a year before the Gulf state hosts the FIFA World Cup.

Some airlines have been pressuring Airbus to head off any damage to their brands as a result of the bitter public row between Airbus and a high-profile customer which has clashed with planemakers in the past, through rarely to such a degree.

"I have never seen anything like this. It is not only a problem between Airbus and Qatar Airways but it is also designed to prevent further damage to the A350's reputation with all operators," said aviation adviser Bertrand Grabowski.

China's Domestic Air Traffic Recovery Faltering Due To Zero-COVID Policy

China's domestic air traffic, once the world's envy after a fast rebound during the pandemic, is faltering due to a zero-COVID policy that has led to tighter travel rules in Beijing and weaker consumer confidence after repeated small outbreaks.

The outlook for the fourth quarter, normally a popular time for southerners to head north for winter breaks and northerners to head south for warmer weather, is dimming due to COVID-19 related disruptions at a time when international traffic is negligible.

"It's very exhausting that the virus somehow always manages to make a comeback," said Elaine Shen, a Shanghai resident who had to put off her domestic travel plans for the first time since the start of the pandemic due to cases in Shanghai.

Domestic capacity at the country's three biggest airlines reached around 115% of pre-COVID levels in April but by October had fallen to around 77% due to outbreaks with lower peaks after each rebound, HSBC data shows. That contrasts with a steadier U.S. domestic recovery.

In mid-November, the situation worsened when the city of Beijing announced that travellers from any Chinese city that had reported even a single COVID case within the past 14 days would be restricted from entering the capital, which is being protected ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province, on Tuesday slashed its number of flights to Beijing to just one per day due to two local cases.

Air China, China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines posted a combined loss of nearly 8 billion yuan ($1.25 billion) in the third quarter.

There is potential downside risk to combined fourth-quarter estimates that have a current consensus loss of 7.2 billion, HBSC analysts said.

Domestic air passenger traffic stood at around 40% of pre-COVID levels in November, while the number of flights dropped to around 60% of 2019 levels, according to aviation data provider Variflight.

Chinese airlines last week cut 9.4% of scheduled domestic flights for December, according to airline data firm Cirium, amid fears about the Omicron variant.

The fall in traffic comes as Chinese airlines ready for the return of the Boeing 737 MAX around year-end after it last week received safety approvals from China's aviation regulator.

The extra capacity is likely to prove a burden, according to Chen Jianguo, an expert at Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association of China.

"Because of COVID, most airlines in China are not short of capacity," he said. "Rather, they're running a serious surplus of aircraft at the moment... So (for the MAX), airlines have no option but to suffer in silence."

News by Reuters, edited by Hospitality Ireland. Click subscribe to sign up for the Hospitality Ireland print edition.

Orient Express To Return To Italy

The Orient Express will return to Italy.

A statement announcing the news published on press.accor.com said, "More than 150 years ago, Georges Nagelmackers turned a dream into a reality when he launched the first luxury Orient Express train. Soon, Orient Express will head back on track to offer travellers an unforgettable journey through one of the world's most beloved countries: Italy.

"From the luxury rail tourism project signed by Arsenale S.p.A., now in association with Orient Express of Accor Group, comes the Orient Express La Dolce Vita which will welcome its first passengers in 2023. Six trains will embark through several iconic itineraries across 14 regions and beyond, including three international destinations from Rome to Paris, Istanbul and Split. A magical stopover in Rome will feature the very first Orient Express Hotel, Minerva, scheduled to open in 2024.

"The concept for the new Orient Express La Dolce Vita trains pay tribute to 'La Dolce Vita', a historical period of glamour, joie de vivre and artistic fervour in Italy during the 1960s. With support from Accor, La Dolce Vita train’s official hospitality partner, and thanks to the partnership with Trenitalia and Fondazione FS Italiane, the journey invites passengers to travel through more than 16,000 km of workable railway lines - 7,000 km of which are not electrified and are vestiges of Italy’s storied history. The Orient Express La Dolce Vita offers a new way of experiencing the country: an environmentally-friendly adventure where forgotten roads are explored, hidden treasures discovered and where architectural triumphs take centre stage.

"Designed by Dimorestudio, the global architectural and design studio founded by Emiliano Salci and Britt Moran in 2003, the Orient Express La Dolce Vita train embodies the Italian art of living and all its beautiful traditions with a more contemporary spirit of travel. The train's sumptuous decor will adorn 12 Deluxe cabins, 18 Suites, and one Honour Suite and restaurant, all boldly celebrating the craftsmanship, design and creativity of the 1960s and 1970s.

"In collaboration with renowned local and international chefs and sommeliers, travellers will experience 5-star service on board, savoring the beauty and excellence of 'Made in Italy' through award-winning Italian wines and exclusive haute cuisine. Before departure at the Roma Termini station, the Orient Express executive lounge will welcome passengers offering them a selection of refreshments in a convivial and elegant space, complete with dedicated services and staff to assist them.

"The itineraries have been chosen to create unique travel experiences, all capable of awakening our five senses. Most will start in Italy, revealing the wonders of the Alps, the bucolic countryside, or the paradisiacal beaches of southern Italy. In addition, three dedicated itineraries will take you through eight countries, linking Rome to Paris, Istanbul, and Split.

"Paolo Barletta, CEO of Arsenale S.p.A, explains, 'It is a great honour and privilege to work with Orient Express, one of the most prestigious luxury brands in the world. This agreement marks a new stage for our La Dolce Vita trains - a mark of trust and esteem that enrichces the Italian tourist offer. We will take travelers to discover new itineraries, to unique places where they will be able to live a 'Made In Italy' experience with a warmth entirely our own. The journey itself becomes the destination and Italy has never been so close and sensational.'

"Sébastien Bazin, Chairman and CEO Accor, expands, 'At Accor, we consider it an immense privilege to re-launch the historic Orient Express brand for passionate and discerning travelers. These trains offer a new vision of luxury travel that is beyond our imagination. Our association with Arsenale Group has opened up new horizons in perfect harmony with the heritage and philosophy of Orient Express, and marks our constant desire to keep moving forward.'

"Stephen Alden, CEO Raffles and Orient Express, Accor, says, 'It is thrilling to be bringing the refined nomadic spirit of Orient Express back to life for a new generation of travellers. The original train route was innovative in the way it paradoxically brought cultures together - the Occident with the Orient, history with modernity. As artisans of travel, we wish to revive this old-world, awe-inspiring 'journey to elsewhere' and reconcile certain paradoxes: a journey and a destination, astonishment and inspiration, movement and contemplation. Against the backdrop of breathtaking panoramas and a unique blend of cultures, we are convinced that travelers will have unforgettable experiences in Italy with Orient Express La Dolce Vita.'"

Article by Dave Simpson. Click subscribe to sign up for the Hospitality Ireland print edition.

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