PHOTOS: British Airways takes delivery of its first Airbus A380

A milestone for the British aviation industry, as the country's national carrier took deliver of its first Airbus A380, becoming the tenth operator in the world to receive the superjumbo.

First look inside Singapore Airlines' brand new premium cabins

View these amazing photos and video showcasing the airline's next generation of business and first class cabin products, set to be the new industry benchmark for premium air travel.

PHOTO: First Airbus A350 XWB’s engines powered up

Rolls-Royce's Trent XWB engines have run for the first time on the A350 XWB, moving the aircraft closer to its maiden flight.

Pilot becomes online sensation with stunning cockpit photos

Air Arabia pilot Karim Nafatni's amazing photos have not only attracted a massive online following, but the global media have also jumped on the appreciation bandwagon.

PHOTOS: Thomson becomes first UK airline to receive Boeing 787

Thousands gathered to watch Thomson's first 787 Dreamliner (from an order of eight) arrive at Manchester Airport, completing its delivery flight from Paine Field in Everett.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Etihad expands social media presence with new Google+ page

A screenshot of Etihad's new Google+ page
+Etihad Airways has become the latest airline to launch its own Google+ page, supporting the UAE national carrier’s existing presence on social media channels Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

According to a press release issued today to announce the new launch, Etihad Airways has been successful in listening and engaging with its guests directly through social media.

“Valuable feedback is obtained so the airline can provide high quality experiences and services to guests,” added the press release. “In return, guests receive exclusive access to deals and competitions.”

In fact, each of the airline’s social media channels has seen considerable growth in the number of followers over the past year; Facebook ‘likes’ have increased from 56,600 to 316,500, followers on Twitter from 6,900 to 29,300, and views on YouTube from 373,600 to over six million.

What’s more, Etihad Airways recently launched its Arabic Facebook page, one of only a few in the world created by an airline.

According to Peter Baumgartner, Etihad Airways’ Chief Commercial Officer, the airline’s social media channels play an important part in its communications strategies to engage customers actively with the brand.

“Social media is helping us to listen and provide assistance to our guests. We look forward to receiving valuable guest feedback on Google+,” he commented.
The full press release for this story is available here.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Volunteers test Dubai Airport’s new A380 concourse, and voice their opinions (good and bad) on Twitter!

Dubai International Airport has completed the latest trials for its much-awaited Concourse A, after thousands of volunteers from across the UAE participated in various tests.

Volunteers line up! (Image: @fahadspeaks)
Marketed as the world’s first purpose-built facility for the Airbus A380 aircraft, Concourse A has been earmarked for a grand opening at the beginning of next year, although an exact date is still awaited.

Local volunteers - including adults, children and those with special needs - were invited to test out a selection of duty free shopping outlets, food and beverage facilities, information centres and the airport train (which offers a direct connection to Dubai Airport Terminal 3).

A campaign to recruit the volunteers was a massive success, it seems, and the trials were fully subscribed. Perhaps this could be attributed to the special benefits offered to volunteers – such as goodie bags (click here for a photo) and free lunches at one of the food court outlets – or maybe the public were keen to visit the world-class facility before its actual launch.

Dubai Airport Concourse A (Image: @fahadspeaks)
Results from the trials will be collected to highlight any potential issues with the processes, systems and facilities, allowing them to be ironed out, according to Paul Griffiths, CEO of +Dubai Airports.

"Prior to opening it is imperative that we are diligent in testing every aspect of the passenger experience across the new facility," he commented in a press release. "The trial has yielded some very valuable insight which we will be analysing and acting on in the days and weeks ahead. I would like to thank all the volunteers who took time out on their weekend and brought their families along to lend support to the trial. They have become part of Dubai's aviation history."
So what did the volunteers think about the trials? After a quick scan on Twitter, most were raving about the experience, although some were a little more critical about the waiting times. Here are some of the highlights:
“It was a great experience being in the world’s only A380 terminal. The volunteer programme is something unique and a great success. The terminal is awesome.” @Arun1999

“I say thumbs up for me! The advance trial was fully-packed. Thank you Dubai Airports for the experience.” @clen-david

“I think it was pretty good. Something different, getting the public to come in and be volunteers. The coolest part is that there’s a monorail to get from one part of the airport to the other. The goodie bag was great too.” @Nabila_Sharani

“Excellent arrangements for the second trial of Dubai Airport’s Concourse A for the Airbus A380. Thank you for making us part of the operational trials.” @jkhamisani.

“The trial was pretty good. Dubai raises the bar higher with every new thing they do. I’ve been to both trials, the second one was a bit messier.” @FaresAsadi

One user, however, seemed less impressed with the management of the trials, posting the following message to Dubai Airports:
"Complete chaos with your airport trials! Sitting here clueless on what to do. My pass is with your staff. And massive confusion. Is this how you treat volunteers who took out time to give u feedback? Expected better management.” @fahadspeaks
Were you a volunteer? How did you find the experience? Feel free to post your comments on this page.

RELATED: Top 10 Passenger Habits That Annoy Cabin Crew

Monday, December 17, 2012

Top 10 Passenger Habits That Annoy Cabin Crew

If you’re the type of person that snaps their fingers to catch someone’s attention, it’s time to break out of the habit! Whether you’re signalling for assistance at a department store, cafe or hotel, it’s unsurprising that the gesture is universally frowned upon. And the situation is no different on a flight either, it seems.

Skyscanner, the global travel comparison website, has published the findings from its recent survey, with more than 700 cabin crew from around the world interviewed about which habits are considered the most annoying when it comes to airline passengers. And guess what topped the list? Finger clicking! In fact, it was selected as the biggest gripe by more than a quarter of respondents, receiving double the number of votes in comparison to its closest rival.

So what other gestures are likely to upset the cabin crew on your next flight? Some of the answers are predictable –such as leaving your seat at the end of a flight before the light goes off, or chatting through the safety demo – while others might surprise even the most seasoned of travellers, me included! Something to remember while asking for an extra pillow or blanket, apparently.

“This is the first time that we’ve surveyed international cabin crew and the findings give us a real insight into what they really think of passengers,” commented Skyscanner’s Sam Poullain. What are your views on the top 10, listed below?

The most annoying habits of air passengers
  1. Clicking fingers to get your attention (26%) 
  2. Leaving seat at the end before the light goes off (13%) 
  3. Stuffing too many bags into overhead locker (11%) 
  4. Complaining there’s no space for their bag in the locker (10%) 
  5. Talking through the safety demo (9%) 
  6. Asking for more blankets/pillows (8%) 
  7. Stuffing rubbish in the seat pocket (7%) 
  8. Asking for a different meal (6%) 
  9. Ringing the attendant bell to complain about temperature (6%)         
  10. Asking for a specific brand of drink (4%) 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Etihad Airways named World’s Leading Airline for 4th Consecutive Year!

Peter Baumgartner, Etihad Chief Commercial Officer, collects trophy

Etihad Airways has been named ‘World’s Leading Airline’ for the fourth consecutive year at the World Travel Awards. The national carrier of the United Arab Emirates received the accolade at a black-tie gala event in the Indian capital of New Delhi on a date that many would consider auspicious – 12/12/12.

Etihad also picked up a trophy for its Diamond First Class product, after being named the World’s Leading First Class.

Etihad President and CEO James Hogan described the award as “a fantastic way to round out what has been an exceptional year” for the airline.

“We have received this award for four consecutive years and every year we have sought to raise our standards even higher,” he added. “To receive the top industry award of World’s Leading Airline four years running indicates that we are consistently delivering to higher standards. We will continue to do so.”

The World Travel Awards, which have been called the “Oscars of the Travel Industry” by the Wall Street Journal, attracted a massive 650,000 votes this year, cast by travel professionals from 191 different countries around the world.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Top 10 Leading International Freight Markets Of The Future!

With the International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicting that international freight volumes will increase by three percent each year between 2012 and 2016, it seems the cargo market is one to watch!

The worldwide figure was revealed in a press release to coincide with the launch of IATA’s Airline Industry Forecast 2012-2016 earlier this week. According to the global association, a total of 34.5 million tonnes will be carried in 2016, which is 4.8 million tonnes more than 2011 volumes.

The press release also included a more specific breakdown, looking at which countries will have the largest share of the international market in 2016. Of course, most of the rankings are somewhat predictable, although a couple have the potential to surprise.

By 2016, the largest international freight markets will be:
  1. United States (7.7 million tonnes)
  2. Germany (4.2 million tonnes)
  3. China (3.5 million tonnes)
  4. Hong Kong (3.2 million tonnes)
  5. Japan (2.9 million tonnes)
  6. United Arab Emirates (2.5 million tonnes)
  7. Republic of Korea (1.9 million tonnes)
  8. United Kingdom (1.8 million tonnes)
  9. India (1.6 million tonnes)
  10. Netherlands (1.6 million tonnes)
As expected, the United Arab Emirates is leading the Middle East market and has been positioned at number 6 on a global scale – impressive stuff!

It might be joined by neighbouring countries in the more distant future, as five of the 10 fastest growing international freight markets over the 2011-2016 period are in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), which IATA states is reflective of the region’s “growing importance in international air freight”. The best performer from the MENA region in the coming years, it seems, will be Egypt.

IATA's press release can be found here.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Fancy a chance to visit Dubai Airport’s new A380 concourse before others?

Thousands of UAE residents are being recruited to test out the forthcoming Dubai International Airport Concourse A before its official opening early next year.

Marketed as the world’s first purpose-built Airbus A380 facility, a number of trials have already taken place in recent months by the Dubai Airports team and other stakeholders to test out the facility’s different systems and processes. Now it’s time for the public to help out!

Two advanced trials have been scheduled for this month, each lasting 4-5 hours, where volunteers will carry out various scripted scenarios, from checking in for a flight and using the food and beverage facilities, to connecting onto other simulated flights. Each volunteer is requested to bring along one carry-on bag to ensure an accurate simulation.

The trials could even be a family day out, if you like – children are permitted and both trials are taking place on a Saturday. Free refreshments, airport parking, duty free shopping discounts and other benefits are also being offered. But hurry, the application deadline is 9th December.

"The advanced passenger trials give us an opportunity to identify areas where we can improve before we open for business," Chris Garton, SVP Operations at Dubai Airports, commented to Airport World. "To achieve this we need our loyal customers to assist us by offering their time as volunteer passengers."

For more information, visit

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Interview with Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker

Aviation Business (November 2011 Issue)
I have been re-visiting some of the articles I wrote for Aviation Business magazine during my time as senior group editor, before I started working for Etihad Airways. After kicking-off with a cover story on the former Oman Air CEO Peter Hill, I have selected Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker for the second part of this series. 
It took months of planning to secure this interview, which was the cover story for our November 2011 issue of Aviation Business magazine. This issue was special in many ways – it was bumper sized to coincide with the Dubai Airshow (with huge distribution at the show and the Qatar Airways chalet), and Al Baker actually agreed to work with me as ‘guest editor’ – something he’s never done with any publication before (and something the magazine has never done before either). 

Al Baker is always great for interviews – very outspoken, opinionated, and knowledgeable, which is the perfect formula for attention-grabbing quotes! We also had a nice photo shoot with him at Doha Airport for the cover, the results of which were pretty impressive. The article is below:

Qatar Airways Group CEO Akbar Al Baker Interviewed By Robeel Haq (Archive from November 2011)

Earlier this year, a staggering 18.8 million passengers from 100 different nationalities voted for their favourite airline, the results of which were announced at the prestigious Skytrax World Airline Awards. Speculation had been mounting for several months about the potential winner, with Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Asiana Airlines hot favourites to reclaim the title, having collected the award in 2008, 2009 and 2010, respectively. However, dangerously underestimated in the race, it was actually Qatar Airways that walked home with the accolade, much to the delight of CEO Akbar Al Baker, whose sole mission since heading the Doha-based carrier in November 1996 has been developing the ultimate travel experience for airline passengers on a global scale.
My interview with Al Baker
That objective seemed far-fetched at the time, with Qatar Airways offering an “inconsistent”, “erratic” and “poor” service, as described by Al Baker himself. In fact, the licensed private pilot admits that his peers from neighbouring Emirates Airline and Gulf Air would often sneer at his grand ambitions back then, but 15-years later, and the Skytrax rankings have somehow charted the airline’s victorious transformation into a global, premium heavyweight.

“Just have a look back at the 2003 Skytrax listings; Qatar Airways was not even placed in the top 20, we took the 24th position. However, we jumped to number seven in 2004 – the highest moving entrant of that year – then number six in 2006, number four in 2007 and last year, Qatar Airways took the third place,” the industry veteran explains. “Now, in 2011, we’ve reached the top. This reflects a long-term vision to be number one and remain number one, not only in terms of aircraft fleet and route network, but also service delivery, product offering, hospitality and attention to detail. Ever since I became chief executive, during the airline’s re-launch, that has been my goal, for Qatar Airways to reach the pinnacle of the airline industry.”

Now that Al Baker has achieved the number one ranking for Qatar Airways, how does he plan to surpass the achievement? “Well, being named the world’s best airline is one thing, but maintaining that title is another,” he states, before taking a pause. “The product must continuously be innovated; we cannot sit on our laurels and expect that Qatar Airways will remain number one. Just because we have reached the pinnacle, our focus cannot be lost. I will constantly be on-guard to ensure the product is always second-to-none.”

Friday, November 23, 2012

Interview with Oman Air CEO Peter Hill

Aviation Business Magazine (August 2011 Cover)
I’ve decided to start this blog by re-living some of my past interviews with Middle East airline CEOs as the senior group editor of Aviation Business magazine, before I started working for Etihad Airways. First up, I have selected this interview with Peter Hill, the former CEO of Oman Air. This was meant to be his final interview as CEO before retiring (August 2011 issue) – so quite an exclusive. However, after being published, he was convinced to stay a little longer until his replacement was found. I have a feeling it was still his last interview, but I’m not sure.

He was a friendly and down-to-earth interviewee – and obviously very passionate about aviation. What’s more, he was very informed about behind-the-scenes happenings in the Middle East airline industry, so we had a little gossip too – but of course, all off the record and could not be published! A highlight of the article was our cover shoot at Muscat Airport – took quite some time on the tarmac in the mid-day heat, but thankfully he was patient and accommodating, and the results were great. One of my favourite covers during the 6.5 years I worked at ITP Publishing Group!

 Oman Air CEO Peter Hill Interviewed By Robeel Haq (Archive from August 2011)

Following the announcement that Peter Hill will retire from his position as chief executive officer of Oman Air in September, there has been endless speculation about his replacement. The latest media reports have mooted British Midlands International CEO Wolfgang Prock-Schauer as the favoured candidate, and since an official confirmation is imminent, it’s unsurprising that Hill himself is reluctant to discuss the matter. “My lips are sealed,” he laughs. “I know a few people have been shortlisted and an announcement will soon be made to end the speculation. I’m sure the choice will be good for Oman Air and whoever is eventually selected, hopefully they will lead the airline to breakeven in the near future.”

It’s been three years since Hill took over the reigns at Oman Air, hand-picked to manage the biggest transformation in the national carrier’s history. His appointment was well-received at the time, with over 50 years of experience in the aviation industry, including management roles at British Overseas Airways Corporation (now British Airways), Gulf Air, Emirates Airline and SriLankan Airways. “Originally I planned to stay a couple of years and then retire, although I was convinced to stay on for another 12 months,” he states. “From the start, I knew that Oman Air had a lot of potential and that’s what attracted me to the position. I never actually applied; they came and found me, which was very flattering. At the same time, I knew this would be a challenging job. We were the last of the Gulf airlines to seriously look at changing our business model, with competition from three very successful carriers, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways. We could never take them on, they are far too big and established, and so we had to carve our own niche in the market.”

Cover shoot with Oman Air CEO Peter Hill at Muscat Airport
Shortly after his appointment, Hill outlined a five-year strategy that he believed would support Oman Air in achieving breakeven as a “luxury boutique airline”, with a revised business model, complete rebranding and multi-billion dollar investments in fleet developments. “We commenced the strategy in 2008, when Oman Air was half its current size, with two leased aircraft that operated on long-haul flights to Gatwick, as well as several Boeing 737NGs. We had a strong reputation as a regional player that focused on the transportation of labour around various markets in the GCC and India subcontinent,” he reflects. “It was important to keep those markets, as they’re our bread and butter, but we also wanted to expand the network into longer-haul markets outside of the region, which was a balancing act of sorts.” Amongst the routes that have been introduced in the past 18 months are Milan, Kathmandu, Dammam, Kuala Lumpur and Lahore, while Moscow is scheduled for a November start. “Oman’s population is growing, and it’s a young population, so they will be passengers of the future and lead to strong outbound tourism. Plus we have increasing potential in the business market, with the development of new industries, which also bodes well for the airline,” he states. “Because our network has expanded so aggressively, I do not expect a large number of new destinations in the next couple of years. Instead, we will fine tune our existing destinations, schedules and routes more efficiently, in order to improve the yields.”

Over the past three years, Hill has also continued his mission to further develop Oman as a tourism hub and he’s willing to admit that progress has been frustratingly slow. “We’ve been very successful in transporting passengers through Muscat airport, although there is some way to go in getting people to recognise the benefits and opportunities of visiting Oman, which is a very unique country,” he stresses. “It takes a combined effort by all stakeholders in the country’s ambassadorship to effectively promote Oman. If you look at other countries that have recently succeeded in tourism development, such as India, Malaysia and even Sri Lanka, it’s because the message has been consistent from the tourism board, hoteliers, tour operators and of course the national airline. All of these stakeholders have created one voice, but if there are multiple voices, as we have in Oman, then the message is fragmented and lacks the punch.” With recent changes in the country’s ministry of tourism, plus with a new CEO and board of directors at Oman Air, Hill is hopeful about further progress after he leaves the airline. “They can use the platform that we have built and tell the world about Oman. I’m not talking about mass tourism, because Oman needs more sophisticated, well-travelled tourists to appreciate its beauty,” he adds.

Click here to read the full article