Friendly skies get friendlier

Air Pacific's new A330.
Air Pacific's new A330. 

Air Pacific's new baby touched down in Fiji to much traditional celebration: singing, dancing and feasting.

Tourism accounts for 25 per cent of Fijian gross domestic product and Australian visitors account for more than 25 per cent of that. So it's probably not just Fijians who are super excited about the island nation's airline securing new metal. Those who have endured flights on sometimes quarter-century-old planes, especially Qantas customers on codeshare flights used to more modern, comfortable aircraft, may well be doing Fijian welcome dances for the latest A330 in Pacific skies.

In late March, Air Pacific's new baby touched down in Nadi to much hoopla, pomp and ceremony, with traditional welcomes, dancing, feasting and long, long speeches. Sky Report was there to witness the three-hour official wingding (pardon the pun) in the sweltering confines of the Air Pacific maintenance hangar.

Heat (and length) aside, it was touching to witness the immense, genuine excitement the Airbus beauty created among locals - it heralds a new era for Fiji tourism.

In June the airline will go back to its original name, Fiji Airways (it was felt the Air Pacific name didn't really say where the airline was from), and will fly with a fabulous retro livery, evocative of the romance of Fiji in the days when Mark Twain and Somerset Maugham swung by.

But it's what's inside the aircraft that's exciting for consumers. Sky Report had a poke about the new cabin and is thrilled to confirm the fitout is a ripper.

Twenty-four tilted flat-bed business-class seats, great storage compartments and big entertainment screens will make the pointy-enders happy. Throughout the cabin, mood lighting that emulates sunrise (no nasty sudden lights-on wake-ups) will please all-comers. The economy seats have a good pitch of 30 centimetres, USB slots attached to seat-back screens and even power outlets (one for every two economy seats).

Another really impressive feature is the disabled toilet mid-aircraft. Where two loos usually are, the Fijian Airways plane has one. It also has the baby-change table in there, making this a doubly useful - and thoughtful - space.

Another new plane arrives in May, and the third in November. Brisbane will be the first to see the new aircraft, on April 21, followed by Sydney on June 8 and Melbourne in December.

 

New arrival

Air Seychelles also welcomed a new A330 recently. Its second is flown by crew trained by equity partner Etihad Airways in Abu Dhabi. It flies between Mahe and Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi, Johannesburg and Mauritius.

 

Busy, busier, busiest

Hold on to your wheelie cases, Qantas flyers. Your new hub is predicted to become the world's busiest airport in two years' time.

Airports Council International reports that in 2012 Atlanta remained the busiest airport in the world on the basis of passenger numbers, ahead of Beijing and Heathrow. In terms of international traffic, Heathrow was the world's busiest, with Dubai overtaking Paris' Charles de Gaulle to take second place. It's now believed Dubai International will take the No.1 position from Heathrow by 2015.

Dubai International's passenger numbers grew by an incredible 13.2 per cent in 2012. Add Qantas into the mix in 2013 and that figure is likely to be a whole lot larger when the stats are next collated.

 

Helping hand

London's Gatwick is poised to take more of the workload from Heathrow with the opening of stand 110, its A380-ready gate. Gatwick handles 34 million passengers a year and is forecast to increase that to about 38 million by 2020.

 

Private parties

Great news for those flyers who just want to be alone: Shangri-La's Villingili Resort and Spa in the Maldives has opened an executive airport terminal at Gan International Airport in Addu Atoll, welcoming the private jet set in particular. But the terminal is not just for celebrities such as Oprah, Jay Z and Tom Cruise with their Gulfstreams and Bombardiers. It also caters for the arrival and departure of all the resort's guests, even those taking commercial flights to and from Male International Airport.

The private terminal is five minutes by speedboat from the resort, features two lounges and a VIP room reserved for guests arriving by private jet, and "offers one-stop immigration, custom and baggage-screening services for a seamless arrival experience".

 

Seeing is believing

Sky Report was randomly selected for a full-body scan while travelling internationally through Melbourne Airport recently.

Sydney and Melbourne airports are both now using the controversial full-body scanners. We found it an unpleasant, unnerving experience. Even the akimbo stance that must be adopted throughout the process feels intrusive.

The officer guiding us through the process assured us the scanners used in Australia are far less intrusive - producing only an outline of your body, not a detailed picture - than the ones in the US, which are now being removed.

The US Transportation Security Administration put the kibosh on the scanners that produce revealing images of airline travellers after Rapiscan failed to produce software that would protect privacy.

Since their deployment three years ago, the US scanners have raised concerns about the level of class actions being launched.

Meanwhile, you could well encounter full-body scanners at all of Australia's international airports, including Darwin, Cairns and the Gold Coast.

 

Route watch

China Eastern now flies direct between Nanjing and Sydney three times a week. The airline flies the service on A330-300, which continues on to Beijing.

Garuda Indonesia has begun flying daily between Denpasar, Bali and Melbourne.

Philippine Airlines has launched flights between the Philippines and Brisbane, Darwin and Perth.

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