Wednesday, 31 August 2016

LESOTHO: Welcoming, Very safe, Peaceful Country

Lesotho is a country in Southern Africa. Known as the Kingdom in the Sky because of its lofty altitude — it has the highest lowest point of any country in the world (1400m) and is the only country to be entirely above 1000m! Lesotho is totally surrounded by South Africa and is a fantastic adventure holiday destination.

Originally, the Sotho-Tswana people lived in what is now Free State in neighbouring South Africa. They were a farming people, and when the Zulus started attacking villages and the Voortrekkers started encroaching on their land, they fled up into the Lesotho mountains. Here, continuous attacks from the Zulus forced local tribes to join together for protection, and by 1824, King Moeshoeshoe had established himself as king and Thaba Bosiu as his mountain fortress.

Moeshoeshoe allied himself with the British Cape Colony government in a bid to protect the Basotho from the Boers' rapidly increasing presence in the area. Much fighting followed, forcing Moeshoeshoe to go straight to the imperial government of the British, and in 1868, Basotholand as it was then called became a protectorate of the British Empire. It was granted independence from the British Empire on October 4th, 1966.

The Kingdom of Lesotho was formed through the pursuit of peace, and this peaceful nature still exists in the Basotho. They are a friendly and welcoming people and do not have the aggressive history some of the peoples of neighbouring countries have. People are especially grateful to Brits, and the older generation will come up to a Brit and tell them how much they thank them for saving them from apartheid!

Lesotho has 300 days of sunshine. The rainy season extends from October to April in which Lesotho gets 70mm of rainfall, mostly during severe thunderstorms. Extensive snow falls are possible in winter but may occur in any month on the high mountains. Night time temperatures go below freezing in winter (May — September)- and houses do not feature central heating, so bring a jacket.

Places To Visit
- Maliba Lodge — The only 5 Star Lodge in Lesotho
- Afriski — Ski and Mountain Resort for Skiing in Winter (June - September) and Mountain Adventure Sport in Summer (October - April)
- Bokong Nature Reserve — hiking paradise; the Lepaquoa waterfall freezes in winter into a solid column of ice!
- Sehlabathebe National Park — remote mountain reserve great for hiking with rare wildlife, impressive waterfalls, and ancient rock paintings and stone shelters.
- Ts'ehlanyane National Park — Sub-alpine National Park at the foot of the Holomo Pass. Home to one of the few remaining Che-Che (old wood) forests, with hiking trails and pristine rock pools and rivers.
- Katse — Pony-trekking and the impressive Katse Dam.
- Malealea — Pony-trekking
- Morija — Museum, dinosaur footprints
- Oxbow — One of the handful of places in Africa to go skiing!
- Roof of Africa route — Running between Oxbow & the S.African border, this narrow, winding road runs through some of the highest passes in Africa.
- Semonkong — Maletsunyane Falls.
- Thaba Bosiu — The mountain stronghold where King Moeshoeshoe the Great established the Kingdom of Lesotho.

Foreign nationals of the following countries/territories can enter Lesotho visa-free:
For up to 90 days: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Botswana, Brunei, Cameroon, Dominica, Fiji Gambia, Grenada, Guyana, Hong Kong SAR, Ireland, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Kiribati, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Monaco, Namibia, Nauru, North Korea, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Tanzania, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States, Vanuatu, Zambia and Zimbabwe

For up to 14 days: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland

Your passport needs to be valid for another six months and you need at least two blank pages. The proof of a return or onward ticket or your future travel plans might be asked, but this should not be a problem.

If you require a visa to enter Lesotho, you might be able to apply for one at a British embassy, high commission or consulate in the country where you legally reside if there is no foreign mission of Lesotho. For example, the British embassies/consulates in Al Khobar, Almaty, Belgrade, Budapest, Damascus, Geneva, Guatemala City, Jeddah, Prague, Pristina, Riyadh, Rome, Sofia, Vienna and Zurich accept Lesotho visa applications (this list is not exhaustive). British diplomatic posts charge £50 to process a Lesotho visa application and an extra £70 if the authorities in Lesotho require the visa application to be referred to them. The authorities in Lesotho can also decide to charge an additional fee if they correspond with you directly.

Moshoeshoe Airport is located 18km from Maseru. South African Airways and Airlink operate daily flights between Maseru and Johannesburg, typically costing around ZAR1400. Luggage is lost very regularly and there is no lost luggage reporting system. You should arrange taxi pick-up in advance as often there are no taxis at the airport. Taxis charge around LSL50-80.

There is no train line within Lesotho, but the South African railway line Bloemfontein Bohlokong (freight only) runs along the northwestern Lesotho border, with a stop in Meqheleng.

You will be coming from South Africa when entering by car. The major border posts are Caledonspoort, Ficksburg Bridge, Makhaleng Bridge, Maseru Bridge, Ngoangoma Gate, Peka Bridge, Qacha's Nek, Ramatseliso's Gate, Sani Pass, Sephaphos Gate, Tele Bridge and Van Rooyen's Gate. Please note that some of the border posts can only be accessed by four-wheel driven cars, and only Maseru Bridge and Ficksburg Bridge are open 24 hours; other borders can close as early as 4PM. Be aware of the fact that routine searches of vehicles at customs checkpoints do take place and that multiple bags in the trunk do cause the officials' suspicion. Usually, such searches do result in nothing but a sometimes significant delay.

The main roads in Lesotho are similar to minor roads in Europe — they are sealed, and surprisingly free of potholes. The A1 road (aka 'Main North') is tarred from Maseru to Mokhotlong, and the A2 (aka 'Main South') is tarred from Maseru to Qacha's Nek. The roads to Roma, Mohale Dam and Katse Dam are also tarred. For the visitor, the only unsealed roads you are likely to use are the road to Semonkong (4x4 only most of the year although some drive in 2x4 hire cars) and the last 20km to Malealea, which is easy in a saloon. Note that the road running east-west to Thaba Tseka is unsealed and in terrible condition; it is always quicker to take the A1 to get to Katse, Thaba Tseka and Sani Pass.

If setting off in to the mountains, check your car over before the trip (top up the oil, pump the spare tyre etc). There are some steep climbs which require 2nd or even 1st gear to get up — so don't attempt to drive to Qacha's Nek with 5 people squeezed into a hired 1.3 litre CitiGolf!

If in doubt, please ask locals if the road you are going to take is okay, especially during wintertime. The truth is that if you keep to the main roads you are likely to drive on a road smoother than Eastern Free State (RSA) roads. However the stretch from Oxbow to Mokhotlong is not tarred (regardless of some maps that claim it is) and very potholed.

When taking a rented car, be sure to get permission from the rental company to take the car into Lesotho. You will need to show written permission from the rental company at border control. Be clear with your rental agency about what's covered and what's not in order to avoid unpleasant surprises. Full coverage doesn't necessarily mean full coverage.

Finally, petrol can be a problem — it is best to fill the tank in Maseru or in South Africa. Outside Maseru, unleaded can be very hard to find, and even LRP and diesel can be in short supply.

Vaal-Maseru runs a coach service between Johannesburg and Maseru.

Minibuses run pretty much anywhere from the Maseru Bridge border, but you must get there early in the morning (07:00) as there may be only 1 bus a day.

If travelling in from Bloemfontein you could hitch-hike easily enough (look out for Lesotho number plates). If going from Maseru to Bloemfontein, hanging around the border (especially on a Saturday morning) should get you a lift.

Regular taxis (you phone, they pick you up) and 4+1s — have a yellow stripe down the side and squeeze in 4 passengers. Always check the cost of a taxi before you get in.

As with most of Africa the minibus 'taxi' (aka combi / Toyota Hiace) is the transport of the people.

Be sure you are clear on where the minibus is going (there should be a sign in the front windscreen), you'll be asked for money after a minute or two, with money being passed down the minibus. Try to get the front seat by the driver for more leg room. Prices are fixed by the government. There is a risk of overcharging foreigners — ask the other passengers if you are not sure of the price. Be warned, the reason the Minibus taxis are so cheap is because of the way they fit so many people in! Don't be surprised to see kids sitting on laps four or five high, or to be told to have large amounts of luggage on your lap or wedged in around you. The Minibus taxis tend to be poorly maintained and are not insured. However, very few accidents involving taxis occur.

Intercity travel by taxi will cost no more than LSL50 for a single way ticket, and inner city minibus taxi rides will cost you around LSL2.50 (4+1s will cost you LSL20 for the whole car, no matter how many are with you, provided its within a city.)

Always check the cost of a taxi before you get in.

Upon arrival in one of the main towns, you will notice that all the minibuses are hooting their horns, which is to signal that they have space for more passengers. To flag one down, just wave to a taxi as it approaches, the conductor (who will be leaning out of the window on the kerbside of the van) will usually be shouting the destination of the taxi. If you are not sure it will be going where you want to go, ask before you get on!

In Maseru, there is a place called Setopong on Moeshoeshoe Road, near to the Shoprite by The Circle / Cathedral. This is where all the minibus taxis leave from, and if you want a taxi out of town, you should head here. However, it is a very busy and bustling place, heaving with people. It is easiest to take a 4+1 taxi toward Setopong and ask the driver to drop you off near the taxis that travel to the part of the country you are headed.

It is also possible to hire a car and travel around. The Sun hotels in Maseru both have hire car places, as does the airport. If you hire your car in South Africa (probably cheaper than hiring in Lesotho) be sure to get permission to take the car across into Lesotho (the hire car insurance may not cover Lesotho).

However don't discount travel by public transport, for many it's a good way to get up close to the locals and chatting with them!

There is an ongoing road upgrading programme underway in Lesotho, and you don't need a 4x4 to see the main sights in Lesotho. The road is tarred to Mokhotlong (via Leribe) and is now tarred all the way to Qacha's Nek going south from Maseru. The road to Katse and the road to Thaba Tseka are tarred, and the road to Semonkong is (as of April 2014) tarred for all but the last 15km. In the towns some side roads are unsealed but you can bump along in a saloon easily enough — If heading off in to the mountains on unsealed roads (eg to the Kao diamond mine) then a 4x4 is a must. The same goes for going up or down the Sani pass.

Be aware that although many roads are now tarred, they are still steep and slow going. Keep this in mind if visiting in a small car with 3 or more passengers, it will be very slow going up some of the hills, in first gear a lot of the time.

When driving it's not advisable to stop at junctions or traffic lights at night if there is no traffic.

The official languages are Sesotho and English.

Most people in the larger towns or tourist attractions speak English to a reasonable standard and a few words of Afrikaans; however, outside these areas, these languages will not be understood.

Places To Visit
Kome Caves — impressive cave houses built by the basotho people to hide from the cannibals. Located an hour drive away from Maseru in the Berea district.
Semonkong Falls — these falls near Semonkong drop 200m in single plunge! In summer, you can swim in the pond below while in winter the pond freezes over and an ice enclosure develops around the falls.
Katse Dam — an impressive dam towering 185m in a narrow valley
Dinosaur footprints — well-preserved footprints of these terrible lizards exist around the country; the most accessible are near Moyeni & Morija
Rock art — found in many places throughout the country, the most impressive found within Liphofung Cave.

- Pony-Trekking especially at either Malealea, Semonkong, or at the Basotho Pony-Trekking Centre — whether you're a seasoned pro at horse riding or a complete novice, pony-trekking is an extremely enjoyable way to see the Lesotho countryside! These organized tours give you access to parts of the country which you wouldn't see from your car. The exceptionally sure-footed Basotho Pony can take you through far-off villages and atop daunting mountains.

- Hiking in the Highlands. Contact the Department of Tourism, who will find you a guide, and then fly into a completely cut off village and hike your way out, staying in remote villages over night. You can also purchase 1:25,000 topographical maps for about 25LSL from the office of Lands, Surveys, and Physical Planning in downtown Maseru and do this yourself (recommended only for experienced hikers).

- Skiing — hit the slopes at Oxbow during the winter!
GoVertical Mountaineering Adventures. Guided Trekking and Climbing in the Maluti/ Drakensberg mountains

The official currency of Lesotho is the loti (LSL) (plural: maloti), which is subdivided into 100 lisente. Lesotho along with Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland is a member of the Southern African Common Monetary Area, and as such the loti is pegged 1:1 to the South African Rand (ZAR). Both the loti and rand are legal tender in Lesotho, though change will usually be given in loti.

There are ATMs at banks in most towns, although you will not find them elsewhere. Most banks will change travellers cheques for you, but it can be a very, very lengthy process if they are in any other currency apart from ZAR. Credit cards will be accepted in Shoprite and the main hotels, but not elsewhere. Your cashcard from home may work in some Maseru cash machines (FNB or Standard Bank), but it is best to get cash out in South Africa beforehand.

Restaurants outside of Maseru and in Maseru will probably not accept credit card as a means of payment.

There are several Western style supermarkets in Maseru, which are good for stocking up on supplies in before heading elsewhere in the country.

If you're after locally made goods and crafts, your best bet is to give Maseru a miss, and head to TY or Hlotse, where the markets are far better and cheaper. You can buy traditional Basotho hats, sticks, rugs and various other curios.

Wine And Dine
There are many Western style restaurants in Maseru. For a more traditional meal, why not befriend some locals and see what they cook you?! The local speciality is deep fried harajja with Golumbi paste - spicy but not ridiculous.

To praise the food offered by one's hosts is a very high compliment in Lesotho, particularly if such praise is accompanied by lip-smacking.

Lesotho hosts dozens of hotels, lodges and guesthouses. A full list can be found of the Lesotho Tourism Development Corporations . The list below are the most tourism oriented and are pleasant places to stay. Other accommodation tends to be more functional and are OK to rest overnight and have a simple meal, but are unlikely to offer good service, nor any recreational activities. It is advisable, if possible, to book in advance in order to arrange budget accommodations.

The cheapest option could be " Lesotho Work Camps Association "

22 Cathedral Area, Main North 1 (past traffic circle), turn right at first traffic light. (April 2014) - 24 bed Dorm LSL50 per person per night. They have only dorms. Male, female separated. If you pay for the annual membership costs LSL50, then you pay LSL30 per night. So if you plan to stay in Maseru for more than 3 nights, it will be cheaper to pay the membership. There is a small kitchen. Good location. 2min to the Cathedral, 3 min to the Chinese market, 5min to Shop Rite and Taxi Rand. Dorm rooms are clean enough for the price, but the shower room is really dirty. And there is only ONE shower for everybody! Though the dorms never get full. I can recommend only if you really need a cheap place to stay in Maseru.

Semonkong Lodge situated on the Maletsunyane river and just one hour's walk from Maletsunyane Falls, offers accommodations, good food, horse treks, abseiling at the Falls.

Malealea has a lodge and pony trekking centre which offers good accommodation, foot or horse treks and 4x4 excursions.

Oxbow (Lesotho) has the New Oxbow Lodge

Katse has the Orion Katse Lodge

Mohale has the Orion Mohale Lodge

Hotel Mount Maluti

Blue Mountain Inn

Mountain View Hotel

Lesotho is far safer than neighbouring South Africa. However, it is risky to walk in Maseru alone and you should check UK government travel advice since that government is one of the few with a substantial mission apart from South Africa.

As with pretty much everywhere else in the world, you may find friendly chats with locals turn in to veiled requests for money — stick to your principles and only give to registered charities.

At night time, it is the norm to drive through red lights — this is more just to speed up your journey,the police won't care, but also a precaution against carjackings.

Lesotho has a history as a very safe, peaceful and welcoming country.

Try and learn a few Sesotho words before travelling to Lesotho. The locals appreciate a foreigner who has made the effort to learn their language. Always refer to an elder person, or a person of higher social standing as N'tate (male) or M'e (female).

Lumela (pronounced due-mela) is hello. So you would say Lumela N'tate or Lumela M'e. Kea leboha (sounds like ke-la-bore) - is thank you U phela joang (O-pila-joan) - how are you Respond with either hantle (well) or Ke phila hantle (I am well) Sala hantle (as it is written) is "stay well" if they are staying and your are going. Equivalent to goodbye. Somaya hantle is "go well" if they are going and you are staying

Always respond to people, it is very offensive to ignore someone who greets you. As a foreigner, locals will be keen to say hello and ask you what you're up to in their country.

Never get angry at anyone; in the Basotho culture, people never show frustration towards others, and if you do, then you can easily offend someone. You will almost certainly get frustrated when dealing with Lesotho officialdom, always keep your cool no matter how much buffoonery you are subjected to. To show respect when giving and receiving items, use both hands. Also show a respect for food — don't throw it around, or eat whilst walking.

MACAU: Protest In Macau Supporting Uber After They Decided To Quit

Hundreds of supporters of car-hailing service Uber in Macau have vowed to take to the street on September 4 to protest at the government’s crackdown on the operator, which has decided to quit.

The Macao Community Development Initiative has called on Uber supporters in the gambling enclave to join the protest in support of Uber, which will bid farewell to the city on September 9, blaming heavy penalties imposed on the company’s drivers and the authorities’ reluctance to regulate the car-sharing industry.

As of 5pm on Thursday, more than 430 people had signed up for the protest while a social media page urging support for Uber had attracted more than 11,500 likes and a signature campaign kicked off to gain more public support.

In a letter to Macau lawmaker Au Kam-san, Uber regional general manager for Asia Mike Brown said: “We we write to you today [August 22] to advise you of our intention to suspend our service in Macau. The reason for this is the unwillingness of the government to develop a common sense path to progressive ... ridesharing regulations. The penalties imposed on driver-partners have become far too costly, to the extent it is no longer viable to operate.”

Brown said he had notified Macau Chief Executive Dr Fernando Chui Sai-on about the decision on August 16. Chui’s office has not replied. Brown said more than 300 drivers had been fined 10 million patacas since operations began in October.

“Moreover, riders are being detained at police stations without any legal grounds, many who are tourists that regularly use Uber in their home country. Meanwhile, driver-partners are being harassed by police at their homes.”

The US-based car hailing mobile phone app has been popular in Macau, where taxis are in short supply. Its operation in Macau has been deemed illegal by the authorities, who have launched 379 prosecutions related to Uber.

Macau’s Secretary for Security Wong Sio-chak said earlier the government was not suppressing Uber but enforcing its laws. He said firms had to acquire a licence before operating hire car services.

An Uber spokesman said its services in Hong Kong would not be affected.

Hong Kong Airport Growth And Congestion

Hong Kong International Airport is on track to fly 70 million passengers around the world, despite shaky tourism numbers and a weaker economic environment.

The Airport Authority has forecast growth this year between 4-5 per cent after having carried 41.5 million travellers in and out of Hong Kong so far, a 5.2 per cent jump on the same time last year.

But some headwinds are yet to hit, with a month-long cut of flights to accommodate a new air traffic control system set to take effect October 30 to November 26. The cut is expected to translate into lower passenger numbers and reduce earnings for the airport with total flight schedules estimated to fall by seven per cent.

Two weeks ago, Hong Kong recorded better-than-expected second quarter growth numbers however, the first quarter failed to hit estimates and mainland tourism numbers rebounded for the first time in 13 months.

Meanwhile, the airport has firmed up proposals to boost the number of flights by opening up both runways for longer periods while the long-term expansion of the third runway continues.

Mitigation measures are being studied to study whether the runways can open at least 15 minutes earlier, following nightly maintenance. The extra 15-minute window could translate into eight extra flights per day, or up to 3,000 more per year.

Fred Lam Tin-fuk, chief executive of the Airport Authority, told local radio yesterday morning the airport was assessing possibilities for the runways.

“We’re exploring proposals and see how we can utilise the two runways in the future beyond their designed capacity. This will be hugely beneficial as the third runway was being constructed.”

The existing two runways will be too full to handle extra flights by next year, Lam added.

Former Civil Aviation Department chief from 1998-2004, Albert Lam Kwong-yu, warned that the community had very strong views about environmental noise.

He warned the noise pollution ordinance, where renovations must stop between 11pm and 7am the next day, could eventually limit the general creation of noise.

“The government also has a responsibility to limit that. People living under the flight path or near the airport are very concerned about the exposure of noise – which I fully appreciate,” he added.

The first tranche of financing for the expansion of Hong Kong International Airport will be launched next year, the airport chief has said.

Half of the total financing for the third runway expansion, some HK$69 billion of HK$141.5 billion, will be sourced through bank loans and retail bonds.

“Our plan is mainly materialised through (the issue of) retail bonds. Our estimate is that over half of the funding arrangements rely on retail bonds,” he said.

“Since the project has only just begun construction, I don’t think we need to secure a large amount of money. But we plan to roll out the first batch of retail bonds by the middle of next year.”

The Airport Authority will appoint a financial consultant by the end of the year to formulate concrete funding plans.

Lam refused to comment on the outcome of the judicial review, which challenges an environmental permit issued by the Environmental Protection Department, but stressed the Airport Authority had conducted the required risk assessments and construction would continue as scheduled regardless of the outcome, with completion set for 2024.

HONG KONG: Uber Halts Taxi And Van Services

Uber is putting the brakes on its taxi and van ­services in Hong Kong, effective from Monday, citing the need to shift focus to the ride-sharing business and phase out underused services.

The decision comes hot on the heels of Uber’s plan to pull out of the Macau market on September 9 due to an increasing crackdown on the operator by the enclave’s government.

But Hong Kong’s taxi trade yesterday noted that instead of pulling out of the city, Uber was expanding its ride-sharing ­services, which posed a bigger threat to their business.

A spokesman for Uber in Hong Kong said local taxi and van services – both deemed as “non-core business” for the popular ride-hailing firm – would be available only until Sunday. However, the company will continue providing its other ride-sharing platforms.

“We are realigning our offerings to focus on the ride-sharing options on our platforms UberX and UberBlack, which are used by the vast majority of riders and drivers, and part of the realignment is that some options that are not as commonly used will be phased out,” the spokesman said.

“Ride-sharing services are Uber’s core business and represent the overwhelming majority of rides in Hong Kong.”

He expressed hope that the realignment would allow Uber to improve services for its “rapidly growing” rider and driver base.

In a text message to Uber drivers, the firm informed them of the decision and invited them to sign up for UberX and UberBlack. The former offers smaller car models at more affordable rates compared with the existing UberBlack line and its luxury cars.

Earlier, the firm ramped up its push for new drivers and passengers with an advertising blitz.

Chau Kwok-keung, spokesman of the Anti-Taxi Franchises Concern Group, said Uber’s move meant the firm was going to be more aggressive with the expansion of UberX and UberBlack. “For us it is bad news as Uber looks set to be aggressive in stealing our prime customers,” he said.

The government has been accused of foot dragging and ambiguity over the legality of Uber in the city. It has repeatedly said that it is illegal to carry paying passengers without a car-hire permit.

In August last year, seven Uber drivers were arrested for lacking permits and driving without third-party insurance, while ­police raided the company’s offices after complaints by local taxi drivers. Two of them were fined.

Earlier Uber ended its attempted conquest of the mainland’s taxi-hailing market after agreeing to sell up to its bigger rival, Didi Chuxing. The deal was for Uber to hand over its Chinese brand, operations and data in ­exchange for a 17.3 per cent stake in Didi and a US$1 billion ­investment.

MALAYSIA: Yasmin Raysid Environmental Warrior

Yasmin Raysid is founder and president of the Malaysian conservationist group EcoKnights.
Women are true environmental warriors whose myriad contributions are vital for conservationism and environmental protection. So says Nazrin Shah, the sultan of Perak, and we certainly second that view. Numerous women, Sultan Nazrin said, "have made important impacts, both through their own direct actions and through the inspiration they have provided to others to make their own commitment to respect the environment.” Yes, they have.

The sultan spoke at the 26th Conference of the Pan Pacific and Southeast Asian Women’s Association (PPSEAWA) on the topic "Respect the Environment for a Sustainable and Peaceful Future" in Kuala Lumpur. As exemplary female conservationists he cited the late Kenyan environmentalist and political activist Wangari Maathai, who founded the Green Belt Movement, which empowers people, especially women, to protect the natural environment and live sustainable lives. Nazrin also cited Jane Goodall, "another outstanding woman environmentalist whose work has made immense contribution by promoting greater respect for and understanding of animals.”

The sultan could equally have cited Malaysian women like Yasmin Rasyid, founder and president of EcoKnights. A marine biologist and mother of two from Ipoh, Yasmin, 41, is a committed environmentalist whose nonprofit which focuses on environmental education and awareness, as well as community empowerment and development.

Over the years her organization has spearheaded numerous community-based projects to raise awareness of environmental issues and promote sustainable lifestyles in communities around Malaysia from villages to towns to cities. "EcoKnights has also organised several road shows, upon request, to educate the public on environmental awareness such as through recycling programmes,” she told Bernama.

Another leading light of environmentalism in Malaysia is Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil, a Penang native who is president of the Association for the Protection of Natural Heritage of Malaysia (Peka). Shariffa has been campaigning relentlessly to protect her native state from further depredations at the hands of property developers. She has spoken out both against coastal reclamations and against encroachments on hills and forests. “The stripped hills (in Penang) are obscene and we cannot bear the sights of looking at the bald patches,” she said recently. “Something must be done immediately to rectify the worsening stripped hill portion immediately.”

Something definitely needs to be done and we are lucky to have women like Yasmin and Shariffa wage battles tirelessly day after day for the environment. More power to these two and all other women warriors of nature!

SOMALIA: Hotel Attack

At least 15 people died when jihadists exploded a suicide car bomb outside a popular hotel close to the presidential palace in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, police said Wednesday, updating an earlier toll.

"The number of the people who died in the blast reached 15 and 45 others were wounded, most of them lightly," said Mogadishu police chief Bishar Abshir Gedi.

He said civilians and security forces were among the dead in Tuesday's attack.

Several journalists who were at the hotel at the time of the attack were injured.

A vehicle rammed through a checkpoint on Tuesday and was fired on by security forces before it exploded outside the SYL hotel.

An earlier toll stood at five killed and 28 injured.

The hotel is situated close to the main entrance to the Villa Somalia government complex that includes the presidential palace, ministry buildings and residences.

A witness described seeing a large blast and a thick plume of smoke that rose high into the air.

"I saw a car speeding towards the area and huge smoke and fire went up in the sky," said Elmi Ahmed.

The explosion left a scene of widespread damage with a crater in the road, buildings damaged, nearby walls collapsed and debris scattered across the usually busy carriageway.

The Al-Qaeda aligned Shabaab jihadist group said it was responsible for the attack.

The fortified hotel, popular with government officials, business people and visiting diplomats and delegations, was previously attacked in both February this year and January last year.

Last week gunmen detonated a bomb outside a beachside restaurant before storming inside and killing at least seven people.

The jihadists have also staged repeated attacks in neighbouring Kenya and a recent security analysis warned the group was expanding its horizons with cells active in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda as well as Somalia.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov Rumoured DeadAfter Stroke

Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov died of a stroke on August 29 at 15:35, the Moscow-based Central Asian news agency Fergana News reported, citing anonymous sources. The 79-year-old strongman had been running the Uzbek republic since its independence in 1989 with an iron fist.

The office of the president issued a very short statement late on August 29 denying the reports of Karimov's death and said he was in a stable condition. Earlier the government, in a rare comment on the president's health, admitted he had been hospitalised.

On August 29, Karimov’s daughter Lola Karimova-Tillyayeva wrote on her Instagram account that her father was in hospital due to a “cerebral haemorrhage”, adding that his condition was “stable”.

The Uzbek government has denied reports that the country’s long serving president, Islam Karimov, has died following a brain hemorrhage, the Interfax news agency reported.

Doctors are currently describing Karimov's condition as “stable,” a source close to the Uzbek government told Interfax.

Uzbekistan's Fergana news agency had reported Karimov's death on Monday night, citing a number of unidentified sources. Arkady Dubnov, Russia's expert on Central Asia, also confirmed Karimov's death, quoting his sources.

The country's official state newspaper had confirmed the leader's hospitalization on Monday morning. Karimov’s youngest daughter, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, later posted a statement on Instagram saying that her father, 78, was in intensive care.

Russia’s embassy in Tashkent has neither confirmed nor denied reports of Karimov’s death.

The Regnum news agency reported Tuesday that one of the front-runners to succeed Karimov, Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov, has been placed under house arrest.

Government officials have denied the reports, maintaining that Azimov is continuing in his post.

Both Azimov and the current prime minister, Shavkat Mirziyayev, are believed to be the most likely candidates to succeed Karimov. Analysts believe that the Uzbek political elite, fearing instability within the regime, will work to ensure a smooth transition.

INDIA: Kerala Plans To Develop Airstrips For Chartered Tourists

Kerala government on friday proposed to develop airstrips at Bakal, Wayanad, Idukki and Sabarimala to enhance connectivity for the chartered tourists and the development of tourism in the state.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on friday met Union Minister for Civil Aviation Ashok Gajapathi Raju and demanded an improved domestic connectivity in the state, for which the minister assured that he will bring this matter to the notice of airliners concerned.

"We have great potential for tourism in the state. We need to develop airstrips at various tourist places so as to enable chartered flights to land," Mr Vijayan told reporters in New Delhi.

When asked about the proposed controversial Aranmula airport project in Pathanamthitta district, where Sabarimala is located, he said his government is opposed to the project as it poses threat to the agricultural land there.

"We are not opposing the construction of any airport. It is not practical there as the proposed site is an agricultural land and we are against using that land," he said.

The chief minister also demanded relaxation of landing norms at Calicut International Airport where wide-bodied aircrafts are not allowed to land after a DGCA directive on the expansion works.

"We will speed up the process of land acquisition for the Airport," Mr Vijayan said in a press meet.

UNWTO Wine Tourism Conference Attracts Experts From Allover The World

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), in collaboration with the Georgian National Tourism Administration, is organizing the 1st UNWTO Global Conference on Wine Tourism in the Kakheti wine region of Georgia on 7-9 September 2016.

“Georgia’s unique wine-making traditions date back 8,000 years and are considered by UNESCO as intangible heritage, making the country an ideal host for the Global Conference on Wine Tourism. The country’s recent success in attracting a growing number of tourists, and its development of tourism products, branding and marketing, combine to present an excellent platform for sharing best practices, experience and knowledge,” said Dimitry Kumsishvili, Vice-Prime Minister and Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia.

“Wine tourism is a growing segment with immense opportunities to diversify demand. In the case of Georgia, the segment’s potential is well known and we are very pleased to be holding the first UNWTO Global Conference on Wine Tourism in the country”, added Taleb Rifai, UNWTO Secretary-General.

Gastronomy and wine have become key components of a culture and lifestyle experience of any destination, and a growing travel motivation. To foster the development of this segment, in September 2015 UNWTO launched the UNWTO Gastronomy Network.

In this context, UNWTO is currently developing a Wine Tourism Prototype in Spain. The Prototype includes an analysis of wine tourism, in comparison with other tourism segments, and the design of an innovative product development model focused on the integration of the wineries into the cultural, economic, social and environmental heritage of their area of influence. The final results of this project will be presented at the conference.

The Conference will have a unique and dynamic format with three sessions to be held in different wineries across the Georgian region of Kakheti.

Speakers at the conference will include: Mr. Giovanni Mantovani, CEO, VeronaFiere and creator of VINITALY, (Italy); Ms. Janet Dorozynski, Trade Commissioner, Canadian Wine, Beer and Spirits and Tourism, Trade Sectors Bureau (BBI), Global Affairs Canada (Canada); Mr. Mike Veseth, Wine Economist, Professor Emeritus of International Political Economy, University of Puget Sound (United States); Mr. Gabriel Fidel, Wine Tourism Consultant (Argentina); Ms. Ayana Mizawa, Chief winemaker, Chuo Budoshu Co., Ltd., Grace Wine (Japan); Mr. Pedro Vargas, International Projects Director, Leading Brands of Spain Forum (Spain); Mr. George Chogovadze, Head of Georgian National Tourism Administration (Georgia); Mr. Levan Davitashvili, Deputy Minister of Agriculture of Georgia (Georgia); Mr. Patrick Honnef, Winemaker, Viticulturist, CEO of Château Mukhrani, Georgia (Georgia); Mr. John H Wurdeman V, Owner of Pheasant’s Tears (Georgia); Mr. Santiago Vivanco, Director, Vivanco Museum of Wine Culture (Spain); Mr. Donald Hawkins, Eisenhower Professor, George Washington University (United States); Ms. Paula Sousa, Marketing & Tourism Sales Director, Quinta Nova N. S. Carmo (Portugal) and Ms. Zaida Semprun, Wine Tourism Commercial Manager, Freixenet Group (Spain).

Revisit Decision To Close Liquor Bars,Kerala Tourism Minister

Kerala Tourism Minister AC Moideen today sought a "re-look" on closure of liquor bars in tourist hotspots in the state which has seen a fall in arrivals causing a loss to the tourism industry.

The previous UDF government had decided to close down 700-odd liquor bars attached to hotels below five star categories in 2014.

Kerala has seen a severe dip in tourist arrivals and fall in revenues following the closure of bars. "The present excise policy has dealt a severe blow to the tourism industry in Kerala," Mr Moideen told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram.

"There has been a severe fall in the growth of tourist arrivals in the state. With hotels not serving liquor, conferences have come down and the state is losing out," he said, adding, liquor should be made available in bars in tourist hotspots.

Tourism Department's report has been submitted to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, he said.

In Kerala, while the domestic arrival of tourists touched 124,65,571 in 2015, a growth of 6.59 per cent, figure for foreign tourist arrival was 9,77,479 (5.86 per cent growth), he said.

In 2014, domestic tourist arrivals stood at 116,95,411 (7.71 per cent) against 9,23,366 (7.60 per cent) of international visitors, while in 2013 it was 108,57,811 (7.75 per cent) and foreign tourists 8,58,143 (8.12 per cent).

During 2014, the state earned Rs. 6,398.93 crore in foreign exchange earnings showing a 15 per cent increase, while it was Rs. 6,949.88 crore last year with a dip of 8.6 per cent.

The total revenue generated from tourism (direct and indirect) in 2014 was Rs. 24,885.44 crore (12.11 per cent) while in 2015 it was Rs. 26,689.63 crore (7.25 per cent).

CANADA: Chinese TV Star Says Canada's Tourism Agency Censored Him

A Chinese TV star is accusing the Crown corporation that promotes Canadian tourism abroad of censorship for its opposition to an episode of his program that looked at the rights of Aboriginal people.

Gao Xiaosong, a singer and a former judge on China's Got Talent, had an episode of his talk show pulled from popular Chinese video-streaming site last Friday after Destination Canada intervened to voice its concerns about an interview with a First Nations chief.

The agency, which sponsored the episode, took issue with the show's focus on the plight of Canada's Indigenous people rather than on popular tourist attractions.

Gao took to Sina Weibo, a Chinese social media platform similar to Twitter, to criticize the tourism agency for interfering in the production of his show, calling the agency "arrogant" and "aggressive" in its reaction to a preview of the episode.

The talk show host said Destination Canada, which was formerly known as the Canadian Tourism Commission, threatened legal and diplomatic action if the content was not removed.

Destination Canada disputes aspects of Gao's characterization of the disagreement.

According to the series of events outlined in Global Times, a newspaper owned by the Communist Party of China, the tourism agency demanded — through a sponsor and then directly with the show's producers — that Gao remove all content about the human rights of First Nations.

In a screen grab of an e-mail posted by Gao to Sina Weibo, a person purported to be working for Destination Canada in China told Gao that Indigenous rights are a sensitive subject akin to talk of Tibetan independence in China.

"We have always emphasized not to mention the Aboriginal peoples because it's... history that is not to be proud of," the e-mail says. The authenticity of these e-mails has not been verified.

Gao then told his followers that the next episode would be "delayed indefinitely" because of the "strong obstructions."

Destination Canada confirmed in an e-mailed statement on Monday that it partnered with Ctrip, the largest travel agency in China, to craft four online advertising videos to help reach potential travellers in China and "inspire them to visit Canada."

"As a client of Ctrip, Destination Canada can suggest changes to the videos that are produced," the statement said. "Destination Canada made recommendations to ensure a focus on Canadian tourism, and these suggestions were accepted by the production company."

Gao denied Sunday that Destination Canada was in any way involved in the production of his program. "The changes and removals Destination Canada demanded account for up to 20 minutes. Even if we had a contract, which we don't, the harm to the episode would be unacceptable," he posted on Sina Weibo.

But Destination Canada contradicted Gao's claim Monday, calling its relationship with Gao and, which produces Gao's show, a "paid editorial."

"Destination Canada's programs in China focus on working with Chinese travel companies who have access to celebrities to tell the story of travel in Canada. In advance of production, Destination Canada provides a briefing and guidelines; [it] respects the tone and manner of our content partners," the spokesperson said.

The first of the four Canada-themed episodes of Gao's show was set in Vancouver, where he met with the city's mayor, Gregor Robertson. Gao called Robertson "one of the most reasonable, and most reliable, leftists. He is not very radical."

In the same episode, Gao called Prime Minister Justin Trudeau "Little Potato," a reference to Trudeau's last name, which sounds like a Chinese word for potato. Later, he visited Niagara Falls, Ont., a destination that has seen a surge in Chinese tourists.

Overall, Chinese vists to Canada were up 24.9 per cent year-over-year in May, according to Destination Canada.

The war of words between the Crown corporation and the Chinese star comes just as Trudeau is set to touch down in China for a nearly two-week visit to meet with leaders and senior government officials and to attend the G20 meeting in Hangzhou.

INDIA: For Your Own Safety, Don't Wear Skirts Says Tourism Minister

India’s tourism minister has said foreign women should not wear skirts or walk alone at night in the country’s small towns and cities “for their own safety”.

Discussing tourist security in the north Indian city of Agra, site of the Taj Mahal, Mahesh Sharma said foreign arrivals to India were issued a welcome kit that included safety advice for women.

“In that kit they are given dos and don’ts,” he said on Sunday. “These are very small things like, they should not venture out alone at night in small places, or wear skirts, and they should click the photo of the vehicle number plate whenever they travel and send it to friends.”

He added: “For their own safety, women foreign tourists should not wear short dresses and skirts Indian culture is different from the western.”

The welcome kit, geared at female travellers and introduced last year, is one of a suite of measures introduced to address declining rates of female tourism after the high-profile gang-rape and murder of a Delhi medical student in 2012, and a number of subsequent attacks on female tourists.

The kit says: “Some parts of India, particularly the smaller towns and villages, still have traditional styles of dressing. Do find out about local customs and traditions or concerned authorities before visiting such places.”

It mirrors the UK Foreign Office advice to women travelling in India, which suggests they “respect local dress codes and customs and avoid isolated areas, including beaches, when alone at any time of day”.

Sharma clarified his remarks later on Sunday, denying they amounted to a dress code for foreign women. ”We have not given any specific instructions regarding what they should wear or not wear. We are asking them to take precaution while going out at night. We are not trying to change anyone’s preference,” he said.

“It was very stupid, not a fully thought-through statement,” said Ranjana Kumari, the director of the Delhi-based Centre for Social Research, a thinktank focusing on gender equality in India. “The minister doesn’t realise the implications of such irresponsible statements.”

Kumari said the remarks reflected “the syndrome of blaming women” for what they wore and where they were. She said: “But the problem is men and boys in India. They go for all kinds of misogyny and sexual acts, rapes and gang-rapes. It’s important for [Sharma] to have said how to punish the perpetrators of crime and stop the nonsense of ogling women and following them. Why should any girls come to India when it is becoming famous for not being safe to girls?”

India toughened sentences for rape and introduced fast-track courts for sexual assault trials after the fatal 2012 gang-rape focused world attention on violence against women in the country.

National crime statistics show 92 women are raped each day in India, mostly in rural areas, though the figure is widely believed to be an underestimate. Street harassment and violence, sometimes called “eve-teasing”, is even more common, experienced by 79% of Indian women according to a recent survey.

Tourists can be subjected to the same harassment and worse, most recently in July 2016 when an Israeli national was sexually assaulted by a gang of men in the Himalayan resort town of Manali. A Japanese woman was kidnapped and sexually assaulted in 2014 in Bihar and a Russian assaulted by an auto-rickshaw driver in Delhi in 2015, among other cases.

Sharma’s remarks trended on Indian social media on Monday and earned rebukes from political rivals.

Enjoy Turkish Pumpkin Dessert

This Turkish pumpkin dessert features pumpkin wedges “soaked” for hours in sugar to draw out the liquid from the gourd.

Pumpkins are a fixture at autumn farmers markets in Turkey, where they grow so large that they’re often cut with saws and sold in halves or by the slice. Like Americans, Turks love their pumpkin both savory — in soups, stews and as stuffed vegetables — and sweet.

Perhaps the most prized Turkish dessert is kabak tatlisi (literally, “pumpkin sweet”), wedges of pumpkin simmered in a syrup made by using sugar to leach the gourd of its natural juices. Because the recipe doubles or triples easily and the result keeps well for a day or two in the refrigerator, it’s a perfect dessert for holidays that demand do-ahead short-cuts, like Thanksgiving.

I’ve been a pumpkin lover all my life, yet until recently, kabak tatlisi, which is often served on its own or with kaymak (Turkish clotted cream), left me cold. Then I sampled it in Hatay province in southeast Turkey, where the pumpkin is served drizzled with tahini (that is a Turkish pantry staple) and sprinkled with crushed walnuts. The tahini’s slight bitterness tames the cloying sweetness of the pumpkin and crunchy walnuts complement the pudding-soft texture of the vegetable. The tahini’s oil content lends a rich, satisfying mouth feel, but since it’s made up mostly of vegetable, kabak tatlisi settles lightly in the stomach.

Though Turkish cooks usually make kabak tatlisi in a covered pan on top of the stove, I’ve found that the dish cooks wonderfully — and with less bother — in the oven. It emerges a lovely burnt orange, tinged with brownish bits from the caramelization.

Be prepared. This recipe calls for what will seem like a lot of sugar. Resist the temptation to cut back. The sugar is there to pull liquid out of the pumpkin. Yes, the result is super-sweet, but kabak tatlisi isn’t meant to be eaten in American pumpkin-pie-sized wedges. Just a few cubes per diner — three or four little bites of caramel-y, tahini-nutty sweetness to end a meal — will do.

Resist also any urge to reduce cooking time by cutting the pumpkin into smaller pieces than this recipe indicates, or it will turn to mush before it caramelizes and the syrup has reduced. Be sure to use unadulterated tahini, without peanuts or peanut butter. Its bitter edge is essential to the success of this dish.

Plan ahead: the pumpkin must “soak” in the sugar for 8 hours (or overnight) before baking.

Caramelized Pumpkin with Tahini and Walnuts (Firinda Kabak Tatlisi)


Prepping the pumpkin:

1. Cut the pumpkin into wide (3-inch) wedges and/or large (4-by-4-inch) chunks.

2. Arrange the pumpkin pieces in a baking dish or tray just large enough to hold them closely, but without crowding.

3. Sprinkle the sugar over the pumpkin and cover the dish with plastic wrap.

4. Leave the pumpkin at room temperature for 8 hours or overnight. Turn the pumpkin pieces occasionally – once every few hours, or once before bed and once after you get up — to expose all sides to the sugar.

Baking the pumpkin:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.

2. Before baking, turn the pumpkin pieces one last time in what has likely become a mixture of syrup and lumps of wet granulated sugar.

3. Place the baking dish on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 40 minutes, gently turning the pumpkin pieces and basting with the sugar syrup once or twice.

4. Check the pumpkin for doneness by piercing a piece with a sharp knife. There should be no resistance.

5. Baste the pumpkin once more, then raise the heat to 400 F and continue to bake until it shows bits of caramel brown in some spots and the syrup bubbles, about 10 to 15 minutes.

6. Cool the pumpkin in its baking dish.

7. To serve, cut the pumpkin into small cubes or wedges and carefully transfer to bowls or plates. Spoon a bit of syrup over it, if you like, or leave it in the dish. Drizzle 1 1/2 tablespoons of tahini over each serving of pumpkin and sprinkle with walnuts.

Note: This recipe can easily be doubled, halved, cut into thirds. The rule of thumb is one part sugar to two parts pumpkin. Do not serve kabak tatlisi hot out of the oven. Room temperature or slightly chilled is best. Make sure your tahini is at room temperature when you serve.

Prep time: Up to 1/2 hour to prep the pumpkin; 8 hours to “soak” the pumpkin

Cook time: 45 minutes

Yield: Serves 8


1 1/2 pounds peeled pumpkin

3/4 pound (1 1/2 cups white sugar)

12 tablespoons pure tahini, at room temperature and whisked to remove any lumps

3/4 cup chopped walnuts

Friday, 26 August 2016

KENYA: African Travel & Tourism Association Says Kenya Tops World In Tourist Bookings

Kenya has in 2016 recorded the largest growth in tourist bookings globally, says American-based luxury travel network Virtuoso.

The agency boasts 390 members and more than 11,400 elite travel advisors in 40 countries across North America, Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, Asia-Pacific, Africa and the Middle East.

Virtuoso said Kenya scored 59 per cent, followed by Iceland (56), Saint Martin (39), China (35), Ecuador (34), Japan (32), South Africa (28), Tanzania (27), Croatia (25) and Jamaica 23 per cent to close the top 10 list.

The firm, which has affiliations with 1,700 hotels and resorts, cruise lines, airlines, tour companies and premier destinations, said Africa enjoyed a steady rise in tourist arrivals during summer, with a commanding 28 per cent.

In Nairobi, the Kenya Tourism Federation (KTF) signed a partnership with British Airways that will see clients of the federation enjoy a 13-17 per cent discounted air fare for every online purchase of a ticket between now and end of May 2017.

Acting KTF chief executive Susan Ongalo described the initiative as timely, saying KTF members would now market Kenya abroad and inform their clients of the subsidised rates.

She said tourists would enjoy lower charges as many hotels, tour operators and travel agents had initiated a cost-reduction incentive for repeat clients.

Virtuoso’s findings were announced during the annual Virtuoso Travel Week in Las Vegas last week on Tuesday evening, attended by travel agency members from the United States and Canada.

Virtuoso commands nearly half of the Sh3.55 trillion tourism revenues.

It said Kenya was among the “hottest” upscale holiday destinations in 2016, owing to its exclusive amenities, rare experiences and privileged access.

Virtuoso added that Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa rank high as investment destinations and stand to experience a 17 per cent rise in tourist arrivals.

“Luxury travellers are seeking out more exotic locales worldwide, including a boom for Africa,” it said.

CONGO DR: Maiko National Park

Maiko National Park is a national park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It lies in one of the most remote forest areas of the country and covers 10,885 km2 (4,203 sq mi).

The park is divided into three sectors, straddling the states of Nord Kivu, Province Orientale and Maniema. Three of the country's spectacular endemic animals occur here: the Grauer's gorilla, the okapi, and the Congo peafowl.

Maiko is also an important site for the conservation of the African forest elephant, eastern chimpanzee and the endemic aquatic genet.

In 1949, the Belgian colonial administration created the Bakumu Hunting Reserve (Bakumu, meaning "The Kumus", the native tribe in the region) on an area that would later encompass the boundaries of the Park as we know it today. The original plans for the area is believed to have aimed at preventing the exploitation of mineral resources rather the protection of the nature and the wildlife.

On November 20 of 1970, the Presidential Decree no 70-312 which is bound to the law that had created the ICCN previous year, was signed into force by Joseph Désiré Mobutu. This document asserted the Maiko National Park to be a full-fledged nature protection area.

The roadless and inaccessible nature of the region made it ideal for some Simba rebels to retreat after their defeat in 1964. Ever since, they have been making a meager living by poaching on wildlife and controlling illegal mining activities inside of Maiko. The presence of the Simba also stems from the inability of the governing bodies to follow the compensatory measures required by the decree of 1970.

This precarious security situation have made it difficult for the rangers to patrol the Park, especially after the ICCN was coerced by the Congolese army into guiding their attacks towards the Simba.

Moreover, conservation work has also been hampered by the presence of rebels, culminating in capture and detainment of several survey crews between 2003 and 2005.

At least three other rebels groups are known to be active in different parts of the park, among which the Rwandan Interahamwe in the east. Put together, these menaces leave absolutely no control over the park area by the ICCN.

The first thorough exploration of the Maiko dates back to 1989, when the Wildlife Conservation Society, backed by the ICCN (then ZICN) and supported by the World Bank, the European Community and the WWF, moved into the area and surveyed about 950 km of transect. WCS further surveyed the North Sector in 2005.

The Dian Fossey Gorilla fund conducted the first surveys of the southern sector of the park for over a decade in 2005, and documented a gorilla population more widespread than previously detected from previous studies.

WCS surveyed an additional block in the South Sector in 2006. These surveys, combined revealed that Maiko is highly threatened yet supports an important reservoir of endemic and rare species.

A more recent survey focussed on the forests west and south of the park in 2010 revealed that threats had intensified since 2005 and also documented the extinction of one of the new gorilla subpopulations documented in the 2005 surveys.

All observations point out to the intense hunting pressure caused by miners and the widespread use of guns as serious threats to the remaining animal populations.

A new approach to conservation has been the implementation of compensation measures for Simbas willing to leave the Park. In 2010, FFI initiated the construction of health centers and schools in villages falling inside the zone of influence of the Simbas.

The same year FZS launched an ambitious project aiming at turning the Simbas problem around by recruiting some of them as park rangers and allowing a de facto social reintegration which would directly benefit nature conservation in Maiko.

Nigerian Government Takes Turkish Airlines To Court For Consumer Rights Violations

The Nigerian government has taken Turkish Airlines to court for refusing to cooperate with the West African nation’s Consumer Protection Council (CPC.

According to Abuja high court papers seen by the CPC, the Nigerian government has filed a three-count charge against the airline and two of its principal officers, Liker Ayci and Rasak Shobowale for violating the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) Act.

It claims that they collectively refused to cooperate with lawful requests from the CPC for full reports on the alleged poor treatment of passengers and the delayed delivery of their luggage on flights between Abuja and Istanbul Atatürk on December 25 and 31, 2015 and on January 9, 2016. It also claims Ayci and Shobowale failed to appear before the CPC when requested to do so.

Given that cooperation with the CPC is required under the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) Act, the council subsequently turned to the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) for assistance when repeat attempts for clarification went unheeded.

The CPC also refused to accept a late response from Turkish Airlines where it claimed to have held discussions with other government agencies and had therefore already resolved the matter.

Cathay Pacific To Retire Airbus A340-300s By End Of 2017 For A350-900s

Cathay Pacific is moving to retire all its Airbus A340-300s by the end of 2017, as it prepares to take A350-900s in quick succession over the next two years.

In the release of its first-half results, the Hong Kong carrier says it has retired two A340s so far this year, and will retire another in the second half of the year. The four remaining A340s will be retired in 2017.

The airline has meanwhile been busy adding A350s, having already taken delivery of three of the widebodies since May, and with nine more due for the rest of the year.

Ten more of the type are scheduled to be delivered in 2017.

“The A350-900XWBs are fuel efficient and have the right range, capacity and operating economics for our requirements,” it adds.

The Oneworld airline will retire its last three 747-400 passenger aircraft by October.It has also delivered two 747 freighters to Boeing this year, and will hand over the final two in August and September.

These aircraft were sold to Boeing as part of an order for three 747-8Fs, which have already been delivered to Cathay.

As of 30 June, Cathay operated a fleet of 145 aircraft, about half of which are owned, comprising of A330s, A340s, A350s, 747s and 777s. It has firm orders for 12 aircraft in 2016, with no leases due this year.

The Cathay Pacific Group’s operating profit for the first half of the year plunged 71.9% to HK$664 million ($85.6 million), impacted by intense competition and downward pressure on yields, as well as a hefty loss on fuel hedging.

Attributable net profit also fell 82% to HK$353 million.

JetBlue Demand For Pilots

New York-based JetBlue Airways’ Gateway Select program inducted its first class of cadets late this summer. One of seven dedicated pipelines leading to the JetBlue cockpit, Gateway Select is the first modern example of a zero-time, trainee-to-airline-pilot program by a US carrier, despite the practice being established in Europe and Asia for some time.

The issues that made ab initio popular in other parts of the world—a dearth of indigenous pilots from general aviation and the military—are expected to spread to North America as a bubble of retirements hitting mainline airlines over the next decade combines with fewer pilots entering the profession because of the costs and time required.

The supply-demand imbalance is further exacerbated by the record numbers of new aircraft deliveries by Airbus and Boeing. Airbus’ most recent forecast shows a demand for 32,428 airliners to be delivered globally through 2035. Dominating the deliveries will be Asia-Pacific, with 41% of the total, followed by Europe with 21% and North America with 17%.

Boeing’s 2016 pilot and technician outlook (see table, page 32), published in July, forecasts a need for 617,000 new airline pilots through 2035, a 10% increase over the 2015 outlook. Of that number, Boeing predicts 248,000 pilots will be needed in the Asia-Pacific region, 112,000 in North America and 104,000 in Europe.

“The Asia-Pacific region comprises 41% percent of the global need due to the growth in the single-aisle market which is driven by low-cost carriers, while North America is the result of new markets opening in Cuba and Mexico, and demand in Europe has increased as a response to a strong intra-European Union market,” the Boeing report states.

On top of this growing requirement for pilots will come the impact in the US of a surge of mandatory age-65 retirements that are expected to peak in the late 2020s. For the US regional carriers, there is a double hit.

They are struggling to fill seats from college programs, the military and general aviation, a task complicated by a 2013 congressionally mandated first officer flight time rule that requires first officers to have an Airline Transport Pilot certificate.

This typically means a pilot must have logged 1,500 flight hours before being able to fly a commercial airliner; previously pilots could qualify with a minimum of 250 hours and a Commercial Pilot Certificate.

This combination of factors has put additional pressure on US airlines to invest more money and be more creative to keep cockpits staffed in the near term and to build pilot pipelines for the future. It’s neither an inexpensive nor a short-term solution.

“When you consider the path of ab initio, you’re looking at investing about five years or more before that pilot is capable of being considered for a captain position,” Michael Johnson, president and CEO of Paramount Aviation, a flight crew procurement agency based in Virginia, noted. “I think the number of programs is growing and will be a key factor in the long-term need for producing pilots.”

While there is no guarantee that a cadet will make it through the program, when an airline takes control of its pilot pipeline from the beginning, it gets the chance to screen prospective employees from the start, then to customize flight training through both schooling and initial operations in the fleet. This can yield benefits.

“There are several advantages for the airline—they can train the pilot exactly how they want the pilot to perform and do not have to un-train the peculiarities or unfavorable habits of an experienced pilot,” Johnson said.

“They develop a life-long relationship with the cadet pilot, which has the long-term advantage of lower attrition for the airline.”

Johnson acknowledged there can be downsides. “The airline assumes the risk that even after investing such capital into the pilot, they may not successfully complete the program,” he said. For JetBlue, the benefits outweigh the potential downsides. JetBlue SVP-safety, security and training Warren Christie said the carrier had been thinking about an ab initio program for a couple of years.

“What was attractive about the ab initio was the ability to structure it so that every phase of training was designed to prepare the pilot to be a future airline pilot,” Christie said. “You could ensure … consistency through every phase of a pilot’s training.”

Christie said he first considered the idea of creating an ab initio program after hearing Dieter Harms speak at a conference. Harms is the former head of the Lufthansa Pilot School and was a key player in the design of the multi-crew pilot license (MPL) program.

JetBlue worked with Canada-based training provider CAE to pull out the “best attributes” of an MPL program and combine it with FAA flight training requirements for the Gateway Select program, Christie explained.

CAE operates formal ab initio programs for 10 airlines and MPL schools for five, including Asia low-cost carrier (LCC) group AirAsia, UK LCC easyJet and Lufthansa. MPL programs train pilots to fly in a crewed environment from the start.

CAE announced in June that it had signed a new ab initio contract with India LCC IndiGo to produce more than 200 pilots through 2018 at locations in India and Australia. The company trains approximately 1,200 new pilots per year, with a capacity limit if 2,000 per year.

Once admitted to JetBlue’s Gateway Select, cadets will spend four weeks in a “foundation” course, followed by basic flight training at CAE’s Oxford Academy in Phoenix, Arizona. That training will be followed by simulator time at JetBlue’s facilities in Orlando and then a job as a certified flight instructor at CAE to build hours.

The airline will induct the first six candidates in a class of 24 cadets selected from 1,400 applications received in a 2.5-week period in March. Another six cadets will start training with ab initio training provider CAE every three months, with all 24 expected to complete the program in approximately 3.5 years and transition into a six-week JetBlue training course to become Embraer E190 first officers.

According to the Future and Active Pilot Advisors web site, JetBlue hired 289 pilots through its six pipelines in 2015, down from 420 in 2014.

JetBlue has not said whether it will make a direct investment in the students in the program, which will cost $125,000 per cadet over the course of roughly 15 months.

“We’ve been working with financial institutions to help get loans,” Christie said. “We’re committed to working with each of [the cadets] to make sure finances do not become a problem.” He added the airline will evaluate the results of the effort before deciding whether to expand Gateway.

While full control of the training program is one benefit of the ab initio program, so is a potential new source of pilots. “They’re anticipating that the other gateways may start drying up, or become less pronounced in the future,” Nick Leontidis, group president of civil aviation training solutions at CAE, said.

“For sure, the trend we’re seeing in this area is that there are more airlines looking at ab initio programs for pilots than what we’ve seen in the past,” he said. “It’s a mixed bag at the moment; historically Asian carriers have been more akin to sponsor people, and in the West there were enough people to be hired on the market to fill vacancies. In the US, you had the regional to mainline flow.”

He said CAE has seen “a lot more interest” from airlines that historically have not considered ab initio.

“It’s because the pool of what’s available for people to hire is shrinking,” Leontidis said. “And people are retiring and airlines are growing.”

He noted that professional ab initio programs “are still the exception,” not the rule.

“I think the airline industry as a whole needs to figure out how this part of the industry can be better utilized to produce pilots because it will become a more important source,” he said. “This pathway or channel will become more important for everyone.”

SITA Report Confirms Ryanair Is Europe No 1 Airline For Baggage

Ryanair welcomed SITA’s independent baggage report which confirmed Ryanair’s outstanding baggage performance, mishandling far fewer bags than any other airline.

The 2015 SITA Baggage Report showed a worldwide average of 6.5 mishandled bags per 1,000 customers, while in Europe, the average figure was even higher at 7.8 mishandled bags per 1,000.

Other European airlines 14 times more likely to mishandle bags

However, Ryanair mishandled less than 0.55 bags per 1,000 customers last year and has called on all European airlines to publish their service statistics in the interest of consumers.

Ryanair’s Robin Kiely said:

“Ryanair continues to offer the lowest fares in Europe and customers can look forward to further improvements under our “Always Getting Better” programme including more new routes, new digital features, new cabin interiors and even more low fares.

The 2015 SITA Baggage Report confirms Ryanair is the industry leader when it comes to ensuring our customers’ bags arrive with them, with less than 0.55 mishandled bags per 1,000 customers in 2015, compared to a worldwide industry average of 6.5 bags per 1,000 customers and a European average of 7.8 bags per 1,000 customers.

We are calling on all other European airlines to be honest and transparent with their customers and publish their statistics in the interest of consumers, who deserve to know how each airline is really performing.”

European Aviation Safety Agency Strengthens Medical Fitness Requirements For Pilots

EASA published a set of proposals to the European Commission for an update of the rules concerning pilots’ medical fitness, as part of its Action Plan following the Germanwings Flight 9525 accident.

These rules are contained in so-called Part-MED, which covers aviation safety rules related to the medical aspect and fitness of aircrews.

Released in a document known as an Opinion, these proposals introduce the following new requirements, among others:

- strengthening the initial and recurrent medical examination of pilots, by including drugs and alcohol screening, comprehensive mental health assessment, as well as
- improved follow-up in case of medical history of psychiatric conditions;
- increasing the quality of aero-medical examinations, by improving the training, oversight and assessment of aero-medical examiners;
- preventing fraud attempts, by requiring aero-medical centres and AMEs to report all incomplete medical assessments to the competent authority.

These proposals have been subject to consultation with all concerned stakeholders. They address relevant safety recommendations made after the Flight 9525 accident by the EASA-led Task Force, as well as by the French “Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses” (BEA).

The EASA Opinion also includes a broader update of Part-MED, aimed at keeping the rules up-to-date with latest developments in the field of medicine and filling any gaps identified through the operational experience.

The EASA Opinion will serve as the basis for a legislative proposal by the European Commission towards the end of 2016. To support the implementation of the new rules, EASA has prepared draft guidance material (so-called Acceptable Means of Compliance and Guidance Material – AMC/GM), annexed to the Opinion. The final AMC/GM will be published when the new rules have been adopted by the Commission. A further set of regulatory proposals in the area of Air Operations will follow before the end of the year.

Norwegian Air International

Norwegian Air International is an Irish airline owned by Norwegian Air Shuttle, flying scheduled services within Europe and North America.

The airline operates Boeing 737-800 aircraft with bases at London Gatwick (LGW) in the United Kingdom, Helsinki (HEL) in Finland, Barcelona El Prat (BCN), Las Palmas (LPA), Madrid MAD), Tenerife South (TFS), Alicante (ALC), Malaga (AGP), Palma De Mallorca (PMI) in Spain as well as Rome Fiumicino (FCO) in Italy.

Its registration within Ireland and outside Norway allows the company to take advantage of European Union airline freedoms and agreements.

In February 2014, Norwegian Air International, received its operating licence and AOC issued in Ireland in order to access future traffic rights to and from the European Union.

These flights are operated under the IBK ICAO code flying under D8 locator, using fleet registered to the airline. Norwegian Air Shuttle, Norwegian Air International and the newest AOC Norwegian Air Uk, sharing the same branding under the Norwegian Group.

The Norwegian Air International fleet consists of 39 Boeing 737-800

AFGHANISTAN: Afghan Air Force Short Of Planes And Pilots

The Afghan air force is limited not only by its size. Despite numbering only 130 aircraft, there are not enough pilots and crews to fly them all.

The shortage is hampering Afghan security forces’ ability to fight Taliban terrorists, who are once again gaining territory in the north and south of the country.

Troops on the ground are crying out for more air support, which ranges from firing on the enemy to evacuating casualties from the battlefield. The day Afghan aircraft can meet the high demand is still a long way off.

“Three weeks ago, two of our policemen were wounded in a fight with the Taliban and we waited for five days to transfer them to a hospital,” said a border police commander in the eastern province of Kunar, who spoke anonymously because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

“Sometimes we have to wait a week for a helicopter to evacuate our casualties,” added the officer, stationed in a remote area close to the Pakistani border.

Advisers for the U.S.-led NATO coalition, which is training Afghan armed forces now the alliance’s main combat mission is over, say they are struggling to field enough experienced pilots and crews.

“Our challenge is the human capital,” said Colonel Troy Henderson, commander of the U.S. Air Force’s expeditionary advisory group in Kabul, noting it is relatively easy to buy aircraft but more difficult and slower to find and train pilots.

The roughly 130 aircraft are not enough, according to Major General Abdul Wahab Wardak, commander of the Afghan air force. And the problem is now compounded by a lack of trained crews for existing aircraft.

The United States has provided a growing number of more advanced aircraft in the past year, seeking to make up for the withdrawal of most international forces.

But in the process of building a special operations air wing and training crews to fly new aircraft like the small A-29 attack aircraft and C-130 cargo planes, coalition advisers had to pull experienced pilots from other units, Henderson said.

As the US-led coalition scaled back operations, Afghan air force missions more than doubled from 10,060 in 2014 to 22,260 in 2015. From January to May 2016, Afghan aircraft flew 6,930 missions.

US Air Force combat sorties dropped from nearly 13,000 in 2014 to fewer than 6,000 in 2015, with a corresponding decrease in support and reconnaissance missions from around 60,000 in 2014 to just under 33,000 in 2015.

As more aircraft have been fielded by the Afghans, crew shortages are limiting the deployment of widely used aircraft that form the backbone of the air force.

Among the unit that flies small Cessna C-208 propeller transport planes out of Kabul, for example, there are six crews for 12 aircraft, Henderson said. Twenty-four pilots are scheduled to rotate in soon, which will minimize, but not completely overcome the shortage, he added.

“We have a critical situation,” said C-208 pilot Saifuddin Popal, speaking at Kabul airport as he prepared to fly another load of passengers to a military base in southern Afghanistan.

On the return trip, he might be carrying more passengers, casualties or cargo, and may have to make several stops on the way, he added.

“Sometimes we fly from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. We have a limit and if we fly more we become exhausted.”

At least nine aircraft were lost last year, most to accidents or maintenance issues, officials said.

So far in 2016, the Afghan air force has lost only two Mi-17 helicopters, which advisers said indicated that pilots were becoming more experienced.

Aircraft have been a lifeline over the past year to ground troops cut off by Taliban fighters in areas like Helmand and Kunduz, but the lack of crews means the air force cannot keep up, said Nazar Mohammad, another transport pilot.

“There are fewer pilots and more operations,” he said, running through pre-flight preparations in the cramped cockpit of a C-208. “If there are deaths and injuries everywhere, how can our schedules keep up?”

Training One Thing, Experience Another

Despite the challenges, retention remains relatively high in the air force, with month-to-month rates usually above 90 percent, according to the U.S. military.

For the latest officer class of 110 students, there were around 2,000 applicants, said a US officer who advises Afghan recruiters.

But finding qualified applicants can be a challenge, as pilots, crew chiefs, and maintenance workers have to be literate and usually must be able to speak English.

Foreign contractors have been used to help with maintenance, but officials have been hesitant to use them in more sensitive military roles, or in a way that the Afghan government may not be able to afford in the long term.

Coalition trainers are sometimes used to help fly C-208s, but both coalition pilots and foreign contractors are only allowed to fly to international bases, Henderson said.

Pilots and other crew members are being trained abroad as well as in Afghanistan, Wardak said, including the United States, Czech Republic and United Arab Emirates.

Even once pilots have been trained, gaining experience can take years, said U.S. Brigadier General David Hicks, who commands the coalition’s air force training operation.

“They are young,” he said of incoming Afghan pilots. “These guys are out front, leading the sorties, and they’re making the decisions that I didn’t make until I’d been flying for three, four or five years. Building that experience just takes time.”

Boeing And ANA Celebrate Delivery Of 787 Dreamliner

Boeing and ANA celebrated the delivery of the airline’s 50th 787 Dreamliner during a ceremony today at Boeing’s Everett Delivery Center.

The milestone marks yet another record for ANA as it becomes the world’s first airline to operate 50 787 Dreamliners.

“The 787 Dreamliner has played a significant role in opening up new routes into new markets, while also forming the backbone of our long-haul fleet,” said Osamu Shinobe, president and CEO, ANA. “As the launch customer of the 787 Dreamliner family, we are proud to welcome the 50th 787 Dreamliner into our fleet, where it will continue to serve our passengers with the most innovative and memorable flying experience.”

As part of efforts to expand its global network, ANA also announced plans to launch new routes from Tokyo, Narita to Phnom Penh, Cambodia in September this year and Mexico City, Mexico in February next year using 787 Dreamliners.

ANA became the launch customer of the 787 when it purchased 50 in 2004, and was the first to bring the airplane into service in 2011. The airline operates more than 11 percent of all 787s around the world today and has flown an estimated 125,000 flights with the Dreamliner.

“As the launch customer of the 787 and our largest 787 customer, we are honored to celebrate this important milestone with ANA,” said Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Ray Conner.

“ANA is a valued Boeing customer and has been a vital partner on this program. Today’s event demonstrates the strength of our enduring relationship and we look forward to introducing the 787-10 to ANA in the coming years to complete the entire family of 787 Dreamliners in their fleet.”

Already the world’s largest Dreamliner operator, ANA has an additional 33 787s on order, including the longest and newest member of the family, the 787-10. The airline also has 20 777-9 airplanes on order.

ANA recently showcased its 50th 787 Dreamliner at the Farnborough International Airshow, performing high-performance demonstration flights for thousands in attendance and wowing millions of fans around the world on the internet.

UAE: Emirates Group Announces Big Profits

- Group records 28th consecutive year of profit, and new record profit of AED 8.2 billion (US$ 2.2 billion)
- Steady business growth in line with capacity increases, significant investment in the business at AED 17.3 billion (US$ 4.7 billion)
- Declares a dividend of AED 2.5 billion (US$ 681 million) to the Investment Corporation of Dubai.
- Emirates makes highest profit ever with AED 7.1 billion (US$ 1.9 billion)
- Airline capacity crosses 56 billion ATKM with 29 new aircraft added to the fleet
- Revenue decreases 4% to AED 85.0 billion (US$ 23.2 billion), after AED 6.0 billion (US$ 1.6 billion) hit due to unfavourable currency exchange
- dnata makes highest profit ever, crossing AED 1bn (US$ 287 million) for the first time
- Revenue of AED 10.6 billion (US$ 2.9 billion) reflects further business expansion, with international business now accounting for over 64% of revenue

The Emirates Group today announced its 28th consecutive year of profit and steady business expansion, ending the year with record profits, and in a strong position despite the global and operational challenges during this period.

During the 2015-16 financial year, both Emirates and dnata achieved new capacity and profit milestones, as the Group continued to expand its global footprint, and strengthen its business through strategic investments.

Released today in its 2015-16 Annual Report, the Emirates Group posted an AED 8.2 billion (US$ 2.2 billion) profit for the financial year ending 31 March 2016, up 50% from last year. The Group’s revenue reached AED 93 billion (US$ 25.3 billion), a decrease of 3% over last year’s results, and the Group’s cash balance increased strongly to AED 23.5 billion (US$ 6.4 billion).

His Highness (H.H.) Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Chairman and Chief Executive, Emirates Airline and Group, said: “Emirates and dnata delivered record profits, solid business results, and continued to grow throughout 2015-16. Against an unfavourable currency situation which eroded our revenues and profits, an uncertain global economic environment dogged by weak consumer and investor sentiment, as well as ongoing socio-political instability in many regions around the world, the Group’s performance is testament to the success of our business model and strategies.”

“Our ongoing investments to develop our people and to our enhance business performance, enable us to react with agility to the new challenges and opportunities that every year brings. In 2015-16, the Group collectively invested over AED 17.3 billion (US$ 4.7 billion) in new aircraft and equipment, the acquisition of companies, modern facilities, the latest technologies, and staff initiatives. These will build on our strong foundations, extend our competitive edge, and accelerate our progress towards our long-term goals.”

The Group’s employee base across its more than 80 subsidiaries and companies increased by 13% to over 95,000-strong representing over 160 different nationalities.

“Looking at the year ahead, we expect that the low oil prices will continue to be a double-edged sword – a boon for our operating costs, but a bane for global business and consumer confidence. The strong US dollar against major currencies will remain a challenge, as will the looming threat of protectionism in some countries. However, we enter the new financial year with confidence, backed by a robust balance sheet, solid track record, diverse global portfolio, and international talent pool. We will continue to evolve and grow our business profitably, and work even harder to meet and exceed our customers’ expectations,” said Sheikh Ahmed.

In line with the overall profit, the Group declared a dividend of AED 2.5 billion (US$ 681 million) to the Investment Corporation of Dubai.
Emirates performance

Emirates’ total passenger and cargo capacity crossed the 56 billion mark, to 56.4 billion ATKMs at the end of 2015-16, cementing its position as the world’s largest international airline. The airline increased capacity during the year by 5.5 billion Available Tonne Kilometres (ATKMs), or 11% over 2014-15.

Emirates received 29 new aircraft, its highest number during a financial year, including 16 A380s, 12 Boeing 777-300ERs and one Boeing 777F, bringing its total fleet count to 251 at the end of March. At the same time nine aircraft were phased out, taking the average fleet age down to 74 months or approximately half the industry average of 140 months. The airline remains the world’s largest operator of the Boeing 777 and A380 – both aircraft being amongst the most modern and efficient wide-bodied jets in the sky today.

With the delivery of new aircraft, Emirates launched eight new passenger destinations: Bali, Bologna, Cebu, Clark, Istanbul (Sabiha Gökçen), Mashhad, Multan, Orlando; and two new additional freighter destinations: Columbus and Ciudad del Este. It also added services and capacity to 34 cities on its existing route network across Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and North America, offering customers even greater choice and connectivity.

With significant currency devaluations against the US dollar and fare adjustments following the reduction in fuel prices, Emirates revenue dropped 4% to AED 85 billion (US$ 23.2 billion).

The relentless rise of the US dollar against currencies in most of Emirates’ key markets had an AED 6.0 billion (US$ 1.6 billion) impact on airline revenue, and an AED 4.2 billion (US$ 1.1 billion) impact to the airline’s bottom line.

However, total operating costs decreased by 8% over the 2014-15 financial year. The average price of jet fuel fell during the financial year, supporting Emirates’ bottom line improvement. The airline’s fuel bill decreased by 31% over last year to AED 19.7 billion (US$ 5.4 billion). Fuel is now 26% of operating costs, compared to 35% in 2014-15, but it remained the biggest cost component for the airline.

The airline successfully managed increased competitive pressure across all markets to record a profit of AED 7.1 billion (US$ 1.9 billion), an increase of 56% over last year’s results, and a healthy profit margin of 8.4%, the strongest margin since 2010-11.

Carrying a record 51.9 million passengers (up 8%), Emirates crossed the 50 million passenger milestone, and achieved a Passenger Seat Factor of 76.5%. The decline in passenger seat factor compared to last year’s 79.6%, is relative to the strong 13% increase in seat capacity by Available Seat Kilometres (ASKMs), and also in part due to lingering economic uncertainty and strong competition in many markets.

Overall passenger traffic growth continues to demonstrate the consumer desire to fly on Emirates’ state-of-the-art aircraft, and via efficient routings through its Dubai hub. Premium and overall seat factor for Emirates’ flagship A380 aircraft outperformed the network, underscoring the popularity of Emirates’ premium and A380 product amongst passengers. At 31 March 2016, Emirates had 75 A380 aircraft in its fleet, serving one out of every four destinations on its passenger network.

Under pressure from the weakening of all major currencies against the USD, passenger yield dropped to 26.7 fils (7.3 US cents) per Revenue Passenger Kilometre (RPKM).

To fund its fleet growth, Emirates raised a record of AED 26.9 billion (US$ 7.3 billion), using a variety of financing structures.

Financing highlights include Emirates entering into a unique hybrid operating lease structure put together by combining German banks and institutional investors with Islamic debt in Murahaba format to fund an A380 aircraft.

In Asia, Emirates continued to tap on the Japanese market for the Japanese Operating Lease (JOL) structure, and Japanese Operating Lease with a Call Option (JOLCO) on A380 and Boeing 777-300ER aircraft delivered during the year. Emirates also closed the first ever operating lease on an A380 financed entirely by the Korean institutional market through private placements with a group of non-bank financial institutions.

These deals align with Emirates’ strategy to seek diverse financing sources, and underscore its sound financials and the strong investor confidence in the airline’s business model.

Emirates closed the financial year with a healthy and new record of AED 14.1 billion (US$ 3.8 billion) cash flow from operating activities.

Revenue generated from across Emirates’ six regions continues to be well balanced, with no region contributing more than 30% of overall revenues. Europe is the highest revenue contributing region with AED 24.0 billion (US$ 6.5 billion), down 5% from 2014-15. East Asia and Australasia follows closely with AED 22.4 billion (US$ 6.1 billion), down 9%. The Americas region recorded revenue growth at AED 12.0 billion (US$ 3.3 billion), up 9%. Africa and Gulf and Middle East revenue decreased each by 3% to AED 9.1 billion (US$ 2.5 billion) and AED 8.4 billion (US$ 2.3 billion) respectively; and West Asia and Indian Ocean revenue decreased by 4% to AED 7.6 billion (US$ 2.1 billion).

In line with its customer-focused proposition, Emirates invested over AED 80 million (US$ 21.9 million) last year to install and operate inflight connectivity across its fleet, which is now 70% Wi-Fi enabled. The airline also launched revamped amenity kits for First and Business class customers, a new range of children’s toys and activity packs onboard, unveiled an enhanced fully-flat Business class seat for its 777-300ER fleet, and launched its two-class configured A380 featuring the largest personal inflight entertainment screens in Economy Class. Emirates also opened new dedicated airport lounges in Tokyo Narita and Cape Town, taking the number of dedicated Emirates Lounges across the world to 39, having invested more than US$ 352 million in its lounge programme since inception.

For 2016-17, Emirates has announced new routes to Yinchuan and Zhengzhou in China, Yangon in Myanmar and Hanoi in Vietnam, aside from capacity upgrades to existing destinations.

Emirates SkyCargo continues to play an integral role in the company’s expanding operations, contributing 14% of the airline’s total transport revenue.

Emirates’ cargo division reported a revenue of AED 11.1 billion (US$ 3.0 billion), a decline of 9% over last year, while tonnage increased by 6% to reach 2.5 million tonnes in an airfreight market that remained challenging with fast-changing demand patterns. This year, freight yield per Freight Tonne Kilometre (FTKM) decreased sharply by 16%, and was also impacted by the weakening of major currencies.

In addition to belly-hold capacity to Emirates’ new passenger destinations, Emirates SkyCargo increased freighter operations to Mexico City, and launched new freighter services to Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam), Ahmedabad (India), Columbus (USA), Algiers (Algeria), and Ciudad Del Este (Paraguay).

During 2015-16, Emirates SkyCargo officially inaugurated its purpose-built cargo terminal for freighter operations at Al Maktoum International airport (DWC), and received delivery of a Boeing 777F, rounding off its total freighter fleet to 15 aircraft: 13 Boeing 777Fs, and two Boeing 747-400Fs.

Emirates’ hotels recorded revenue of AED 700 million (US$ 191 million), an increase of 1% over last year.
dnata performance

In its 57 years of operation, 2015-16 has been dnata’s most profitable yet, crossing AED 1 billion (US$ 287 million) profit for the first time. Building on its strong results in the previous year, dnata’s revenue grew to AED 10.6 billion (US$ 2.9 billion). dnata’s international business now accounts for more than 64% of its revenue.

This substantial revenue increase of 16% was achieved through organic growth, and bolstered by the first full year of Stella Group operations which dnata Travel acquired in October 2014 of the previous financial year, and airport operations in Australia which dnata fully acquired from its 50% joint venture partner Toll in March 2015.

Building on last year’s record levels of investment, dnata continued to lay the foundations for future growth by investing AED 585 million (US$ 159 million) into developing its people, facilities, technology and new acquisitions.

Highlights during the 2015-16 financial year include the acquisition of new international businesses: Aviapartner’s cargo business at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol; Ground Handling SPA in two airports in Milan; and RM Ground Services in Brazil, extending dnata’s global footprint to the Americas for the first time.

Revenue from dnata’s UAE Airport Operations, including aircraft and cargo handling increased by 13% to reach AED 2.9 billion (US$ 777 million). The strong revenue rise accounts for the effect of the 80-day runway closure at Dubai International airport (DXB) which dampened revenue growth in the previous year.

In line with revenue growth, the number of aircraft handled by dnata in the UAE increased 12% to 211,000, whereas Cargo handling dropped by 6% to 689,000 tonnes reflecting the cargo industry’s ongoing malaise. Dubai World Central now accounts for 24% of dnata’s cargo handling activities in Dubai. During the year, dnata began operations at DXB’s new concourse D, with 3,000 staff trained to help customers transition to the new facilities.

dnata’s International Airport Operations division grew revenue substantially by 32% to AED 2.1 billion (US$ 571 million), on account of increasing business volumes and newly acquired businesses in the Netherlands and Brazil. The number of aircraft handled increased significantly by 63% to 178,000, and Cargo noted a substantial growth of 46% to 1.4 million tonnes of handled goods. These results speak to the benefits reaped from the previous years’ investments in new international cargo handling facilities particularly in the UK.

dnata’s Catering business accounted for AED 1.9 billion (US$ 514 million) of its total revenue, down 7% and mainly on account of a significant weakening of major currencies against the US dollar. The inflight catering business uplifted more than 57 million meals during the year, a marginal decline of 1% on account of lower volumes in Italy.

Revenue from dnata’s Travel Services division has seen a strong rise of 34% to reach AED 3.3 billion (US$ 901 million) and it now represents the largest business segment in dnata by revenue contribution. This is mainly attributed to business growth in the UK through the full year impact of Stella Group acquired October 2014, and the integration of the Group’s Destination & Leisure Management activities in Dubai, and travel distribution unit Emquest. The underlying total transaction value (TTV) of travel services sold substantially increased by 20% to AED 11.7 billion (US$ 3.2 billion).

In 2015-16, dnata’s operating costs increased accordingly by 17% to AED 9.6 billion (US$ 2.6 billion), reflecting the impact of integrating the newly acquired companies mainly across its international airport operations and travel businesses.

dnata’s cash balance is at a record high of AED 3.5 billion (US$ 944 million), having significantly grown over last year with its new acquisitions. The business delivered an AED 1.4 billion (US$ 379 million) cash flow from operating activities in 2015-16, which is an increase of 31% from last year and also a new company record.

dnata’s employee strength increased to over 34,000, a 24% growth which includes employees from its newly acquired companies. With the business’ growing international footprint, dnata’s staff ratio based in UAE has dropped to 48%.