​JetBlue signs SAF supply deal with Shell Aviation
March 15, 2023
JetBlue Airways has signed a new agreement with energy company Shell Aviation to bring an additional supply of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) to Los Angeles International airport. Shell Aviation will deliver 10 million gallons of blended SAF over the next two years, the US carrier says. The agreement also provides JetBlue an option to purchase up to five million gallons more in the third year, either at Los Angeles International airport or other airports in its network. The delivery of SAF is expected to begin in the first half of 2023. The additional SAF provided through Shell Aviation at Los Angeles International will airline's SAF supply at the airport, bringing SAF to approximately 15% of JetBlue's total Los Angeles International jet fuel uptake. JetBlue also regularly flies on SAF out of San Francisco and in 2022 signed agreements with three additional SAF producers for future supply, it adds. Shell has announced its ambition to have 10% of its aviation jet fuel sales as SAF by 2030, notes JetBlue. Additionally, the airline aims to reach net zero by 2040, 10 years earlier than industry targets.

China relaxes visa and group travel rules
March 15, 2023
China has returned to pre-Covid visa arrangements and expanded the list of countries that it will allow outbound tour groups to travel to, providing a major boost to Asia’s airline industry. Speaking during a 14 March press conference, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin said that from 15 March visas issued before the pandemic will be “reactivated”, while tourist and other visitor visas will also be resumed. It will also reinstate visa-free access to Hainan from eligible countries, for cruise groups at Shanghai ports, group travelling from Hong Kong and Macao to Guandong Province, and ASEAN tourist groups visiting Guilin. China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism has also lifted bans on outbound group travel to 40 countries from 15 March, including Vietnam, France, Spain, Italy, Brazil and Iran, building on the initial 20 countries that were part of a pilot program that started in early February. However, group travel to South Korea, Japan, Australia and the USA were not included in the list. “In light of the evolving Covid situation, China will continue to better facilitate the safe and orderly cross-border travel of Chinese and foreign nationals based on scientific assessment. We hope all other parties will do the same and make cross-border exchange much easier,” says Wang. South Korea’s exclusion from group travel is likely to be short-lived however, as Seoul has removed Covid testing requirements for arrivals from China, and the two parties have agreed to open up more flights between the two countries. On 10 March, the USA has dropped requirements for arrivals from China to test negative to Covid-19 prior to boarding their flights. Japan and Australia still have testing requirements in place for arrivals from China.

Canada approves WestJet takeover of Sunwing
March 14, 2023
The Canadian government has approved the takeover of Sunwing Airlines by WestJet, the nation’s second-largest carrier, mandating conditions aimed at ensuring the pending merger would not damage airline competition, connectivity, or customer service.

The combination would create a leisure travel powerhouse, as Sunwing customers seeking vacations in sun destinations can book package deals for flights, ground travel, tours and lodging through the company, which owns resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean. Toronto-based Sunwing brands itself as “the largest integrated travel company in North America”.

Financial terms of the deal have not been disclosed, as both companies are privately-owned.

The deal, proposed in March 2022, faced regulatory scrutiny in October from Canada’s federal Competition Bureau, which warned the deal “would likely result in increased prices, less choice and decreases in service for Canadians”.

With that in mind, Transport Canada’s decision to approve the deal was “not taken lightly”, Canada’s transport minister Omar Alghabra states. Flight delays and cancellations on Sunwing’s network during December, Alghabra says, also made the government sceptical of whether the merger would improve customer service.

“After considering the pros and cons, we have made the decision that will allow Sunwing to continue to provide affordable vacation packages to Canadians, create more good jobs, and protect current jobs as well as Canadians who have already purchased tickets,” he says.

The broader economy also informed the regulatory decision. In the absence of this acquisition, Transport Canada states, “the nation’s air transport sector could have faced greater instability, including job losses, a significant reduction of affordable vacation offerings, negative impacts on passengers, and the government not being repaid sizable loans”.

Conditions set by regulators require Sunwing to expand vacation package offerings to five new Canadian cities, and to maintain a vacations business head office in the Toronto area and a regional office in the Montreal area for a minimum of five years. The merger had originally proposed a new business unit to be led by Sunwing chief executive Stephen Hunter with a Toronto headquarters supplemented by a Quebec office in Laval. The combined airline and vacations provider, Transport Canada states, must also maintain capacity “on routes most affected by the merger”, while also improving both regional connectivity and baggage handling for better passenger experience. Conditions aimed at protecting customer rights also include “investing in IT technology solutions to improve Sunwing’s communications” and “supplying airfare data on vacation packages for monitoring of post-acquisition price trends”. To address the concerns of labour unions including Unifor, the government requires the combined company must increase net employment at its Toronto office by 20% over three years and “gradually” end Sunwing’s annual practice of seasonal aircraft leasing to Germany-based TUI Group. WestJet employs around 8,500 workers while Sunwing employs around 2,200. “We’ve seen what happens when there’s no long-term plan to attract and retain workers in the industry,” Leslie Dias, Unifor’s director of airlines, states. “We need the government to leverage the power it has, including through these conditions, to increase job quality and set the industry on a more resilient and sustainable course.” Calgary-based WestJet calls the government approval “an important milestone in the process toward closing the transaction”. Sunwing states: “We look forward to closing the transaction in the weeks ahead and officially joining the WestJet Group”.


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