24 March 2006

Commercial Space Travel?

Riding Space Mountain at Disneyland? Bah! Tourists will now travel to the final frontier for real thrills.

Two years after the first privately financed spaceflight jump-started a sleepy industry, more than a dozen companies are developing rocket planes to ferry ordinary rich people out of the atmosphere.

Several private companies will begin building their prototype vehicles this summer with plans to test-fly them as early as next year. If all goes well, the first tourist could hitch a galactic joy ride late next year or 2008 — pending approval by federal regulators.

Unlike the Cold War space race between the United States and Soviet Union that sent satellites into orbit and astronauts to the moon, this competition is bankrolled by entrepreneurs whose competition could one day make a blast into space cheap enough for the average Joe.

Over the past few years, three tourists have paid a reported $20 million each to ride aboard a Russian rocket to the orbiting international space station.

Prospective prices for the next round of personal spaceflights aren't quite so astronomical — a seat aboard one of the yet-to-be-built commercial spaceships will fetch between $100,000 to $250,000. Space entrepreneurs expect the price tag to drop once the market matures.

Instead of days in space, the commercial spaceships under development will only reach suborbital space, a region about 60 miles up that is generally considered the beginning of the rest of the universe.

Since the private spaceships lack the speed to go into orbit around Earth, the flights are essentially up and down experiences — lasting about two hours with up to five minutes of weightlessness.

Read more.

10 March 2006

Etihad Airways announces more routes

Etihad will launch six flights a week to Terminal 2A at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport from 1 June. The new service will offer a total weekly capacity of 1296 seats, and will further boost the cargo capacity into the European market.

The Abu Dhabi-based international airline will operate some of the world's most technologically advanced aircraft to Paris, including the modern Airbus A330-200, in a three Zone configuration, designed to offer high standards of comfort, luxury and style. The A330-200 can accommodate 216 Guests in the 3 Zones, 12 seats in Diamond, 24 in Pearl and 180 seats in Coral. - and offers a cargo capacity of 15 tons each way.

The new Dhaka route also follows Etihad Airways' ambitious plans to link Abu Dhabi to the world's most important commercial and cultural centres, and will provide a major service to the 350,000 Bangladeshi nationals based in the UAE.

Etihad will launch four flights a week to Dhaka from 3 May 2006, increasing to five per week from 5 June 2006. The new service will offer a total weekly capacity of 1,465 seats, and 15 tons of cargo, in each direction.

The new Casablanca route will start on 1 July 2006 and will operate four times a week. Guests will be able to enjoy the luxury of the Etihad Airways A330-200, configured to carry 22 Guests in Pearl Zone and 240 Guests in the Coral Zone.

Etihad's continued route expansion in 2006 means that by mid-2006 the Abu Dhabi-based carrier will be flying to 30 international routes. With Etihad's ambitions to fly to 70 destinations by 2010, these latest announcements show the luxury carrier well on schedule to meet that target.

New Travel Search Engine

Travelgrove announced their new breed of travel meta-search called "ultimatesearch", which allows customers to search for airline tickets from multiple vendors at once. The user sits back and waits a few seconds until Travelgrove's travel search engine spits out the best travel deals sorted by price. While this is just a beta test for airline tickets, Travelgrove has already announced to do this for all major travel products, car rentals, hotels, vacations and cruises.

The company believes in a one-stop solution for travellers, allowing for the best possible shopping experience online. Interestingly enough, there has been only little focus on search within the travel industry. Most bargain hunters have been checking the large consolidators such as Expedia and Travelocity. With travel search engines like Travelgrove hitting the market, the travel industry is bound to become much more transparent to the benefit of the consumers and the merchants that are willing and able to remain competitive.