Great airlift begins as authorities try to get 85000 stranded tourists back home.

The collapse of XL Leisure Group, Britain’s third-biggest holiday company, has hit more than 300,000 customers

Passengers stranded by the collapse of XL Leisure Group are seen at Larnaca airport, Cyprus, Friday, Sept. 12, 2008. Thousands of British travelers are stranded as the country's third-largest tour operator has collapsed under pressure from high fuel prices and a sagging economy. XL Leisure Group PLC went into administration overnight, saying it had been unable to secure more funding. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)
Passengers stranded by the collapse of XL Leisure Group are seen at Larnaca airport, Cyprus.

On Thursday night XL Airways flight JN1121 pushed back from the terminal at Sanford International, the Orlando airport that is the gateway to Florida for thousands of British holidaymakers every year.

For the 266 passengers on board it was the end of all inclusive holidays– two weeks spent basking on the beach or squealing with delight on the rides at Disneyland.

A massive airlift was under way to bring some of the 85,000 tourists who were caught out by the shut-down of Britain’s third largest tour operator. Those who opted for Tour Operators like Directline Holidays were feeling safe as their cheap holidays as promised to them were cheap indeed as ever. Many holidaymakers came to know about the truth behind true discount holidays.

This morning, passengers flew into Gatwick Airport on a specially-chartered Monarch Airlines flight from Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt, and spoke of their joy at getting home. Alison Hill, 37, said she was left in tears as she worried she would not be able to find a flight back to the UK.

Ms Hill, from Redditch, Worcestershire, who spent 10 days in the resort with her two-year-old son, Samuel, said she found out that XL had gone into administration as she lay in bed in her hotel room watching the news.

She said: “No one actually told me, I had to find it out for myself. I spent the whole day in tears in reception with a very unhappy two-year-old, wondering if I was ever going to get home. A woman staying in the same hotel as me went to the airport and she found out from Thomson about this flight.

“We were meant to leave at 11pm last night and ended up getting this flight at 3.30am this morning, so you could say we were one of the lucky ones. There was another flight that was meant to go to Luton yesterday afternoon before ours, and they are still there.”

Ms Hill, a lawyer, added: “We had a fantastic holiday but the last day was ruined, which left a bitter taste in the mouth. It was all the worse as it was just the two of us, I thought I was going to be stranded in a foreign country with a two-year-old.”

Friends Kirsty Grant and Kelly Thompson, who were also on the Monarch flight, said they spent the last day of their holiday in a “mad panic.” Ms Grant, 20, said: “My mum sent me a text yesterday morning telling me I might have trouble getting home. We immediately went to find our rep but she couldn’t tell us anything; no one could tell us anything.

“We were all in a mad panic, as none of us had enough money to pay for extra accommodation if we had to stay longer. We went to the airport last night and waited there and then we were told about this flight.”

The women, both nursery nurses from Chessington, Surrey, said they were relieved to be home as they believed there were many other XL passengers still left in Sharm El Sheikh. Ms Thompson, 25, added: “It’s horrible thinking you’re stranded in a foreign country.”

The airlift operation is being supervised by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) but involves help from dozens of airlines and travel companies. XL Leisure Group went into administration in the early hours of Friday morning with debts of £143 million.

The CCA chartered seven flights from foreign destinations including Orlando, Florida; Dalaman, Turkey; and Malaga, Parma and Alicante, Spain. Other passengers travelled home on scheduled flights.

The collapse of XL has left tens of thousands of people stranded throughout Europe, the United States, the Caribbean and Africa. A further 200,000 planned holidays have been wrecked and 1,700 staff have lost their jobs.

There are growing fears the high price of fuel and the credit crunch will force dozens of other travel firms into liquidation. Some operators say the economic outlook is even worse than the aftermath of 9/11 in 2001.

Of the 85,000 stranded tourists, some 75,000 are protected by the industry’s Air Travel Organisers’ Licence (Atol) agreement and will be airlifted home free of charge.

However, another 10,000 will have to make their own arrangements – and at their own cost – because they are not covered under the rules of the agreement.

An Atol spokesman said many passengers were expected to be returning to the UK, both on specially chartered flights and on already scheduled flights that have spare seats on board.

British holidaymaker David Halligan landed at Manchester Airport this morning having spent £880 on new flights after he and his family were stranded in Florida. The 50-year-old engineer from Bradford spent £2,000 on a two-week XL villa holiday in the “sunshine state” for his family of four.

Mr Halligan found out about the firm’s collapse from friends in the UK. “We were rung early morning by friends saying XL had gone under so we proceeded to get ourselves sorted out. We got on the internet. We were lucky to be in a villa with internet access.”

He said he used contacts and took advantage of a friend’s frequent flyer status to get cheaper-than-normal Virgin flights.

Their XL flight was from Orlando Sanford International Airport but they had to travel 34 miles to Orlando International Airport to pick up their Virgin Atlantic flight.

Virgin Atlantic has said XL passengers who find themselves stuck at airports in Florida and the Caribbean will be offered special one-way fares to fly home until the end of September.

Peter Long, the chief executive of Thomson and First Choice owner TUI Travel, said the two firms would also joining the effort to help stranded passengers.

Phil Wyatt, chief executive of XL Leisure Group, described arranging flights to accommodate those affected as “the most challenging airlift that anyone has undertaken”.

In an emotional statement, Mr Wyatt said he was “devastated” at the company’s collapse and apologised to his customers and employees.

Speaking at a press conference at the Hilton Hotel at Gatwick Airport, XL’s chief executive said: “Ultimately I blame myself, I’m the CEO, I take legal responsibility for it.”

But he added that the withdrawal of support from lenders had left them with no option than to call in administrators.

Mr Wyatt said: “We have made every effort to refinance the principal debt of the group but, despite significant interest, the group was unsuccessful.

More recently, record oil prices and a worsening economic environment has meant our economic requirements have increased and our efforts have been overwhelmed.”

He expressed his “gratitude” to XL’s 1,700 staff, who will now face an uncertain future.

The collapse of XL Leisure Group prompted a prediction by Willie Walsh, British Airways chief executive, that another 30 airlines would go out of business within the next four months.

Administrators now have an uphill battle to save the profitable part of the firm. Stuart Mackellar, a partner at Kroll appointed as joint administrator, said: “We are not thinking about liquidation at the moment. We are thinking about a rescue plan for the survival of parts of the business.”

XL’s administrators said most people who booked holidays with the troubled tour operator should be eligible for a refund.

Those who paid by credit card or used a tour operator affiliated to the Atol scheme should get their money back.

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ASA could become the subject of a criminal probe led by FBI

ASA students celebrating Reny Kozman's b'day, a file photo.
ASA students celebrating Reny Kozman's b'day, a file photo.

American School of Aviation,  already besought with civil lawsuits, could become the subject of a criminal probe led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II has asked the FBI to take a role into the investigation of the American School of Aviation. Morse said the district attorney’s office needs the FBI’s assistance in performing forensic accounting to discover if crimes were committed by Manpreet “Prince” Singh and his wife Reny Kozman, who co-owned the flight school along with partners in India.

“There are a variety of issues involving potential criminal fraud arising from the situation,” Morse wrote in the letter sent to the FBI.

As a matter of course, the FBI will not confirm if they are involved in a criminal investigation.

The students’ tuition fees were supposed to be kept in a trust account and charged as the students progressed through their flight training. A lawsuit filed by 52 of the students in July alleges that Singh directed the tuition directly into his own accounts. It accuses him of fraud, breach of contract and misrepresentation. Among the allegations made against the school and Singh is that they continued to recruit students despite knowing they could not provide the instruction as promised.

The students are seeking $2.2 million in refunds and punitive damages. The lawsuit was filed with the Merced County Superior Court, but the papers have not been served upon Singh because he hasn’t been located, according to attorney Palvir Shoker, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the students.

A second set of 10 students has filed a similar lawsuit and is seeking $200,000. The lawsuit was filed by attorney Jeffrey Poindexter and claims that the students were directed to a fake ASA Web site where they could ostensibly keep track of how their tuition funds were being deducted. The complaints states: “This accounting system was set up to deceive and mislead the students. As soon as the students would make a tuition payment of $40,000, the defendants would spend all of the money. This allegation is premised upon the fact that the defendants have conceded they owe the refunds, but claim they have no money to pay the refunds…

“By immediately spending the entirety of a student’s tuition, without providing the promised flight training and education, the defendants either purposefully, recklessly or negligently began operating as a sort of ponzi scheme. Each new student’s tuition would go to pay the costs and expense of earlier enrolled students.”

Reny Kozman has previously blamed the school’s financial hardships on partners based in India, who she says stole the school’s money in her email to SecondCity last month.

Open letter to the Sheriff and the District Attorney of the Merced County, California

My view from the sideline:

The Honorable Mark Razin, the Merced County Sheriff
The Honorable Larry Morse II, the District Attorney of the Merced County

In Re: American School of Aviation

Dear Messrs Razin and Morse:

Since the first news appeared in the Merced Sun-Star about a month ago related to the sudden closure of American School of Aviation at Castle Airport, I have been following the matter with my mixed emotion of sympathy and indignation.

From what has been reported by various media, the case appears to have an overwhelming elements of offenses to constitute a criminal fraud, yet no criminal charges have been filed to this day against the unscrupulous school owner(s) much to the public dismay, why?

ASA owners with Vijay Mallaya of Kingfisher Airlines
ASA owners with Vijay Mallaya of Kingfisher Airlines

In the follow up story appearing in the Merced Sun-Star on August 05, 2008, it was reported that the FBI assistance was being sought because your office/department couldn’t handle the forensic accounting needed (emphasis added). Please kindly explain this highfalutin legalese to the public in a layman’s term, and the reason why so.

You have all the evidence and prosecuting authority necessary to file the case right where you’re in the Merced County. Why look elsewhere by somehow suggesting with a specious notion that this is an international case involving foreign nationals and therefore out side of your jurisdiction. Why not proceed on your own without any further indecision irrespective of whether the feds assistance and cooperation on the case is forthcoming or not.

The most recent record of the FAA aircraft registry shows eighteen aircraft formally owned and registered to the debtor defendant changed hands earlier this week. (13 on 8/04, 5 on 8/05) This alone ipso facto constitutes a felony offense under the Penal Code§155.

There seems to exist ample evidence with sufficiency to bring forth criminal charges under but not limited to the following penal codes:

§155 Defendant or judgement debtor fraudulently removing, concealing, or disposing of personal
property sought to be recovered.
§476 (a) Checks, bank drafts insufficient funds; Intent to defraud
§484.b Diversion of funds received to obtain or pay for services, labor, materials or equipment
§532 False pretenses; obtaining money, labor or property
§573 Defrauding innkeepers, etc.

Having stated the above, I have read the following mission statement from the respective offices and while came away quite impressed with the lofty statements, it’s more than apparent that none of the goals stated therein have yet to be fulfilled as far as the American School of Aviation case is concerned.

Here’s your statement, Sheriff Razin.
“Our mission is to provide responsive, professional, and caring law enforcement service to all the people of Merced County. We will respond to call for service promptly, protect lives and property to the best of our abilities, initiate and maintain crime prevention programs, and apprehend criminal offenders.” –Sheriff Mark Razin-

And here’s the one from the DA’s office.
“The mission of the Merced County District Attorney’s Office is to seek justice by ensuring that victim’s rights and the public’s safety are our first priority through the fair, equal, vigorous, and efficient enforcement of the criminal laws.” – Merced County District Attorney’s Office –

It is my sincere hope that the elected high officials of the Merced County such as yourselves live up to the own mission statement for the good of the public without resorting to another “forensic accounting” bit.

Respectfully submitted.

Echo Yankee, ATP/A&P

Free Air tickets for jailed Sri lankan Domestic helpers in Bahrain

Sri Lankan Government has pledged to pay for the air tickets of female workers returning home from Bahrain’s prisons. Migrant Workers Protection Society (MWPS) action committee head Marietta Dias said the vow was made to the society by Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry officials.

“We have spoken with the Sri Lankan Government and they have said they will arrange the air tickets for the repatriation of women in prison,” she told the SecondCity News Desk.

“They told us not to pay for any more air tickets and let them know if any new cases come up.”

Dias said the Sri Lankan Government had also agreed to fund the air tickets of runaway housemaids Ismail Nisvika, 26, and Chitra Kodikara, 35, who have been staying at the MWPS shelter for several months.

Dias said she had no idea why the Government suddenly decided to take financial responsibility for female prisoners, or how the plan would work.

But she welcomed the offer to improve the support available to the 12,000-strong Sri Lankan population in Bahrain.

“It is a step in the right direction because it is becoming too expensive for us to buy tickets for these people,” Dias said.

The Sri Lankan Embassy in Kuwait looks after the affairs of its citizens in Bahrain, although some visa and consular services are offered through honorary Consul-General P B Higgoda at the Sri Lanka Club.

Meanwhile, Dias said the number of housemaids of all nationalities running away from their sponsors was on the rise and called for the recruitment of highly-skilled workers.

“It is a fact that more are running away and we have noticed that,” she said.

“Many have never dealt with household gadgets and equipment and are not used to the size of the houses.

“It is unfair to the sponsors also, as they see that these people are not capable and there is also the language and cultural barrier,” she added.

Related Story: The Media Line: THE PLIGHT OF SRI LANKA’S ENSLAVED MOTHERS, DAUGHTERS AND SISTERS

American Express Issues Travel Insurance Warning

Travelling abroad on your EHIC alone does not provide you with sufficient cover, the credit card firm has warned.
Travelling abroad on your EHIC alone does not provide you with sufficient cover, the credit card firm has warned.

Many British holidaymakers are neglecting to take out travel insurance – because they believe that their EHIC cards offer them cover instead.

According to research from American Express, 2.3 million travellers who took a trip within the EU over the past year did not take out insurance for this reason. The firm also said that this total had not significantly changed since a similar poll was taken in 2006

Currently, the free cards do not provide holiday cancellation, curtailment or repatriation. Instead, EHIC merely offers holidaymakers free or reduced healthcare in EU countries, in cases of accident, injury or illness.

Chris Rolland, head of American Express Insurance Services, explained: “EHIC cards are solely for emergency medical treatment in Europe and people must make sure that they have independent, quality travel insurance to ensure that they have comprehensive cover to avoid any unwanted financial difficulties.”

He added: “With so many Brits planning a summer holiday in Europe this month, travellers should be careful not to rely on European Health Insurance Cards. They are not a substitute for comprehensive travel insurance so you will not be covered for delays, loss of baggage or cancellations or experience other benefits of having an independent travel insurance policy.”

Mr. Minister, please come forward and do something. UPA Govt. is saved now. part (1)

Since the UPA government has already passed the no confidence motion in Parliament on 22nd July 2008, we hope that our beloved Minister Mr. Vayalar Ravi will come forward to help our sons & daughters which are fighting a lonely war for justice on a foreign soil with very few helping hands. Here is the first Open letter of the series of letters to Mr. Vayalar Ravi from one of the parents whose son is fighting it our all by himself.

Mr. Vayalar Ravi, Minister for overseas affairs
Mr. Vayalar Ravi, Minister for overseas affairs

Respected Mr. Vayalar Ravi,

Let us first introduce ourselves: we are Richard and Juliet Saldanha and our son, Fabian Saldanha, who was enrolled in the American School of Aviation, California where he was clocking flight hours to obtain his private flying license, Engine rating training and a commercial pilot license.

We had paid $40,000 in tuition fees, which was transferred in its entirety to the school at the beginning of the training. With the school shutting down, my child’s future now hangs in the balance.

Fabian has worked very hard in obtaining excellent grades to reach this position in his academic career. After successfully passing his +2 exams with 70% marks from Alva’s Pre-University College, Moodbidri, he finally settled on ASA to pursue his dreams of becoming a pilot one day. But we are sure there are other students like my son who are in a similar situation since ASA closed its doors.

The current plight of the 120 children is very tragic, and concerned school authorities like Mrs. Reny Kozman and the Principal Director Mr Manpreet Singh have all but abandoned their students.

Declaring bankruptcy was the next step in this sorry saga; and while the American courts battle this out, the lives of these 120 children and their future hangs in the balance. For parents like myself, who have worked hard to obtain the sufficient funds in educating our children and seeing their dream fulfilled, this comes as a very hard blow. We have mortgaged our properties and have no sufficient means to transfer Fabian to another school and scrape together another hefty tuition amount.

We implore you, and the concerned authorities to step in and rectify this matter. Maybe the government could help facilitate other aviation schools in the US to absorb these children and allow them to finish their training through a government funded grant. It is only through your networking, support and backing will parents like us be able to find full justice and manage to salvage the hopes and futures of these 120 children.

Yours sincerely,
Richard and Juliet Saldanha
Parents of Fabian Saldanha

America’s very own Bunty & Babli planning an escape to Egypt?

Today I came to know that Prince and Reny have ran to Egypt,I don’t know whether this is true or not . And their house in Atwater is now in fore closure.

America's very own Bunty & Babli escaped to Egypt?
America's very own Bunty & Babli escaped to Egypt?

Well guys don’t worry, Singh and Reny will surely pay for what they have done. Though they have 4.4. Million Dollars but they will never have Peace and Happiness in their life, which we all have or will surely have. As before I have written , though we lost our money but our truth is with us, our God is with us.
Cheating and looting people is in Singh’s blood, but we all know that the wealth earned by cheating someone never last for long, and plus God is always watching everything.
Singh and Reny will surely end up behind bars , but that is not enough,because he will also be punished by GOD and that will be worse for him.

Well keep fighting for justice and never give up because God is with us , though it will take time but at last truth triumphs.

Navdeep, So you say……. “Any updates on this? Is he fixed now?”

His school is SHUT DOWN , His American School Of Aviation has become the biggest SCAM in Aviation Industry , He has become NOTORIOUS ,his family has become NOTORIOUS too, his bad deeds in India and also here have been revealed to the world , there are Records in the Police Station and in DA’s office , His house is in Fore Closure , The victim’s are cursing him , whatever he was doing from 1995 or maybe before that has now come to an end and so on.
If you really love your parents and believe in GOD then you must be knowing the meaning of BLESSINGS and CURSING. Do you know what do we achieve after someone gives us Blessing or someone CURSES us for we doing something wrong ? If yes , then you must know what will Singh and Reny get in return for what they have done.

Do you think this is not at least the START of really “FIXING” him. Hundreds of families have been saved , so what else do you want?
Instead of sitting on ass and letting him loot us and also loot others, we struggled hard to STOP him from doing that.

Do you know Lord Ram , Lord Krishna , Jesus Christ? Have you heard about them.
Well let me tell you , in today’s world people call them as GOD , and you know the history , they had to suffer too. Yes you read it right, they suffered too, they fought for TRUTH and JUSTICE , and now we call them as GOD. If anyone is born or died , its all done by god. God is really watching everything.

So what if we lost our $17,000/ , but at least we didn’t bend our knees and kept quite, but instead we fought , so that Singh should be punished for what he has done.
Well, if God has struggled then who are we???
One day you will get the Update that ” Prince and Reny are finished” …..how and when I will let you know for sure.

I totally agree with Pilot747 , you are Prince or Reny using other names because you have no identity now.

Prince and Reny , one day will come in your life that you will cry for one drop of water and that time people , forget about people even animals will feel ashamed to pee in your mouth.
You will end up very soon……very very soon.

Bhavana.