Chennai, Skavsta and Tbilisi; Batu Besar and Baneasa: not a litany of dismal Scrabble hands, but some of the places that, this summer, you can reach by air direct from Britain. Summer, as defined by the introduction of British Summer Time, does more than shift sunset an hour later.

The change also ushers in the high-season flight schedules from the airlines. This year, departure boards at UK airports will be displaying a lexicon of new destinations, giving travellers more choice than ever. Simon Calder checks out the places for which you can check in

EUROPE

Cabotage is not that nice little village down in the Dordogne where the neighbours always go; it is a term that is about to revolutionise European air travel. "Cabotage" means the right for Europe's airlines to carry passengers anywhere within the EU.

From Tuesday, the old rule-book that restricted flights within Europe is being torn up. While his former colleagues in the Labour Party fight the Tories, Neil Kinnock is spending this election campaign fighting for truly liberal aviation in Europe as Transport Commissioner. According to the priinciple of free access to markets, airlines must be permitted to flight wherever they like. So if Lufthansa wants to fly from Birmingham to Newcastle, or an Irish carrier wishes to fly between Scotland and England, they will be able to.

The funny thing is, they already do. Britain is way ahead of the Continent in bestowing freedom of the skies. So you can now fly within the UK on Germany's national carrier and on Ryanair. This latter airline is extending its no-frills network from Stansted to Kerry, starting on 12 June

Elsewhere, the revolution is beginning quietly. One of the noisier champions of the new rules is likely to be Virgin Express. One of the farther flung outposts of the Branson empire, this low-fare carrier is based in the Belgian capital. Tomorrow it begins Gatwick-Brussels flights, with connections to a range of European destination.

Georgia, the country whose capital is Tbilisi, is so far off the beaten flight path that its embassy in London could not tell me whether or not it is in Europe. But other sources define the Caucasus as firmly European. Mediterranean it is not, but that is no impediment to the airline British Mediterranean, beginning services from Heathrow on 12 April. The airline has no doubt that it can fill the front of the plane with premium passengers, leaving seats at the back to be sold for whatever they can fetch. So expect some good discounts on the route.

Other airlines, too, are looking east in the search for new markets. British Airways is starting flights to Krakw from both Manchester and Gatwick, and to Riga from Gatwick. You will also need to go to Sussex for the BA flight to St Petersburg; the airline is moving plenty of planes to Gatwick to free slots at Heathrow for the most lucrative high-frequency services.

Strangely, many British Airways flights are slowing down for summer. From tomorrow morning, the scheduled journey time for BA flight 2751 from Zurich to Gatwick is three hours - 20 minutes longer than it was this morning.

Some services have dropped off the BA map altogether: no longer can you fly from Heathrow to Turin in Italy. To fill the vacuum, Azurra Air is beginning flights from London City airport to the home of the Fiat.

The only thing that is familiar about Jaro International's flights from Gatwick to Baneasa is the aircraft. This little-known Romanian airline has begun flights to Bucharest's second airport. The plane it uses is the familiar old BAC One-Eleven, a number of which were made under licence in Romania during Ceausescu's tyrranical regime.

Finally, Schiphol's claim to be the real alternative to Heathrow or Gatwick gets a boost from tomorrow, when Inverness becomes the latest British airport with direct Air UK flights to Amsterdam.

SCANDINAVIA

Skavsta claims to be Stockholm's third airport, but it is so far south west of the Swedish capital that the Official Airlines Guide does not even list it under "Stockholm". Undeterred, Ryanair is launching flights from Stansted on 12 June. Any inconvenience in using these harder-to-reach airports will be assuaged by a modest grand total of pounds 122 from the centre of London to the centre of Stockholm, thanks to special transfer fares.

In July, Manchester gets connected to Iceland. Even if the people of north-west England have no desire to visit the island, they might be glad to know that Icelandair offers excellent fares via Reykjavik to a number of destinations in the US and Canada.

THE AMERICAS

Richard Branson is making a return to the route that made his name. Hacks and holiday-makers who were lucky enough to be on flight VS1 on 22 June 1984 still look back fondly to a flight when the plane was drunk dry. The inaugural Virgin route was from Gatwick to Newark, New Jersey. Later the UK base shifted to Heathrow, but now the grinning entrepreneur is flying back to his routes.

Britain's regional airports continue to extend their links; from July, Continental joins BA on the Birmingham-New York run, providing good connections from Continental's hub at Newark.

Yet the most interesting developments are taking place in Latin America. You can already fly to the Colombian capital, but the arrival of Avianca on the Heathrow-Bogot route from 3 May is doubly significant. First, it will speed up the journey by a couple of hours compared with the existing British Airways service, which stops en route at Caracas. More significantly for budget travellers, Avianca will offer cheap fares to onward destinations such as Lima and Quito. Previously, the Venezuelan airline Viasa was the standard cheap carrier to these western capitals, but it collapsed in January. The Colombian airline will fill the vacuum for low fares.

Cubana adds a third weekly service between Gatwick and Havana; the bonus of this flight is that it will stop en route at Varadero, the first time the leading Cuban resort has been served by scheduled flights from Britain

Air China: 0171-630 0919

Avianca: 0171-408 1889

Azurra Air: through Air Malta on 0181-785 3177

British Airways: 0345 222111

British Mediterranean: 0345 320100

Cubana: 0171-734 1165

Garuda: 0171-486 3011

Icelandair: 0171-388 5599

Jaro International: 0171-287 1700

Ryanair: 0541 569569

Virgin Express: 0800 891199

AFRICA

There is one welcome addition to the British Airways schedule: the ultimate in time travel. If you leave Gibraltar at 1.45pm, local time, when you arrive in Tangier the clocks will show 12.25pm. Who needs Concorde?

The main development in Africa is a new flight to the Egyptian city of Alexandria. British Mediterranean Airways will be landing beside the Nile delta three times a week, providing a welcome alternative to the chaos of Cairo and presenting a new possibility for a long weekend away.

ASIA

Batu Besar: I know where it is - on Batam Island, just south of Singapore. I know how to get there, too, on the new Garuda flight from Gatwick. All I need to know now is why anyone should want to go there.

The answers are twofold: first, it provides easy access to the much-overlooked island of Sumatra; second, it is an alternative way to reach the island of Singapore. At a distance of only 15 miles from Singapore, Batu Besar is a perfectly good gateway. Better still, the approach by ferry is far preferable to the road journey in from Changi airport.

So if that's where Batu Besar is, where is Chennai? A clue: it is India's fourth city. Following the abrupt change of name by Mumbai (formerly Bombay), Madras has decided it needs a more Indian identity. So flights to the capital of southern India are listed under Chennai. The airport code remains MAA, though.

After June 1997, no-one will want to fly to Hong Kong, right? Not according to the airlines. British Airways is adding a third daily jumbo each Friday. It will face competition not just from Cathay Pacific and Virgin Atlantic, but also from a new arrival: Air China. Even though the territory is not handed back to the People's Republic until June, Air China will begin Heathrow-Hong Kong services from Monday.

Comments