Travel news: Airlines shed routes

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The Independent Travel

So long to Melbourne, hello to Tirana: when the summer flight schedules begin later this month, exotic new routes are to be launched, while some long-established ones are to be axed.

The last Sunday in March is traditionally when airlines switch from winter to summer timetables, and use the opportunity to tweak their route networks. Seven years after starting a daily Heathrow-Singapore-Melbourne service, British Airways is withdrawing the link. It will continue to "code-share" with the Australian airline, Qantas, which is retaining daily departures from London to the Victorian capital.

BA is also abandoning services from Heathrow to Cologne, as well as routes from Gatwick to Hanover, Munich and Budapest, and the link from Manchester to Oslo. But Gatwick gains new connections on BA, notably the first scheduled link to the Albanian capital, Tirana. The airline will also fly from the Sussex airport to Izmir in Turkey, Varna in Bulgaria, Reykjavik in Iceland and the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. From Birmingham, BA Connect (the new no-frills airline for regional routes) will serve Belfast City and Berlin.

Stansted continues its relentless expansion. Blue 1 becomes the latest airline trying to make a success of the route from Essex to the Finnish capital, Helsinki. (Buzz and Flying Finn both tried it, and both have since disappeared.) The latest contender, an offshoot of SAS, aims to take some business from Ryanair's daily link to the Finnish city of Tampere.

Ryanair is re-introducing Stansted to Lamezia Terme, and launching a new Italian connection to Parma. From 1 April it will serve "Fly Balaton" airport in Hungary, giving access to northern Croatia.

Competition to the Croatian coast is intensifying; yesterday, easyJet started selling flights from Luton to Rijeka; this week, it will announce a new route to Split.

Daily flights to the Borneo enclave of Brunei have been available for a decade, but connections on Royal Brunei have been fairly limited. From summer, UK travellers will be able to connect to a five-times weekly service to Perth, and also to Ho Chi Minh City. Traditionally, Royal Brunei has offered competitive fares, so expect some bargains to Vietnam.

Manchester gains another reason for travellers to avoid London. Etihad, the airline of Abu Dhabi, starts flying daily from Manchester to its home base on 26 March. From Abu Dhabi there is a quick bus connection to Dubai - and a wide range of onward flights to Asia. Qatar Airways is also launching a base at Birmingham, with four flights a week to Doha.