Crash "Inexplicable," Ukraine Oligarchs Feud, X-Files Truth

Crash "Inexplicable," Ukraine Oligarchs Feud, X-Files Truth

Photo: Maxppp/ZUMA
A search and recovery operation continues in the French Alps, as investigators have started examining the black box of the Germanwings flight travelling from Barcelona to Düsseldorf that crashed yesterday with 150 people on board. French officials told reporters that the first findings from the recording devices would be available by the end of the afternoon, Le Figaro reports. Germanwings’ mother company Lufthansa said the crash is “inexplicable” and that the plane was “in perfect condition.”

  • Speaking on RTL, France’s Interior Minister appeared to rule out a terrorist attack since the plane had not exploded.
  • It now appears that the plane gradually shed height for 18 minutes, instead of the eight minutes initially reported, The Independent writes. But experts are still at a loss to explain why this happened.
  • Bernard Chabert, an aircraft specialist, told French radio station Europe 1 that the gradual dive was “likely voluntary” and that this generally happens “when there’s a problem.” Soon after however, as the crew stopped responding on radio, it’s possible there was “nobody conscious inside the cockpit.” He suggested the accident could have been provoked by the explosion of lithium batteries on board. When they catch fire, those batteries release fumes “that can kill in a few seconds,” Chabert said. Such incidents have happened in the past and have caused plane crashes.
  • The German town of Haltern am See is mourning the 16 schoolchildren and two teachers who were aboard the doomed flight, returning from a one-week exchange with a school in Barcelona. Families and friends lit candles on the steps outside the school and left messages in memory. “Yesterday we were many. Today we are alone,” one message read. It was “certainly the darkest day in the history of our town,” Haltern’s mayor said.
  • The tragedy dominated the front pages of Europe’s newspapers on Wednesday.
Yemen’s Shia Houthi rebels have entered the coastal city of Aden, where toppled President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi had been based since January, the BBC reports. News reports have said that Hadi had fled Aden, other that he’d left the country altogether, though two close aides denied these reports. The rebels have seized the country’s largest air base in Aden and also captured Hadi’s Defense Minister, according to Iranian network Press TV. A spokesman for the Houthi rebels (who are believed to be supported by Iran) said their goal was to fight the Sunni terrorist organization al-Qaeda and Hadi.


Happy birthday, Venice! Check out what else happened on this day, thanks to your 57-second shot of history.

Afghanistan’s Taliban reacted angrily to President Barack Obama’s decision yesterday to maintain 9,800 American troops in Afghanistan until the end of the year. “This damages all the prospects for peace,” a Taliban spokesman told AFP in reference to a peace process initiated by President Ashraf Ghani after coming to power last year. “This means the war will go on until they are defeated,” the spokesman said.

“We need peace, we need stability in our region in Asia-Pacific. So that means Indonesia is ready to play a consultative role as an honest broker,” Indonesia President Joko Widodo told the South China Morning Post ahead of its visit to Beijing where he’ll meet Xi Jinping. The two leaders are expected to sign bilateral trade deals and to discuss China’s plans to establish a maritime Silk Road.

Igor Kolomoisky, one of Ukraine’s richest oligarchs, has resigned as governor of the eastern Dnipropetrovsk region, just over a year after he was appointed following the Maidan revolution. The Wall Street Journal reports that the previously staunch supporter of the new government in Kiev has increasingly clashed with President Petro Poroshenko, especially over the management of key energy companies. Gunmen believed to be part of Kolomoisky’s private militia occupied the offices of an important energy company on Friday. The controversial oligarch, who has been personally financing Ukrainian battalions to combat pro-Russian fighters, was accused last year in Russian media of being behind the torching of a building in Odessa in which dozens of anti-Kiev protesters were killed.
Le Monde profiled Kolomoisky last year, translated by Worldcrunch here.

Bad urban planning, pollution, corruption ... Mumbai offers lessons on exactly how not to run your city, Les Echos’ Patrick de Jacquelot reports: “Hidden, though poorly, behind the sumptuous Victorian Gothic facades of the colonial era buildings are ‘very traditional power structures that associate mafias, politicians and bureaucrats,’ explains urbanist Prasad Shetty. With a population packed on a peninsula that seeks to expand on the sea, Mumbai's density reached a record-high 270 people per acre in 2011, compared with just 65 in Hong Kong and 104 in New York. And it's about to get worse. McKinsey's forecasts show that the city will reach 26.2 million inhabitants by 2025. Which raises the inevitable question: Will Mumbai still be livable in 20 years?”
Read the full article, Mayhem In Mumbai, The Antithesis Of A Smart City.

Australia is readying itself to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott saying he was “well and truly” willing to be part of the institution, The Australian Financial Review reports. But before deciding, Canberra is seeking assurances that the organization’s governing board will be independent. Despite Washington’s warning against joining the bank, its allies Britain, France, Germany and Italy have already announced they would be part of it. According to Reuters, the AIIB could be “a significant and possibly historic setback to U.S. efforts to extend its influence in the Asia-Pacific region.”

An estimated 10.5 million Nigerian children are out of school, the highest number in the world, according to the United Nations. Many fear that will make the Boko Haram insurgency, which is responsible for the destruction of countless schools, even easier if the government doesn’t invest to reverse the trend.


It once was a crazy rumor, but now the news (and truth) are out there: The X-Files will return on FOX for a six-episode series.
Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!