ISIS KILLS CIVILIANS IN PALMYRA
ISIS has killed about 400 civilians in Palmyra since overtaking the Syrian city last Wednesday, Syrian state TV reports. Activists also say that as many as 300 Syrian soldiers and people loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have been hunted down and killed, Al Jazeera reports.
- Speaking after what’s been a dramatic week for all ISIS opponents, including Assad and his allies, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah urged the people in Lebanon and the entire Middle East to “trust themselves and unite” against ISIS, an enemy that “threatens the entire region.”
- Iraqi troops have regained some territory around the city of Ramadi, which fell under ISIS control almost two weeks ago, Reuters reports. Speaking to the BBC, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said he hoped to retake Ramadi “in days” but called for more support from the U.S.-led coalition. Responding to criticism from U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter that Iraqi troops had withdrawn despite outnumbering ISIS fighters, Abadi said he was “sure Carter was fed with the wrong information.”
- ISIS is not just a threat to people but also to rare birds. According to experts, the northern bald ibis could soon be extinct after caretakers of a small Palmyra breeding colony fled ISIS.
Today marks the one-month anniversary of the devastating earthquake that killed more than 8,600 people in Nepal and made many more homeless. And the government now estimates reconstruction costs to reach $7 billion, one-third of the country’s GDP. Meanwhile, The Observer reports that Qatar refused to let Nepalese laborers, who are working in slave-like conditions to build stadiums for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, return home for their relatives’ funerals.
"Instability," reads today’s headline in conservative Madrid daily La Razon, after the strong showing of two upstart parties in Spain’s local and regional elections threatened the longstanding two-party duel between the Popular and Socialist parties. The conservative Popular party of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy suffered its worst local results in a generation, losing some of its support in Sunday's voting to the new center-right Ciudadanos party. The Popular party paid the price both for its economic austerity measures and for ongoing corruption scandals. Read more about the Spanish elections in our Extra! feature.
- Poland’s incumbent president Bronislaw Komorowski conceded defeat to his challenger Andrzej Duda, who pledged to better distribute the fruits of Poland’s growing economy.
- The results for Ethiopia’s first general election since the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi are not in yet, but his successor Hailemariam Desalegn appears certain to remain in office and to extend his party’s 24-year rule.
Though French bread and pastries have become popular across Asia, French chains have had trouble breaking in, Les Echos’ Yann Rousseau reports. And now one Korean boulangerie is opening in Paris. “The streets of Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo and Hanoi are jammed with bakeries with names such as Paris Gâteaux, Vie de France, Paris Baguette or Tous les Jours, almost always decorated with the blue-white-red flag and Eiffel Towers,” the journalist writes. “But none of these shops is actually French. ‘We’re lagging behind our Asian competitors,’ explains François-Xavier Colas, who's heading the new Asia strategy for the Le Duff group. ‘The Japanese and Koreans understood very early on the huge potential of the bakery market.’”
Read the full article, Asia's Paradoxical Battle For The French Baguette.
GREECE WARNS OF DEBT DEFAULT
Greece will default on its debt and won’t be able to make a 1.6 billion euro ($1.75 billion) repayment to the International Monetary Fund next month if a deal with its creditors isn’t reached soon, Interior Minister Nikos Voutsis warned Saturday. The money “will not be given and is not there to be given,” he said.
- Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show Sunday that the ball was now in the creditors’ court. “We have met them three-quarters of the way,” he said. “They need to meet us one-quarter of the way.”
- Greek newspaper To Vima writes in an editorial that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his government are running out of time. “Clearly the country cannot carry on living in such a state of general insecurity,” it writes, suggesting a new election could take place soon.
ON THIS DAY
China finally removed its ban on the work of Shakespeare 38 years ago today. Find out more Memorial Day facts in your 57-second shot of history.
MASS GRAVES UNCOVERED IN MALAYSIA
Malaysian police announced Sunday that they had found 139 grave sites where they believe Rohingya or Bangladeshi migrants were buried, as well as 28 human trafficking camps, The Malaysian Insider reports. The remains of some 100 bodies still need to be identified. At least 37 people have already been arrested across the country. The country’s inspector general vowed to identify all human trafficking activities and said that the police would investigate whether Malaysian authorities have been involved.
DEADLY FLASH FLOODS IN TEXAS, OKLAHOMA
Photo: Jay Janner/TNS/ZUMA
At least three people were killed in Texas and Oklahoma after record rainfall Sunday created violent flash floods and swept away hundreds of homes. “We do have whole streets that have maybe one or two houses left on them, and the rest are just slabs,” CNN quotes one emergency management coordinator as saying. More heavy rain is forecast to hit the Midwest today.
“This was not a clash, it was a massacre.” This is how Victor Hugo Reynoso, whose brother was among 42 criminal suspects killed Friday in a gunfight with Mexican police, characterized the bloodshed after picking up his relative’s body at the morgue. Amid questions over whether the police could have planned the killing in advance, a woman told El Universal that the gunfight had been “savagery,” that “our relatives are unrecognizable.” Experts have noted that there were only 40 guns seized, fewer than the number of suspects killed.
MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD
CHINA’S ANTI-CORRUPTION EFFORTS
More than 70 Communist Party officials in China have been given tours of prisons “to visit convicted officials and to raise their awareness of corruption” as part of Beijing’s pledge to end fraud, newspaper China Daily reports. “It’s a striking image to have watched the ex-officials’ showing their deep repentance while they serve their sentences in prison,” one of the visitors said.
O’ LUNA MIA
Aries babies will be happy to know that “this week is backed by good energy and great enthusiasm,” but Geminis are in for a little tsk-tsking, according to Simon, our Roman astrologer. We dare you not to look.
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.
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.
High-flying ambitions for the sector
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 airportcommons.wikimedia.org
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.
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.
Auckland Airport, New Zealand
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.
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