FIFA TO VOTE DESPITE SCANDAL
The FIFA congress opened this morning as expected, and the 209 members will decide later today whether to give a record fifth term to embattled President Sepp Blatter amid the media storm resulting from a massive corruption scandal that also threatens to entangle Nike. According to The Guardian, the 79-year-old is expected to defeat his only rival, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, despite Wednesday’s arrests of seven FIFA officials and worldwide calls for him to go.
- In his opening speech, Blatter seemed to ignore calls for his resignation and said that FIFA was “going through troubling times” but that he would try “to lift that shadow.” Speaking about the widespread corruption unveiled over recent years and especially since Wednesday’s high-profile arrests for bribery and corruption, he said these were the doings of “certain individuals” and not the entire organization. “You can't just ask people to behave ethically just like that,” he said.
- Commenting on the arrests of senior FIFA officials and sport marketing executives, Blatter suggested this was done to damage his hopes of reelection. “It is not good for all this to occur two days before the election. I’m not going to use the word coincidence, but I do have a small question mark.” He went further and hinted that the choice of Russia and Qatar as hosts for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to the detriment of, among others, England and the U.S., might have played a role in the joint U.S.-Swiss investigation. “If two other countries had emerged from the envelope, I think we would not have had these problems.”
- Blatter was interrupted pro-Palestinian protesters waving red cards and chanting “Israel out!” FIFA is expected to vote on a Palestinian motion asking for Israel to be expelled from the organization. Read more from The Times of Israel.
- For more world coverage on this far-reaching scandals, check out our exclusive roundup, FIFA v. World: Global Press Reacts To Soccer Scandal.
The relationship between Germany and Google continues to deteriorate, the German weekly Stern writes in this week's edition, with the cover headline, “The Secret World of Google.” Read more in our Extra! feature.
AL-QAEDA GAINS IN SYRIA
Rebel groups led by the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front have taken Syrian loyalists’ last stronghold in the Idlib governorate, AFP quoted the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights as saying. But according to the BBC, the Syrian army said intense fighting was still ongoing.
- At least 10 people were killed in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad after car bombs exploded in the parking lots of two five-star hotels. The blasts also wounded 30 people.
What’s the world’s worst performing economy? It’s neither Greece nor Ukraine. It’s Macau. The former Portuguese colony, often characterized as “China’s gambling capital,” has seen its GDP fall by 24.5% in the first quarter.
This La Stampa/Worldcrunch piece, How China's Corrupt Are Making Macau Rich, has more about the small peninsula.
CAMERON IN GERMANY
New re-elected Prime Minister David Cameron continues his “whistle-stop tour of Europe” to launch his bid to negotiate new terms for Britain’s EU membership. Next up for the Conservative leader is Germany, where he’ll meet Chancellor Angela Merkel whose backing will be “crucial,” the BBC says. But convincing France might be a trickier job. Before his visit to the Élysée Palace yesterday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told France Inter that Paris would not agree to grant Britain “special status.”
“It is very unlikely that we’ll reach a comprehensive solution in the coming days,” International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde told Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, pouring cold water on a potential deal with Greece. She didn’t rule out the possibility of a “Grexit” from the eurozone, though she insisted it’s something that “nobody in the EU wishes to happen.” Meanwhile, Greek banks reported that people had withdrawn 5.6 billion euros from the country’s bank accounts last month, bringing deposits to their lowest level in a decade.
RUSSIA EXPANDS STATE SECRECY
Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree to expand dramatically state secrecy, making it illegal to “speak, write or broadcast about Russian troop losses in peacetime,” the Financial Times reports. Critics fear this will make it even more difficult to report Russian deaths in Ukraine, as Moscow continues to deny that some of its troops are fighting in the conflict.
J.P. MORGAN PLANS LAYOFFS
J.P. Morgan, the largest U.S. bank, has begun layoffs expected to total more than 5,000 by next year as part of what The Wall Street Journal says is “a broader industry move toward Internet and mobile banking.” In the last quarter of 2014, the bank reported losses of $1 billion after it was slapped with several hefty fines.
While the average Dane generates more than 10 tons of CO2 each year, a resident on the Danish island of Samso actually spares the planet three, Le Monde’s Pierre Le Hir writes. The island has changed its fate by investing in wind, sun, wood and straw. “Jorgen Tranberg, who owns a herd of highland cattle — mountain cows with long horns and thick fleece — has a stunning view of his own private wind turbine, which captures wind as well as profits, in the middle of his rapeseed field,” Hir writes. “He bought it for 800,000 euros and spent double that to acquire half of a sea turbine. ‘When you spend so much money, it’s not just for love of nature,’ he says. ‘By selling my electricity, I repaid my costs in seven years. It’s a good business. And it’s better to produce our energy ourselves than to depend on Russia for gas or the Middle East for petrol.’”
Read the full article, In Denmark, The World's First Self-Sufficient Green Island.
ON THIS DAY
New Zealand mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary and his sherpa Tenzing Norgay became the first people ever to reach the summit of Nepal’s Mount Everest 62 years ago today. Time for your 57-second shot of history.
DEATH TOLL RISES WITH UNABATED INDIA HEAT
At least 1,800 people have died because of India’s heat wave, and forecasters fear the devastating temperatures across the country could last for another week, The Hindustan Times reports. Hospitals are overwhelmed with patients complaining of headaches and dizziness, and authorities have cancelled doctors’ leaves to meet the surging demand. The temperatures are so extreme that a road in Delhi has started to melt.
MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD
CHINA BUILDS UP MILITARY ON MAN-MADE ISLANDS
U.S. surveillance imagery published yesterday shows that China is building up its military presence in the South China Sea by installing weaponry on the artificial islands it is building in contested territory, The Wall Street Journal reports. This comes days after Beijing filed a complaint over a U.S. spy plane that flew over areas that China claims as its own. Responding to U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s comments that Chinese actions would unite other southeast Asian countries against Beijing, the Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times wrote, “Washington is taking a dangerous gamble in the South China Sea.” It warned that despite America’s “dangerous provocation, China won’t dance to the rhythm of the U.S.”
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, YOUTUBE
It’s been 10 years since YouTube came into our lives. Here’s expand=1] a musical tribute that reminds us of notable viral moments in its short history.
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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