SPOTLIGHT: AUSTRIAN LESSONS
European leaders are wiping sweat from their collective brow. Once the final votes were counted late yesterday, Austriaâ€™s ecologically-minded independent Alexander Van der Bellen had edged far-right Freedom party candidate Norbert Hofer in the countryâ€™s presidential election. Had he won, Hofer would have been the first far-right European head of state since the end of Nazism. â€œRelief at seeing the Austrians reject populism and extremism. Each of us needs to learn lessons from that in Europe,â€ tweeted French Prime Minister Manuel Valls. Austrian daily Kronen Zeitung quoted the president-elect as striking a conciliatory note, saying that â€œtogether we will work to reveal Austriaâ€™s beauty.â€
Though in Austria the presidentâ€™s role is largely ceremonial, the closeness of the vote is just one more symptom of a worrying rise in Western public opinion of nationalistic, anti-immigrant populism. â€œEstablished parties everywhere face electorates impatient for solutions to problems, like the refugee crisis and unemployment, whose scale is unprecedented in modern times,â€ wrote British daily The Guardian in an editorial following the results in Vienna. From Franceâ€™s Front National to Denmarkâ€™s Peopleâ€™s Party to Greeceâ€™s Golden Dawn, and right up to the words coming out of Trump Tower, the message is the same: reinforce the borders, save the homeland...and donâ€™t be shy anymore about saying it loud and clear. For Europe, in particular, the next election day to gauge the effects of this sentiment is slated for June 23: the UK referendum on whether to remain in the European Union. Polls show that this race, like the one in Austria, may come down to the final vote.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR TODAY
- American comic legend Bill Cosby arrives in court to face sexual assault allegations.
- Euro zoneâ€™s finance ministers expected to OK 10 million euros in new loans to Greece.
MIGRANTS CLEARED IN GREECE
Greek authorities this morning began forcing thousands of immigrants, many of them war refugees, from a makeshift camp on the countryâ€™s northern border with Macedonia. Read more from BBC.
BRAZIL MINISTER CAUGHT ON TAPE
A close ally of acting Brazilian President Michael Temer was forced to resign after an audio recording appeared to reveal his attempts to block a corruption investigation, Folha de Sao Paulo reports.
After being convicted by a U.S. court, Kazakhstan-born computer engineer Alexandra Elbakyan is now an international copyright outlaw. Her Sci-Hub website offers free access to millions of academic publications, a direct challenge to the entire publishing and academic establishment. "I want to collect the entire range of scientific and educational literature and make it accessible to the whole world. Just like Google Books, but maybe in a more ambitious way," she has said. It is a deceptively unrealistic goal, for Elbakyanâ€™s adventure is part of a widespread global movement within the scientific community: "Open Access" promotes free access to the entire range of scientific literature and is starting to take off in some disciplinesâ€¦ Read the full Le Monde article: This Kazakh Hacker Wants To Destroy The Academic Publishing Establishment
HARDLINER WINS KEY POST IN IRAN
Known for his rigid views, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, an 89-year-old cleric, was chosen today as the speaker of Iranâ€™s Assembly of Experts, a key body responsible for electing the countryâ€™s supreme leader, among other tasks.
OBAMAâ€™S VIETNAM TOUR
President Barack Obama won cheers from his hosts in Vietnam with a (China) reference to bigger nations that â€œbullyâ€ smaller ones. Still, Vietnamese authorities reportedly barred local activists from a planned meeting with Obama. Meanwhile the commander-in-chief grabbed a $6 noodle meal in Hanoi with celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain.
â€" ON THIS DAY
Queen Victoria, the Brooklyn Bridge and more in your daily 57-second shot of history for May 24.
FACEBOOK CHANGES POLICY AFTER BIAS CLAIM
The social media giant continues to deny claims that it filtered out conservative articles from its feed, but has nonetheless announced that it will change its mechanisms to â€œminimize the risk of bias from individual human judgment,â€ in response to a Senate inquiry into alleged censorship.
â€" MORE STORIES, EXCLUSIVELY IN ENGLISH BY WORLDCRUNCH
- In Italy, Training War Refugees To Preserve Antiquities â€" La Stampa
- Tunisiaâ€™s Ennahda Movement Redefines Muslim Democracy â€" Le Monde
- From Brazilâ€™s Samba Schools, Corporate Management Lessons â€" Clarin
Archeologists in central China say theyâ€™ve unearthed the oldest known brewery on record, dating back some 5,000 years, with evidence of ancient jugs and a local strain of barley. No sign thus far of any sofa or remote control.
â€" Crunched by Cynthia Martens
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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