U.S. SPIED ON THREE FRENCH PRESIDENTS
The United States' National Security Agency (NSA) spied on the last three French presidents Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande, according to Wikileaks documents obtained and released by the French daily Libération and the investigative website Mediapart.
According to the documents first published by WikiLeaks late on Tuesday, and shared with the two French news outlets, the NSA wiretapped the last three presidents of France from 2006 to 2012.
Recorded conversations include revelations about Sarkozy's involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and Hollande's fear of Greece leaving the Eurozone.
The NSA has already been accused of spying on several world leaders allied with Washington, including German chancellor Angela Merkel in 2013. Still, the proof provided by Wikileaks is another embarrassment for the Obama administration.
François Hollande held an emergency meeting "to evaluate the nature of the information published... and to draw useful conclusionsâ€ according to a French presidential aide.
The U.S. ambassador was summoned Wednesday morning to the French foreign ministry.
PAKISTAN HEAT WAVE DEATH TOLL TOPS 800
â€‹The death toll from a severe heatwave in southern Pakistan has surpassed 800, as mortuaries have reached maximum capacity and officials have been criticized for not doing enough to prevent the deaths. The figure could also rise significantly as temperatures are expected to remain unusually high for a fourth consecutive day, Al Jazeera reports. Temperatures were as high as 45Â°C (113Â°F) Tuesday in certain parts of the country. Pakistanâ€™s Prime Minister has called for emergency measures and the army has been deployed to help set up heat stroke centers.
AT LEAST 18 DEAD AFTER CHINA UIGHUR ATTACK
An attack led by ethnic Uighurs against a police checkpoint in Chinaâ€™s western Xinjiang region has left at least 18 dead â€" 15 attackers and 3 police officers â€" Radio Free Asia reports. According to a local officer quoted by the U.S.-based radio, the attack occurred Monday in a district of the southern city of Kashgar, where tensions between Muslim Uighurs that call the region home and the majority Han Chinese have led to bloodshed in recent years.
GIRL SUICIDE BOMBER KILLS 10 IN NIGERIA
A female suicide bomber, described by witnesses quoted by the BBC to be as young as 12 years old, has killed at least 10 people and injured another 20 when she detonated her explosives in the northeastern Nigerian town of Gujba, in Yobe state. The attack has not been claimed yet but the terrorist organization Boko Haram has been known for carrying out similar attacks involving young girls. The Nigerian army seized the town from the Islamist group earlier this year.
YEMEN ANTI-HOUTHI FORCES SEIZE SAUDI BORDER CROSSING
Army forces loyal to Yemenâ€™s exiled president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi seized a border crossing with Saudi Arabia Tuesday, officials in the area and witnesses quoted by Al Arabiya say. This is a rare blow to the countryâ€™s dominant Houthi group. The rebel group controls three other border crossings into the Saudi kingdom.
â€œIt shouldnâ€™t fly there. It shouldnâ€™t fly anywhere,â€ the Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said in a speech Tuesday at a church in Florissant, Mo., referring to the American Confederate flag. This comes less than a week after nine black people were killed at a Charleston church by white supremacist Dylan Roof.
LAST HONG KONG PRO-DEMOCRACY CAMPS CLEARED
A handful of demonstrators from the pro-democracy Occupy Central movement watched in silence as their last street camps were cleared away by authorities Wednesday, Reuters reports. This puts an end to one of Beijingâ€™s biggest political challenge in decades that started in September. Most of the street camps had been removed as early as December, but a small cluster of determined protesters carried on the movement.
Health experts estimate about 74,000 cases of malaria went untreated in 2014 in Guinea, due to the continuing Ebola epidemic in the country, The Lancet reports. This could be a result of closed clinics or patients fearing to seek help. The group of 15 doctors who released the report warn that malaria deaths since the beginning of 2014 will far exceed the number of Ebola deaths.
ON THIS DAY
Manila and South Africaâ€™s rugby team share June 24 with two other notable events, see todayâ€™s 57-second shot of history.
The protein-rich algae spirulina is abundant and affordable in the Central African Republic, making it a nutritional alternative to help feed kids in the developing world, Natacha Tatu writes for Lâ€™Obs. And thatâ€™s exactly what one Frenchman is doing, feeding children. â€œFreddy comes from Brittany, in France, but has spent almost half his life in Africa,â€ Tatu writes. â€œHe regularly swears he will leave Bangui and retire to his home in Kerfeunteun, in the Finistère department. But at 72, the restaurant owner is still here, year after year, shaking customersâ€™ hands, all the while single-handedly dealing with his small spirulina factory and a child nutrition center, where his â€˜magic potionâ€™ is quite literally saving lives.â€ Read the full article, In Bangui, A Grizzled Expat Feeds Hungry Kids With Algae.
IF YOU COULD TAKE THAT EMAIL BACK
Those moments of cringing because you noticed a glaring typo or forgot to include the attached document just after you sent an email might now be history. Gmail just launched its much-awaited â€œundo sendâ€ function.
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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