Exit polls had them neck-and-neck yesterday evening but in the end, Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party secured a solid victory ahead of the centrist Zionist Union led by Isaac Herzog. Likud came in with an expected 30 Knesset seats ahead of 24 for the Zionist Union. With pre-voting polls suggesting a defeat of the incumbent Prime Minister, Netanyahu’s sharp shift to the right in the final days of the campaign, which included him abandoning a commitment to negotiate a two-state solution with the Palestinians and promising to expand Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, tilted the balance in his favor.
- In his victory speech, Netanyahu said he would seek to form “a strong, stable government that will know how to uphold security and socioeconomic well-being,” the campaign’s two main issues. According to The Jerusalem Post, talks have already been initiated with nationalist and ultra-orthodox parties to renew their governing coalition and a new government could be formed within two or three weeks.
- Palestinians were critical of the election’s result, with senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Yasser Abed Rabbo telling AFP that Israelis had chosen “the path of racism, occupation and settlement building” over negotiation and partnership
- “The nation must be replaced. Not another election for the country's leadership, but general elections to choose a new Israeli people – immediately,” quipped Gideon Levy, a staunch critic of Netanyahu, writing in Haaretz newspaper .
ON THIS DAY
Get ready for your 57-second shot of history, taking you today to Bosnia and Herzegovina, France, England, and the U.S.
SYRIA DOWNS U.S. DRONE
The Syrian military said it had shot down a U.S. drone flying over the coastal province of Latakia, an area controlled by government forces in northwestern Syria, Al Jazeera reports. The U.S. military admitted they had lost contact with an unmanned aircraft but did not confirm the device was shot down.
- Top U.S. envoy John Allen insisted the U.S. still wants a political settlement in Syria that excludes President Bashar al-Assad, appearing to contradict Secretary of State John Kerry who was reported as saying over the weekend that they will eventually have to negotiate with Assad. Kerry’s comments had drawn intense criticism from Assad’s opponents in the Middle East and were later denied by the State Department.
- A report from Human Rights Watch claims that Iraqi troops and Shia militia looted, burned homes and destroyed Sunni villages when it broke a months-long ISIS siege last year. This comes amid an offensive to liberate the town of Tikrit. “The forces need to focus their efforts on defeating ISIS, and to end their atrocities against civilians and those they take prisoner,” HRW warns.
The U.S. Secret Service would like an extra $8 million in its budget to build a “mock-up” White House to better train agents to protect the president. “Right now, we train on a parking lot, basically,” director Joseph Clancy said. This comes after several notable security breaches at the White House.
VIOLENT ANTI-AUSTERITY PROTESTS IN FRANKFURT
Photo above: LeRoy via Instagram
At least 350 people were arrested amid violent anti-austerity protests outside the European Central Bank’s new headquarters in Frankfurt ahead of the $1.4-billion building’s inauguration, with 88 policemen wounded in clashes, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports. Police cars were torched, windows broken and stones thrown. According to Deutsche Welle, the protest’s organizers have accused the police of sparking the violence, saying they set up a "civil war type scenario" to provoke demonstrators.
Doan Bui in French weekly L’Obs tells the heart-wrenching story of Nicolas and Damien Delmer, the 35-year-old French twins born with the incurable disease of cystic fibrosis — and their fight for the right to die the way they want: “The brothers often talk about death. They think about it. They've always thought about it. They made a pact: The one who stands last helps the other leave, in peace.
Once, when they were teenagers, Nicolas had to go to the hospital in Paris. Damien still remembers the cold fear that engulfed him at the thought of losing his brother. Today, Nicolas is the one having trouble finding words to describe the unspeakable. Read the full article, Why These French Twins Are Fighting To Legalize Euthanasia.
SEVEN ARRESTED FOR SREBRENICA MURDERS
The Serbian police have arrested seven men suspected of having taken part in the slaughter of some 1,000 Muslims during the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, the first such arrests in the ex-Yugoslav country, Reuters reports. More than 8,000 Muslims, men and boys, are believed to have been killed over three days in what has since been described as Europe’s worst atrocities since World War II.
MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD
“You can't have a person driving a two-ton death machine.” For Tesla CEO Elon Musk, humans should be banned from driving cars when self-driving vehicles become the norm. But he warned that it could take 20 years before autonomous cars take over. Read more about the Tesla co-founder and find out what our Chinese partner Economic Observer thinks of Musk’s managerial skills.
BREASTFEEDING LEADS TO HIGHER IQ
A Brazilian study started in 1982, with results just now being published in the Lancet Global Health journal shows that breast-fed babies have gone on to score higher on IQ tests. Moreover, the longer the breastfeeding lasted, the better off they tended to be 30 years later.
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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