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Syrian Truce, Pope In Mexico, Columbine Mother Speaks

Syrian Truce, Pope In Mexico, Columbine Mother Speaks

HOW FAR CAN SYRIAN TRUCE REACH?

Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, announced this morning that they had agreed on the rapid delivery of desperately needed aid to besieged Syrian cities. Talking to reporters in Munich, the two top diplomats expanded on yesterday’s announcement of what amounts to an extremely fragile, and partial, ceasefire.

  • “We have agreed to implement a nationwide cessation of hostilities in one week’s time,” Kerry said early today, The New York Times reports. “The real test is whether all the parties honor those commitments.”
  • The agreement would mark the first sustained and formally declared halt to fighting in Syria since the civil war began in 2011. Kerry conceded that the agreements were "commitments on paper" only, adding that a cessation-of-hostilities agreement would merely constitute a "pause" in the fighting, and that further efforts will be required need in order to transform it into a full-fledged ceasefire. Indeed, even a successful agreement would be partial at best, as the current agreement doesn’t include ISIS or the al-Nusra Front, both key players on the ground, considered terrorist organizations by the United Nations.
  • The Washington-Moscow efforts have not pleased everyone. Colonel Abdul Jabbar Akidi, supreme commander of the Free Syrian Army in Aleppo, told Swedish Daily Dagens Nyheter that the U.S. is “no longer a friend of the Syrian people as they have now allied with Russia.” Since September, Russia has been conducting an extensive air campaign in Syria in support of the Bashar al-Assad government.
POPE’S VISIT TO MEXICO

Mexico got ready to welcome Pope Francis, who was making a historic stopover in Havana to meet with his counterpart from the Russian Orthodox Church. Read more about it on Le Blog.


ON THIS DAY


Which famous painting was stolen on this day, 22 years ago? Find it out here, in your 57-second shot of history.


END OF SIEGE AT OREGON REFUGE

The 40-day armed occupation of a remote Oregon wildlife refuge â€" prompted by longstanding grievances over federal government ownership and management of vast acreage in the West â€" ended peacefully yesterday as the last four occupants surrendered to the FBI. Three of the occupiers emerged in quick succession, hands raised in surrender. The fourth and final occupant eventually followed, but not before repeatedly threatening to shoot himself, ranting about UFOs, drone strikes in Pakistan, and complaining that he couldn't get marijuana. Read the latest coverage from The Oregonian newspaper.


CIA DIRECTOR: ISIS HAS USED CHEMICAL WEAPONS

U.S. intelligence officers believe the Islamic terrorist organization ISIS has already used chemical weapons, CIA Director John Brennan told CBS’s 60 Minutes television program.


EUROPEAN STOCKS REBOUND

After a week of near panic in global stock markets, European share prices rebounded on higher oil prices and reports of economic growth in Germany, AFP reports. Gains of around 2% were reported in this morning’s trading in Frankfurt, London and Paris.


THE SIXTH DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE

Hillary Clinton sought to smother Bernie Sanders' momentum with a cool dose of realism in last night's Democratic party presidential debate. Here’s a quick recap from American newssite Vox, as the candidates squared off on topics such as race, foreign policy, and the legacy of Barack Obama.


U.S. AND SOUTH KOREA TO DISCUSS MISSILE DEFENSE

Photo: Lee Jae-Won/AFLO/ZUMA

Following North Korea’s rocket launch last weekend, Washington and South Korea will begin talks on deploying an advanced U.S. missile defense system, reports Reuters. South Korea suspended operations at the North Korean-based Kaesong industrial zone on Wednesday in response to the rocket launch, and yesterday anti-Kim Jong-un protests marched in downtown Seoul. North Korea referred to the news of the Seoul-Washington talks as “a declaration of war,” and accused the South of being a puppet of the U.S.


WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

As dengue and the fear of the Zika virus continue to spread, local authorities across Brazil are desperately looking for doctors as they set up field hospitals to treat patients infected by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits both diseases, Marcelo Toledo writes for Brazil’s Folha de S. Paulo: “If the installation of field hospitals and the recruiting of doctors alleviates the situation for patients suffering from dengue, it’s far from being a lasting solution, experts say. Only better trained health professionals and measures against the mosquito can both improve the patients’ conditions and reduce the transmission of the fever and Zika.

Read the full article, As Zika Spreads, Desperately Seeking Brazilian Doctors.


MOTHER OF COLUMBINE KILLER GIVES FIRST TV INTERVIEW

It’s been 17 years since her son and his friend shot dead 13 people at Columbine High School. Tonight at 10 p.m., Sue Klebold gives her first TV interview to ABC’s Diane Sawyer. According to a snippet released yesterday, Sue states in the interview, “I had all those illusions that everything was OK because, and more than anything else, because my love for him was so strong.”


MY GRAND-PERE'S WORLD



MERYL STREEP SLIPS UP

Three-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep is catching some heat after a remark she made at the Berlin International Film Festival yesterday when answering a reporter’s question about diversity in the film industry. CNN reports that Streep said, ”I do think inclusion is the name of the game … The thing I've noticed from my different roles is there is a core of humanity that travels right through every culture. And, after all, we're all from Africa, originally.”

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Future

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

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.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

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.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

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 airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

commons.wikimedia.org

Hygiene rankings  

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.

Smoother check-in

​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.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

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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