YEMEN AIRSTRIKES MOVE INTO DAY FIVE
Warplanes from the Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen destroyed arms depots overnight in day five of its offensive, Saudi website Al Arabiya reports. This comes after the weekend’s Arab summit in Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh, where Sunni nations agreed to form what The Washington Times describes as a “NATO-like alliance.”
- Writing in the Saudi newspaper Arab News, journalist Mohammed Fahad Al-Harthi says the summit “can be the beginning of a new phase in joint Arab action and the credibility of Arab countries if decisions are translated into reality.”
- Saudi ambassador to the U.S. Adel al-Jubeir said that the agreement didn’t involve immediate plans for a ground invasion of Yemen. But Jubeir insisted that the Sunni coalition was in a “war of necessity” against the Iran-backed Shia Houthi rebels. A Saudi spokesman said yesterday that the airstrikes would continue until President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who fled the country last week, could rule.
NIGERIA AWAITS VOTE RESULTS
Photo: Yang Yang/Xinhua/ZUMA
A tense Nigeria is awaiting results of the weekend’s presidential vote, which was too close to call, Vanguard reports. Protests erupted yesterday with supporters of the country’s main opposition party denouncing election irregularities, according to The Guardian Nigeria. Many across the country couldn’t vote on Saturday due to issues with biometric voter cards, while attacks from terror group Boko Haram in the northeast killed at least 41 people, including a legislator.
Thousands of protesters, including French President Francois Hollande, took to the streets of Tunis Sunday for an anti-terrorism march in response to the March 18 attack at the city’s Bardo Museum that left 22 dead. Read more from on our 4 Corners blog.
CRUNCH TIME FOR IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS
With less than two days to go before a deadline to outline an agreement, talks on Iran’s nuclear program are entering a critical phase. In exchange for lifting economic sanctions that have hurt the economy, world powers are trying to ensure that Iran can’t acquire nuclear weapons. But The New York Times reported yesterday that Iran officials backed away from an agreement to send a large portion of its enriched uranium abroad, raising a potential obstacle to any deal.
Despite the ruble's free fall, a shaky economy and growing international isolation, cosmetics companies and the beauty industry at large can rest easy that Russian women will buy what they're selling, Kommersant’s Anastasia Yakoreva and Nina Vazhdaeva write. “The future looks equally bright for those in the plastic surgery field. Counterintuitively, the crisis has actually been good for this industry. Just before the new year, the number of clients doubled at the Platinental Aesthetic Lounge, a plastic surgery clinic. ‘On the one hand, clients are afraid that prices will increase, so they are rushing to do surgeries that they have already planned,’ says clinic president Andrei Iskornev. ‘On the other hand, they are spending the money on themselves that wasn't enough anymore for an apartment or a car.’”
Read the full article, Beauty, Russia's Recession-Proof Industry.
ON THIS DAY
Thirty-four years ago today, U.S. President Ronald Reagan was shot and seriously wounded in a failed assassination attempt. Time for your 57-second shot of history.
The second round of French elections yesterday found the ruling Socialist Party on the wrong end of a drubbing, losing 28 of the country’s 61 so-called departments, or areas, it previously controlled, Le Monde reports. Former president and leader of the center-right UMP party Nicolas Sarkozy was the clear winner, and he characterized the results as a “repudiation” of President François Hollande and his Prime Minister Manuel Valls. Marine Le Pen’s National Front finished third in percentage share of the vote but didn’t win any departments.
EX ISRAELI PM GUILTY OF CORRUPTION
A Jerusalem court has found former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert guilty of corruption. He was accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from American businessman Morris Talansky when he was Jerusalem Mayor and Minister of Trade in exchange for preferential treatment, Arutz Sheva reports. He will be sentenced in early May.
MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD
“We got Bruce Jenner, who will be here doing some musical performances. He’s doing a his-and-her duet all by himself.” Jamie Foxx’s opening monologue at the iHeartRadio Music Awards yesterday was poorly received, with the famous actor being accused of “transphobia.” Read more from USA Today.
ANCIENT EGYPTIAN HE-BREW
In Tel Aviv, archaeologists have uncovered fragments of ancient pottery that Egyptians used to make beer some 5,000 years ago, showing that they had settled farther north than previously known in what would later become the “first modern Hebrew city.” Read the full story from Haaretz.
‘O LUNA MIA
Will the stars align for you this week? Find out in this week’s installment of Simon’s horoscope, direct from Rome.
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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