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U.S.-Cuba Love (Cont.), EU v. Google, Divorce Hearts

U.S.-Cuba Love (Cont.), EU v. Google, Divorce Hearts

U.S. TO REMOVE CUBA FROM TERROR LIST

After this weekend’s historic meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro in Panama, Barack Obama announced plans to take off Cuba from the list of countries the U.S. accuses of sponsoring terrorism. The Washington Post reports on what this latest step in the rapprochement between the two neighbors means. In a short statement reported by Cuba’s newspaper Juventud Rebelde Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, the director of U.S. relations at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, said it was a “just decision” since Cuba “should never have been included in that list.”


ISIS GAINS GROUND AROUND KEY IRAQI TOWN

Photo: Sami Jawad/Xinhua/ZUMA

Fighting rages on between ISIS militants and Iraqi troops around the strategic city of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, but jihadists have been gaining ground and a local Iraqi official warned the city could fall to ISIS fighters in the next hours, CNN reports. This comes after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi obtained $200 million in humanitarian assistance from the Obama administration, an amount that was said to fall “far short” of what Abadi had been seeking.


YEMEN REBELS BLAST UN EMBARGO

Yemen’s Houthi rebels have condemn an UN Security Council resolution passed Tuesday, despite Russia’s abstention, that imposed an arms embargo on the Shia rebels as a decision that supports “the aggression,” Al Jazeera reports.

  • According to Reuters, Egypt and Saudi Arabia discussed a possible “major military maneuver,” suggesting the Sunni coalition could follow up on their threat of a ground invasion after their air strikes campaign.
  • Meanwhile, Iran, which has offered limited support to the rebels, proposed a four-point plan to solve the crisis, including inter-Yemeni dialogue, humanitarian aid, a ceasefire and the formation of an inclusive government. Read more from Tasnim news agency.

VERBATIM

“We will do so with dignity, respect and care.” The remains of nearly 400 U.S. servicemen killed at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, are to be exhumed so they may be identified and given individual burials, the U.S. Defense Department announced.


HUNDREDS FEARED DEAD AS MIGRANTS BOAT CAPSIZES

As many as 400 migrants travelling from Libya to Europe are feared drowned after their boat capsized off the coast of Libya with some 550 people on board, according to survivors. The Italian coast guard rescued 144 people on Monday, mostly young people. Nine bodies have been recovered so far but rescue teams found no more survivors since then, the BBC reports. Last year, an estimated 3,400 migrants died trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe.


MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD



WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

Located in the middle of the desert, Dubai’s airport now surpasses London's Heathrow in international travelers. Part museum, part high-end shopping gallery, DXB is a global wonder, Claude Soula writes for French weekly L’Obs: “There simply aren't enough superlatives to describe the place: more space, more terminals, more shops, and now more international travelers than any other airport on the planet. The Dubai airport was built 30 years ago, and it has just surpassed London's Heathrow in terms of hosting the most international traffic in the world: 70.5 million travelers landed or passed through the emirate in 2014.”

Read the full article, Another Dubai Superlative: Inside The New No. 1 International Airport.


7.0%

China’s growth continued to slow in the first quarter of 2015, prompting further speculation that Beijing might ease its fiscal and monetary policy, The Wall Street Journal reports. The economy grew by 7.0% between January and March, a six-year low. According to the IMF, India will soon kick its neighbor off its perch to become the world’s fastest growing economy.


ON THIS DAY


103 years ago today, the “Unsinkable” Titanic sunk. Get ready for your 57-second shot of history.


EU TO ANNOUNCE GOOGLE ACTION

The European Union announced plans Wednesday to charge Google for violating antitrust laws by using its dominant position in the search engine market to favor its own services over those of its rivals. The Financial Times had details of the expected action in its Wednesday edition, noting the EU’s move could eventually force the search giant “to change its business model fundamentally and pay hefty fines.” Read more about it on our 4 Corners blog.


MARRIAGE OF NOKIA AND ALCATEL-LUCENT

Finland’s Nokia and rival French firm Alcatel-Lucent have agreed to a deal that would create a major new European player in the telecom industry. Nokia will buy the telecom-equipment company in an all-stock deal that values the French firm at 15.6 billion euros ($16.6 billion), the companies said Wednesday. Read more from The Wall Street Journal.


DIVORCE CAN BREAK YOUR HEART, LITERALLY

A recent study suggests that divorcees, especially women, are more likely to have a heart attack than people who are continuously married.

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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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