MOSCOW — It's a typical summer night at Gorky Park on the bank of the Moskva River. The day has been heavy and humid, nearly 30° C (86° F), and then out of nowhere the clouds rolled in. The lightning started 30 minutes ago. It's been like this for weeks in Moscow — scorching sun followed by nighttime thunderstorms. Anyone who's lived through days like this can understand why, in Mikhail Bulgakov's famous novel The Master and Margarita, literary critic Berlioz experiences hallucinations after drinking a glass of sweet lemonade in the Moscow heat.
It's shortly before 10 p.m. and blaring from the speakers on the dance floor behind the Pioneer open-air movie theater is the music of Andy Kirk and his Clouds of Joy playing expand=1]Wham (Re-Bop-Boom-Bam), a song that dates back to the early 1940s when it was an American hit. Two dozen couples perform their swing-out dance moves, promenades and circles, which could have continued for hours if the rain hadn't begun to fall heavily.
DJ Anastasia Murashko, a stout woman with a ponytail, turns the music down and calls out to the crowd, "OK, guys and gals, dancing's getting too dangerous!" It's not that the rain would make a difference to the dancers, who have sweated through their shirts and summer dresses. Many of them have come here straight from the office, bringing their dancing shoes with them. It's that the wooden dance floor gets dangerously slippery when it gets soaked.
A different side to the city
That's the downside to open-air partying. Just when things are getting really good, the skies break. But a visit to Gorky Park is the best way to avoid what many hate about Moscow nightlife — the astronomically high prices, the condescending looks of Dior-clad women, the spatially intrusive men with thick briefcases, the aggressive bonhomie of vodka tourists, and the scowls of beefy bouncers. The park is open day and night, to everyone, and the three dance floors are free, although the DJs are always happy for tips. If people are thirsty, there are free water coolers all over.
There is no better place to spend a summer's evening than Gorky Park, near the water and on the open air. But it wasn't always this easy to get close to the water. Although the Moskva flows through city center in narrow strips, the concrete-covered bank was formerly home to factories and six-lane roads. That's changed in the past few years. Cafés and restaurants have opened on the bank, along with numerous clubs with terraces for dancing that overlook both water and the city. The city government has banished cars and converted old factories into nightlife areas. And nothing is closer to the water than Gorky Park, which has two dance floors right on the bank.
Anastasia's DJ console is her laptop protected by an open umbrella. All the dance floors have the rest of the necessary equipment built-in. The DJ just needs to bring the music along to plug in. This is the second summer Anastasia has been working here on Friday nights. "When the park was converted, the new management asked us if we'd like to dance here," she says. The DJs don't pay any rent, and park management gets a free set. "It's win/win, and a lot of people see us, and some of them are curious so come down."
The various dance associations rotate, and the program is posted on a board at the edge of the dance floor. Sunday afternoon, Cuban dances; Sunday night, rock "n" roll; Wednesday night, ballroom dancing; Thursday night, Argentine tango; and today, Lindy Hop and Balboa with Anastasia.
No place for politics here
Here in this urban middle-class reserve, there aren't Russian flags hanging everywhere, or T-shirts that say, "Crimea Belongs To Us."
A quarter of an hour downriver is Balchug Island, located between the Moskva River and its old riverbed. There, on the grounds of the former Red October chocolate factory, a nightlife area consisting of restaurants, bars and clubs has been created. The biggest and best-known venue here can be seen (and heard) from the bank. The music is mainly techno and house. The Gipsy has a huge veranda with chaises longues that give it the feel of a cruise ship deck. As in many Moscow clubs, the dance floor, bar and restaurant are all under one roof.
In the other direction, two bends upriver behind the famous Hotel Ukraina, steep stairs lead to the "Roof of the World." Krysha Mira, on the roof of an old brewery, owes its reputation to the fact that it started as an underground club to which only those who knew the code word were admitted. The old trick worked, although for an underground club, Krysha was remarkably exposed and poshly decorated. Today, strict selection at the door serves to maintain the club's reputation as a place for the select few. But going through is worth it for a night with a view of the Moskva and the impressively lit Hotel Ukraina, one of the seven high-rise buildings that Stalin had built and that have left their mark on the city.
Because Moscow is a part of the global carousel that sees the same big-name DJs rotating around London, New York, Tokyo and Ibiza, other aspects of nightlife here have become interchangeable too. Anyone seeking to party with the rich and beautiful should get themselves invited to the Soho Rooms on the other side of the river. This is where the children of oligarchs — and sometimes their parents — celebrate birthdays with spectacular goings-on, glitter and fireworks.
Along with the bar and disco, there is a dining room in classic British style and a library with books, a fireplace and heavy leather armchairs. There is also a roof terrace with a swimming pool. This elite establishment makes it possible for people whose money is probably invested in London anyway to spend it London-style at home. If you're not invited, you can always admire the toys parked outside — Bentleys, Rolls Royces and Porsches.
Meanwhile, Gorky Park's swing dancers, who have been enjoying themselves for an entire evening without spending a penny, are heading home in the rain.
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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