Geopolitics

The Dark Meaning And High Stakes Of D-Day This Year

France and the entire European continent, but also the U.S. and Russia, all look very different than they did at the last commemoration 10 years ago. Ghosts of the past indeed.

D-Day celebrations in Thury-Harcourt, Normandy, on June 4, 2014.
D-Day celebrations in Thury-Harcourt, Normandy, on June 4, 2014.
Dominique Moïsi

-Commentary-

PARIS Seventy years after D-Day, France is suffering a deep moral crisis as it marks that seminal event on its beaches. And beyond, all of a disoriented Europe must rediscover the meaning of its liberation.

Every 10 years, we commemorate the bravery and sacrifice of those young American, British and Canadian soldiers without whom Europe would not be what it has become, a land of peace and reconciliation. This year, such sentiments will undoubtedly be marked with a bit more nostalgia — and far more concern.

The nostalgia will be for veterans, whose numbers obviously grow fewer with each passing year. The concern, meanwhile, is the result of what has been happening lately in Europe.

Let's start here, in France. Even the country's western regions, which are traditionally Christian and humanist in spirit — including the Manche department, the land of Alexis de Tocqueville and home to the Normandy beaches — have seen their municipalities "eaten away" by support for the far-right National Front party.

"That's going to be awkward welcoming American and German veterans on Utah Beach," the mayor of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont quipped last week.

Different viewpoints

Just 10 years ago, we were still celebrating the rebirth of Europe on the shores of Normandy. For the first time, Germany was part of the commemorations. Yesterday's enemies had become today's best allies. And there was a bond in the joint position against the Iraq war.

The irony was that the liberator appeared almost isolated. This America, so noble and generous yesterday, was jeopardizing its image in questionable military adventures. That year, in the town of Saint-Lô, nicknamed "the capital of the ruins" after the Liberation, I presided over a debate among veterans, survivors of the American air raids and local high school students. Many older people still expressed their gratitude towards the U.S. "You destroyed our town, but you freed us," was the sentiment.

But younger people read the 1944 events through the distorting lens of the Iraq war, with the feelings flipped around: "Why did you destroy our town?" It was my task to explain and recount the link between Omaha Beach and the Europe of Erasmus student exchange programs.

To my great regret, Germany was not yet part of the commemorations in 1994. It was too soon, I was told. Francois Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl could stand side-by-side holding hands in Verdun (to mark World War I), but not on Omaha Beach. The context was complex. The Wall had fallen, "kidnapped Europe," to quote Milan Kundera's elegant phrasing, had rediscovered its history and its geography. It had also revived its old demons. The war in the Balkans was the tragic illustration of that.

But in 2014, is Europe still Europe? Is its model not being smashed to pieces under the joint blows of harsh economic realities and the general mediocrity of its political elite?

America, also, is not really America anymore, as if in its relation with Europe, it had given the best of itself between the exceptional courage of June 1944 and the enlightened generosity of the Marshall Plan.

As for Russia, also rightfully present at the commemorations, it finds itself dreaming of having become the USSR again. Not the country that rediscovered a form of international "virginity" in its fight against a monster more terrible than itself, Nazi Germany, but the ambitious empire, eager for revenge or conquests.

Necessary foes

But is the country hosting the ceremonies, France, not the sickest of all? The threat to its freedom is not coming from the outside this time. It is not Hitler's Germany invading France. The country seems to be consumed by doubt. A prisoner of its inner demons, France seems ready to surrender to the "party of fear," personified by the smiling personality of Marine Le Pen.

To counter this real threat, which is challenging its values, the savior will not come from the outside. Only France can find within itself the necessary resources to take on this moral challenge, probably the most serious one since the end of World War II. There are personalities that are for France what Angela Merkel undoubtedly is for Germany and, maybe, Matteo Renzi for Italy. Both the right need to do something to stop what is fundamentally a far-right party, with which making pacts is simply not an option.

The threat weighing on France is not Europe, but France itself. And this applies to all the countries where xenophobic populism triumphed in the recent European Parliament elections.

In this week of commemorating D-Day, it is not the phrase, “Of the past let us make a clean slate that we should follow. Quite the opposite. A calendar coincidence allows us to return to our senses, as we are faced with the risk of a headlong rush into an unknown that looks incredibly like an escape into an unfortunate and far too familiar past.

Who could think that Angela Merkel's Germany and Marine Le Pen's France could, one day, just work together? The former thinks in terms of the Union, community and alliances. The latter, due to a fascist tradition, needs enemies to exist.

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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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