Viktor Orban was beaming on the evening of his victory this past weekend, which brought him his fourth term as Prime Minister. The Hungarian loves the taste of success. But what he loves, even more, is to triumph over those whom he believes feel superior to him. This says much about a Hungarian inferiority complex that doesn't just affect the Prime Minister. Hungary's history is filled with decades and centuries under foreign rule. For centuries, the land of the Hungarian people was a battlefield between the Ottoman and the Habsburg empires.
Without going so far back in history, there were also Germans who overran Hungary during the Third Reich and found compliant collaborators in the regime of Miklos Horthy. Then came the Soviets and Communism. Hungarians put up a courageous resistance and, in 1989, the fall of the Iron Curtain came in part thanks to them. It is an essential part of Hungary's national psyche to feel subjugated and therefore feel the need to assert oneself.
This is where Viktor Orban comes in. The Prime Minister and leader of the Fidesz party has mastered the art of appealing to this national feeling of inferiority: Against the Brussels occupiers! Against Arab migrants who threaten Christianity! Against the German Chancellor, who opened the borders and invited half the world into Europe. Orban deliberately leaves aside the fact that the Russians didn't always have kind intentions with Hungary. The Hungarian Prime Minister courts Russian President Vladimir Putin whenever he can — without being bothering by how this affects his official allies in the European Union and NATO.
If you make politics by stirring up public opinion, as Orban does so masterfully, then facts matter little. The fact that Hungary would soon be broke without EU subsidies, for example, the fact that hardly any Muslim refugee wants to stay in Hungary or the fact that Angela Merkel took the migrants who were staying in Hungary — none of that has any relevance whatsoever in the national debate.
Hungary will finally sink into a political coma.
There no longer is any real political debate in Hungary anyway. Orban has imposed his reign over his country and transformed it into a "leader democracy," as Hungarian political scientist András Körösényi describes it, after eight years under the Fidesz party's rule. Orban has done a great job: First he intimidated the media, then he hollowed out the Constitutional Court, and finally, he brought the political institutions into line with hundreds of executive laws and installed his minions in all the strategic positions.
The defeated opposition parties have once again shown in this election campaign that they are no match for Orban: too busy quarreling, incapable and unimaginative, they clearly failed to convince voters in the ballot box. Indeed, that nationalist party Jobbik has once again come in second place behind Fidesz perfectly describes the Hungarian dilemma: those with the best chance of replacing the right-wing populists are the right-wing radicals.
After this election, Hungary will finally sink into a political coma, because even before the election, hardly anyone dared to stand up publicly against Orban. The tragic part about this is that a democratic transfer of power has now become even less likely.
But this is not only alarming for Hungary itself. The Orban model is a problem for all Europeans. His election victory gives him the impetus to export Hungarian "leader democracy" throughout Europe. And the examples of Poland and the other countries of the Visegrad group show that his students are quick to learn. Warsaw is already following in his tracks, as Poland's right-wing conservative government is in a heated dispute with the European Commission. At the heart of the matter lies the fact that Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the ruling Law and Justice party, wants to rebuild the state according to his own ideas, trying to get rid of certain bothersome democratic elements. It's déjà vu for Brussels since Orban has done it all before.
An EU doomed to become a toothless debating club.
The Orbanization of Eastern Europe will continue to put pressure on an EU whose complicated voting rules are already making it unmanageable. How are unanimous decisions supposed to be reached in the future, when Putin next gives in to his appetite for an ex-Soviet republic and Europeans discuss new sanctions? A self-confident Hungary will use its veto even more frequently, together with the Poles and other Eurosceptics, not least when one of the Eastern European sinners of democracy itself is pilloried. Or when it comes to setting up a new European asylum system.
With an Eastern bloc reinforced by Orban's victory in Hungary, the future of the Union is under threat. If too many states are no longer bound by a consensus of values, then the EU will no longer be a place of cooperation and is doomed to become a toothless debating club. One could go as far as to say that Viktor Orban may go down in history as the man who dug the grave on the very idea of a united Europe.
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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