FRIEDLAND — “Germany is a country where rules matter,” declares Martin Steinberg.
The pastor in this central German city is standing before a group of people who've just fled a country where the only rule that mattered was that of survival. “Here the most aggressive driver with the biggest car doesn’t automatically have the right of way," Steinberg continues. "And the driver in the Porsche isn’t more important than the young mother with a stroller. He has to stop for her at the crosswalk.”
Sanaa Ali Mustafa, a 25-year-old in a black headscarf, offers a knowing smile. That is what surprised her most during her first few days in Germany. “In Syria, we jump backwards when a car comes. Here, the cars stop for us.”
Mustafa comes from Amuda, a small town in northern Syria. She, her husband Imad Yousef and their two young children have been refugees for almost two years. The family lived in a deserted house in Beirut for 18 months. They were only allowed to stay there because Mustafa’s husband was, in the interpreter’s translation, “volunteering” for the house owner. Their 5-year-old son Yousef, who was born prematurely, uses a wheelchair and still requires medical care. “That was one reason why were able to come here,” says Mustafa. Another reason was that they have relatives in the northwest German town of Meschede. That was how the family made it onto the UN’s refugee list and was allowed to come to Germany.
Germany is planning to take in 5,000 Syrian refugees in the next few weeks, in addition to asylum seekers. Priority will be given to those in need of protection: women, children and the wounded. Intellectuals too, Syrians who could play an important role in rebuilding the country. The first plane arrived in Hanover last Wednesday, carrying 69 adults and 38 children. This week they have been taking a crash course at the Friedland immigration camp: Germany for Beginners. In addition to language classes, they are learning about their host country. How does the German state work? What do I do if I’m ill? How do I find work? And, the last class on Friday: How do I approach the German authorities?
“Kissing German soil”
Martin Steinberg, a pastor working with an evangelical charity in Friedland, is proud of what is being achieved at 18 Heimkehrerstraße (Homecomer Street). The camp was founded by the British government in 1945 and initially was a “gate to freedom” for millions of displaced people and prisoners of war returning home.A camp bed in a corrugated iron hut serves as a reminder of those years. Black-and-white photos show emaciated figures kneeling on the ground, while the sign underneath reads, “Kissing German soil.” Two children examine the photos of military vehicles crammed with refugees, people carrying huge bundles. These are familiar scenes for them.
Today the Friedland camp still has 700 places. Dormitories have been turned into classrooms or family rooms for four to six people. Friedland is home to migrants and asylum seekers from the Near East, Eritrea and Chechnya. The 107 new arrivals from Syria have a special status: They were flown in by charter aircraft and greeted by the interior minister. More importantly, their legal status is clear. They have the right to work or claim benefits, are given language and integration classes and are allowed to stay at least two years.
Thomas Heek, director of Caritas Friedland, which advises and supports immigrants here, says the situation is complex. “We have a three-tiered system for Syrian refugees, although they are all coming from the same situation,” he says. While the 5,000 refugees covered by the quota can take control of their own lives, Syrians who are already registered in another EU state have to wait months before their situation becomes secure. There are also Syrian asylum seekers in Friedland, but their journey was not financed by the German government and many incurred heavy debts to pay their way here.
Two million Syrians have become refugees abroad and another four million are displaced within Syria. Refugee organizations have criticised the German government for accepting only a few thousand refugees, dismissing it as a PR move and a drop in the bucket. Heek is pleased that Germany is helping, but worries that the country’s need for skilled labor could turn out to be the decisive factor. That will become clear when all 5,000 refugees are here. “In my classes, I see lots of members of the elite,” says Steinberg. Interpreter Saman Schuani agrees. “These classes go a lot more smoothly than normal asylum seeker classes. There are lots of academics, and it shows.”
One of Schuani’s students is 48-year-old William Kyriakos from Aleppo. He, his wife and two children have been refugees for a year. His family is scattered around the world — his parents in Aleppo, siblings in other countries near Syria and one sister in Sweden. Unlike many others in the class, Kyriakos speaks fluent English. He praises the German government’s approach to the Syrian crisis. “They are trying to bring both sides together and work toward a peaceful solution,” he says. “They know what war is like and how terrible it is for a country to be divided.”
Challenges ahead for refugees
Normally refugees stay in Friedland for about two months, but these 107 Syrians will move on more quickly. Early next week they will be spread across the country, the Kyriakos family in Münster and the Mustafas with relatives in Meschede.
Among the new realities of life in Germany that annoys the refugees the most is that a driving license is so expensive, says Steinberg. “And that they can’t just buy one.” Jens Pflüger, one of the Friedland teaches, sees other challenges ahead. Many of these refugees will not be able to continue working in their chosen profession because they couldn’t bring references with them or because their qualifications are not valid in Germany.
But Imad Yousef Mustafa believes the future is bright. A car mechanic, his eyes shine at the prospect of BMWs, Audis and Volkswagens. William Kyriakos, an electrician, hopes to be earning good money soon. “We’re not happy,” he tells us. “But we’re doing well.”
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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