Can Charlie Hebdo Save Francois Hollande's Presidency?

Francois Hollande during a Jan. 13 ceremony paying tribute to victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack.
Francois Hollande during a Jan. 13 ceremony paying tribute to victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack.
David Revault d'Allonnes

PARIS — What just happened? This question, which is still on everybody’s lips after Sunday’s historic rallies, goes beyond the three days of massacres that have shaken France, and also applies to its president. François Hollande has indeed seen an astounding reversal of fortunes. His popularity was stuck at its lowest levels just a week ago, but after these events, the Socialist Party president, though not redeemed yet, has been propelled to the front of an unprecedented political movement he couldn’t have dreamed of. As someone close to him even admitted, “these are terrible events, but for him it’s not so bad.”

The political analysis is clear: It's been top marks on all fronts. Denounced for his lack of authority and his inaptitude to make clear decisions, he has led the police operations with “composure and determination,” according to an insider. Often criticized for his failure to embody the presidential function, he looked like he belonged at the center of Sunday's march with the other world leaders.

Contested even inside his own center-left majority, he placed himself at the fulcrum of an almost perfect consensus, embracing the entire political spectrum — even his fiercest opponent, Nicolas Sarkozy, was for a time relegated to the background of the photo. Only Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front party, tried to play her card but was unsuccessful.

The most unpopular president in the history of the Fifth Republic, François Hollande was leading the biggest march since the liberation of the country in 1944. The president's natural taste for consensus, which until last week was high on the list of criticisms against him, is exactly what is now earning him praise. The paradox is striking.

Of course, popular marches and the national catharsis are also misleading, as they mask the aggregation of different categories of the population and the absence of some that don’t feel affected. But Hollande, who’s well-versed in the much-criticized method of bringing people together on the least common denominator, has managed to smoothly accompany the popular reaction. It’s as if, in order to finally work, the president’s way needed a large-scale national traumatic event.

“He is perfect for this,” observes one of his closest friends. And indeed, over the past week, Hollande has very much been the man for the job.

What the people want

The man who had in his 2012 campaign presented himself as the candidate to “cool things down” had until now failed to keep his promise. He underestimated the divisions that the law on gay marriage would create and proved powerless in preventing the escalation of sectarian tensions and the rise of ideological posturing.

But his diagnosis was perfectly lucid. Hollande regularly insists on the need for the population to “come together,” to “unite,” praising a return to national pride in the face of a form of French despair.

Often as correct as they are impossible to pursue, these assessments have this time around proved adapted to the situation. Could the president, by combining power and proximity, decision and compassion, all under a perfectly managed PR strategy, finally have found the appropriate alchemy his team has been seeking for months?

Still, the benefits in the middle-term seem highly perishable. Nobody would yet go as far as gambling on the lasting political effects of the terrorist attacks and of the rallies that followed. Nor on their result on the public opinion. The executive is also pondering what the ideal dosage of politics will be as day-to-day business resumes with the debate on a crucial economy bill.

The president’s office however stresses that Hollande is “still very attentive. The security alert is still on the highest level, that’s what he keeps his focus on.” And as new legislation is expected after the attacks, notably a new bill on intelligence agencies planned for this year, a close advisor explains that “the population won’t understand inaction, just as it won’t accept hastiness and disproportionate action.”

Already, François Hollande intends to turn the reaction of the last few days into a political reference for his government. “The Jan. 11 marches will remain an important event in our history,” one of his top aides explained. “This sense of unity, of bringing people together must continue to inspire us for all our battles in the future.”

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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


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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