Anti-ISIS Strikes, Cameron's Plea, Daredevil Grandma

Anti-ISIS Strikes, Cameron's Plea, Daredevil Grandma

Washington opened a new phase in its anti-ISIS campaign by launching airstrikes near Baghdad to help the Iraqi government regain territories it lost to the terrorist group, The New York Times reports. The newspaper also reported that ISIS is recruiting heavily in the poor neighborhoods of Turkey’s capital Ankara, from which it then smuggles its fighters to Syria. Meanwhile, according to The Independent, even al-Qaeda is calling on the terrorist organization to release Alan Henning, the British aid worker who is being held hostage and who was threatened at the end of the group’s last video.

In a rare show of unity, the leaders of Britain’s three main political parties have signed a pledge to transfer more power to the Scottish Parliament if voters choose to remain part of the United Kingdom in Thursday’s referendum, a proposal made last week by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The “historic joint statement,” published by newspaper Daily Record, comes after British Prime Minister David Cameron offered an impassioned plea Monday for Scotland to reject independence.

“If you don’t like me, I won’t be here forever,” a teary-eyed Cameron said during a speech in Scotland ahead of Thursday's historic vote in which he pleaded with voters to remain part of the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, The Independent reports that British banks are sending millions of pound notes to their branches in Scotland, anticipating a possible run on ATMs if the Scots vote “yes” to independence.

Last week’s shipwreck of yet another migrant boat between Egypt and Malta and believed to have killed some 500 people was apparently deliberate, the International Organization for Migration said yesterday. The report, which is being investigated by the police, is based on the accounts of two Palestinians who were on the boat. They claim that their traffickers deliberately rammed the boat after the passengers refused to be transferred onto another ship they considered “not seaworthy,” The Wall Street Journal writes. If true, “it would be the worst shipwreck in years — not an accident but a mass murder,” the IOM said in a statement.

As Le Temps’ reports, Switzerland is home to Google's largest research center outside of the United States, the first of which were in Mountain View, California, and in New York City. “Here, Google doesn't just occupy a building, but more like an entire neighborhood,” journalist Anouch Seydtaghia writes. “So far, the company leases three buildings and is in the process of acquiring a fourth across the street. ‘When I arrived in 2007, we had 100 employees in Zurich,’ says Eric Tholomé, one of the three directors of the Zurich site. ‘Now we have 1,300 and are still hiring.’"
Read the full article, Inside Google's Largest Non-U.S. Office -— In Zurich.

The Ukrainian parliament has approved a bill submitted by President Petro Poroshenko that offers limited autonomy to the mostly rebel-held regions of Donetsk and Luhansk for the next three years, and amnesty for those taking part in the fights. The government also called for local elections in these regions on Dec. 7. The parliament has ratified an EU Association agreement to create a free-trade zone with the European Union. Poroshenko announced, however, that the agreement, which Moscow opposes, would not come into force until the end of 2015. Read more from AFP.

U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to announce today new and more significant efforts to tackle the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which has already killed more than 2,400 people. According to senior administration officials quoted in The Washington Post, up to 3,000 military personnel will be dispatched to the region in a plan that could cost up to $750 million over the next six months.
For more on the deadly virus, we offer this Le Monde/Worldcrunch report from “hell,” the Liberian capital of Monrovia: Coalition Of Inaction: Outrage On The Ebola Front Line In Liberia.

Biotechnology company Gilead Sciences has reached a deal with several generic drug makers to produce a version of its $1,000-per-pill hepatitis C drug Sovaldi for about $10 for use in developing countries.

At least three NATO soldiers were killed and some 20 civilians wounded after a Taliban attacker detonated his car bomb next to an international military convoy in Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul early this morning. According to AP, the attack took place not far from the U.S. embassy and takes the number of international troops killed in Afghanistan this year to 59, among those at least 42 Americans.

Watch how an 87-year-old great-grandmother jumped out of a plane from an incredible 12,000 feet to raise money for the hospice that cared for her husband. "When I'm 90, I'm going to jump again," she said afterward.

Crunched by Marc Alves

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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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