Geopolitics

Botched Execution, Gaza From Space, Algerian Plane Missing

German astronaut Alexander Gerst's "saddest photo yet.”
German astronaut Alexander Gerst's "saddest photo yet.”
Worldcrunch

GAZA: NO TRUCE, BANNED BROADCAST, SEEN FROM SPACE
37 Palestinians were killed this morning in Gaza, taking the death toll after 17 days of the Israeli operation to 734, with more than 4,000 injured, Ma’an news agency reports. Hamas meanwhile claimed to have killed 8 Israeli soldiers early this morning, as Tel Aviv was targeted by more rockets. This comes as the FAA lifted its ban on U.S.-Israel flights to and from the Ben Gurion airport outside Tel Aviv.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal called yesterday for a temporary truce to allow humanitarian aid to reach Gaza, although he repeated that there would be no lasting ceasefire until full negotiations and the end of Israel’s blockade on Gaza. Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon however said that the army was “preparing the next stages of the fighting,” telling troops "You need to be ready for more important steps in Gaza,” according to The Daily Telegraph. This came as the United Nations Human Rights Council said it would launch an investigation into possible war crimes committed by Israel in Gaza.

Israeli daily Haaretz is reporting that human rights organization B’Tselem’s broadcast mentioning the names of dead Palestinian children had been banned by the country’s media watchdog for being “politically controversial.”

The Washington Post reports the doubts of Gazans that the U.S. can broker a peace agreement given its financial ties with Israel.

From the International Space Station, German astronaut Alexander Gerst posted this bleak photo on social media, calling it his “saddest photo yet.”

ACCUSATIONS WIDEN OVER MH17
One week since the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, the question of responsibility still burns. A report by Reuters yesterday quotes Alexander Khodakovsky, a rebel leader from eastern Ukraine, as saying that his group had BUK missiles, the type that Washington believes was used to shoot down MH17. But that account was contradicted by BBC journalist Gabriel Gatehouse, who reports that Khodakovsky himself later denied “all the details in the Reuters story” and claimed he had been “misunderstood.”

Meanwhile, Russia’s Defense Minister challenged Washington to publish the evidence it claims to have, and accused the U.S. of “manufacturing” the facts.

Writing on the possibility presented by U.S. intelligence officials that a Ukrainian army “defector” might have fired the missile, investigative journalist Robert Parry claims that another explanation might be that the man was indeed working for the military.

60 DEAD AFTER ATTACK ON IRAQI PRISONER CONVOY
At least 60 people were killed after a prisoner convoy in Iraq was hit by roadside bombs and came under heavy gunfire, AP reports. Among the dead are 8 soldiers, the 52 others being prisoners. The attack began with an assault on an army base, with forced officials to leave, raising the possibility that the move was intended to provoke a jailbreak. The extremist group Islamic State (ISIS) has carried such attacks in the past. Today’s violence came as the Iraqi Parliament was preparing to elect the country’s new President, having already postponed the vote yesterday. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is also expected in Baghdad today for a meeting with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

BAD WEATHER CAUSED TAIWAN PLANE CRASH
Taiwanese officials defended the flight clearance given to the TransAsia Airways flight that crashed yesterday, killing at least 48 people. Despite severe weather conditions due to the presence of a typhoon, leading to the plane crashing into buildings after a failed landing attempt, the Transport Minister said that “the meteorology data showed that it met the aviation safety requirements.” Read more from the South China Morning Post.

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO
The downing of Malaysia Airlines' flight MH17 may change Putin's hand in eastern Ukraine, but a weak and divided Europe is still no match for the well-armed Russian poker player, according to Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza’s Andrzej Lubowski: “Future conflicts and misfortunes will soon overshadow the MH17 tragedy. Matters will get back on old tracks. U.S. sanctions will only be a pinch to the Russian economy, as long as the European Union continues dragging its feet. If even a brutal aggression doesn't stop France from supplying Russia with modern weapons; if the CEO of Siemens can't restrain himself from visiting Vladimir Putin's dacha, doesn't it mean that Europe lacks character, political will and imagination? Russia's ruler is laughing out loud at the European impotence.”
Read the full story, What Europe Still Doesn’t Understand About Vladimir Putin.

ALGERIAN PLANE GOES MISSING
A Spanish private airline Company, Swiftair, said it had lost contact with one of its planes, operated by Air Algérie. The flight, which took off from Burkina Faso with 116 people on board, never reached Algiers, its intended destination. Developing

POLAND COLLABORATION WITH CIA ILLEGAL
The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Poland broke the European human rights convention when it helped the CIA render two terror suspects in 2002-2003 who have since been transferred to Guantanamo. According to the BBC, the Polish government must pay $135,000 in damages to each man.

MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD


CEASEFIRE IN CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
Fighting groups and representatives from the Central African Republic’s interim government have signed a ceasefire, in what could be a first step towards the end of a months-long conflict between Muslim and Christian groups. France 24 however warns that there has been no agreement yet on disarmament or on the country’s political future.

DEATH PENALTY, ANYTHING BUT SWIFT
A lethal injection execution in Arizona took close to two hours, in what appears to be another botched application of the death penalty.

ETERNAL WINTER IS COMING
Russian President Vladimir Putin is switching Russia to wintertime permanently, a move that is expected to increase the general health and mood of Russians.

EBONY AND IRONY
A pine tree planted in memory of George Harrison has been killed ... by beetles.

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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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