Dozens Dead In Donetsk, Nigerian Girls Located, Cheese Chase

Thousands gathered Monday in Brockworth, UK, for the annual cheese-rolling competition down Cooper's Hill.
Thousands gathered Monday in Brockworth, UK, for the annual cheese-rolling competition down Cooper's Hill.

Dozens of separatist fighters and civilians were killed after violent fights against Ukraine’s armed forces around Donetsk airport. The exact number of victims is unclear because there is conflicting reporting between Western and Russian media. According to AFP, the mayor of Donetsk said that “two civilians and 38 participants” had died in the fights, while RT quotes the prime minister of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic as saying that “more than 50 self-defense fighters” were killed. The state-backed Russian channel also reports that three civilians died in a mortar attack in the city of Sloviansk, citing local media. Yesterday, newly elected Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko promised to restore calm in Donetsk in “hours” as the military were launching air strikes on the airport.

“Many people see Sweden as a kind of paradise for women In Europe. But that’s a myth,” Sweden's Feminist Initiative head Gudrun Schyman said two days after the group became the first formal feminist party to be elected to the EU Parliament.

The Nigerian government has located the nearly 300 schoolgirls abducted over a month ago by Boko Haram but decided against using force to rescue them, Vanguard reports. “The good news for parents of the girls is that we know where they are, but we cannot tell you,” an official says. “Just leave us alone to do our work. We are working to get the girls back.” Meanwhile, the BBC reported late yesterday that an agreement was close between the Islamist group and the Nigerian government for an exchange of prisoners but that the latter pulled out of the negotiations after President Goodluck Jonathan attended a conference about the crisis in Paris.

As Le Monde’s Alain Frachon writes, more people have been killed during the current Syrian war than during all Israeli-Arab wars combined. And now the government of President Bashar al-Assad, who is most to blame, is gaining ground against the opposition, in large part thanks to the help of Iran. “The Islamic Republic is the architect of the conflict's current evolution,” Frachon writes of Iran. “It supervises the Syrian forces. It ordered Lebanon's Hezbollah troops to take part in the fight. Thanks to its ties with the government in Baghdad, it also called upon Iraqi Shiite militias to join the ranks. And finally, it offers financial support to Damascus, spending billions of dollars while the Iranian economy is struggling under the weight of international sanctions.”
Read the full article, As Iran Plays The Nuclear Card, Syria Is Left To Burn.”

A Vietnamese fishing boat sank after a collision with a Chinese vessel near a Chinese oil rig in disputed waters of the South China Sea, though the crew was rescued. The territorial dispute sparked violent anti-Chinese protests over the last two weeks, and this latest incident is likely to reignite tensions between the two countries. According to AP, Vietnamese media say that the sunken boat and a few others were surrounded by 40 Chinese fishing vessels and that one rammed into the Vietnamese boat. But China’s Foreign Ministry and Chinese media accused the Vietnamese, saying their vessel “forcefully rammed” the oil rig. Read more from South China Morning Post.

Thousands gathered in Brockworth, UK, Monday for the annual cheese-rolling competition down Cooper's Hill, with participants chasing a double Gloucestershire down a very steep slope.

A convoy carrying six members of the UN’s Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons were ambushed as they traveled to investigate the site of an alleged chlorine attack by the Syrian army. According to the BBC, the crew is “safe and well.” An earlier AP report quoted the country’s Foreign Ministry as saying that the six investigators and their five Syrian drivers were abducted by rebel fighters.


Jean-François Copé, the leader of France’s center-right opposition party UMP, announced this morning he would step down June 15 amid a mounting financial scandal linked with Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2012 presidential campaign, Le Figaro reports. The party, which finished second behind the far-right National Front in Sunday’s European Parliament elections, allegedly asked a communications agency to produce fake invoices worth over 10 million euros to cover up campaign expenses that exceeded the allowed amount. Read more in English from France 24.

President Barack Obama is expected to announce next Monday a new regulatory system to reduce carbon emissions. The Wall Street Journal describes it as a “cornerstone” of his climate change program. According to sources familiar with the project, the move will give states flexibility in how they enforce the new regulations and will “enable states to move forward in a way that works best for them with the energy resources they have,” the newspaper quoted a presidential advisor as saying.

The FIFA World Cup starts in 16 days, and though the stadiums should be ready for the competition, other infrastructure will not be completed in time. An article from the city of Cuiabá published in The New York Times shows that tourists and teams traveling there will see a city that looks like “a construction site of partially completed overpasses, underpasses, road expansion projects, bridges and light-rail lines.” A local described the $1.4 billion plan to turn the city into a modern hub as “too extensive.” A similar report in Brazilian daily Folha de S. Paulo explains that Rio de Janeiro road upgrades for major bus routes to and from the airport — as well as the subway and train station at the Maracanã stadium — will likely not be ready in time for the first game in the city.

Happy birthday, LOL! May 1989 was the first time we saw the three letters used to abbreviate "laugh out loud" (though its use to denote "lots of love" goes back even further). Here’s to 25 years of blissful abridging.

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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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