Friday, August 1, 2014
GAZA CEASEFIRE BROKEN, SOLDIER CAPTURED, VIOLENCE SPIRALS
A planned 72-hour ceasefire lasted just two hours after taking effect Friday morning, as fighting broke out and casualties quickly began piling up again. The temporary truce had been announced late Thursday by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who’d indicated that talks would take place in Cairo during the break in fighting to attempt to find a more lasting accord.
Delegations from both sides arrived early Friday in the Egyptian capital, reports the BBC, although the fate of the talks is now unclear.
An Israeli soldier was reportedly taken captive in southern Gaza this morning, says Reuters. "The IDF is currently conducting intelligence efforts and extensive searches in order to locate the missing soldier," the IDF Spokesman said in an announcement.
Hostilities had continued overnight, writes the New York Times, with Israeli airstrikes and shelling killing 14 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials. Militants fired rockets into Israel until minutes before the 8 a.m. deadline.
The Associated Press reported that 27 civilians were killed and more than 100 injured Friday morning near the southern Gaza town of Rafah. Israeli military sources told the BBC the attack was in response to rocket fire on Kerem Shalom in Israel.
Critical of the Israeli government, Tel Aviv-based daily Haaretz’s latest editorial says the IDF are too reliant on arms and firepower in the absence of good intelligence.
ARGENTINA’S DEBT ROLLERCOASTER
Following Argentina’s default on its debt for the second time in 13 years — and the eighth time in its history — the government of Latin America’s third largest economy maintains it has in fact not defaulted. Argentine President Cristina Kirchner said in a televised speech that while she’s open to further talks with the hedge funds it owes money to, she must defend the nation’s interests, and that paying the expected $500 million could trigger additional claims and ruin the country. A new hearing is scheduled on Friday in New York to discuss the default, Reuters reports.
In an impassioned Le Monde essay, Algerina-born writer Mohamed Kacimi lashes out at those in the Arab world who hold out the Palestinian cause as the ultimate litmus test of justice and identity. Supporting Palestinians, he writes, “is not a question of tribal solidarity. It must be a well thought-out decision, a responsible one, made with full knowledge of the facts — not an identity or religious reflex as is often the case nowadays … the Palestinian cause was so led astray by Arab regimes and Islamist parties that it’s lost all of its value for the young generations. Far from being a political cause, Palestine has become a medium for collective release. We bear its name, shout it in Arab streets and mosques — for in this collective imaginary, plagued by the religious, the word Palestine refers neither to geography nor history, but to a collective frustration.”
Read the full article: Don't Call Him A Traitor: The Palestinian Cause, Revisited.
A series of deadly pre-dawn explosions Friday caused by a gas leak tore into the city of Kaohsiung in central Taiwan. By midday, the death toll had climbed to 25 people, with at least 267 injured.
The World Health Organization has announced dozens of new deaths caused by the deadliest Ebola outbreak ever recorded, bringing the total number of victims to 729 across West Africa. According to CBS News, U.S. health officials are warning Americans not to travel to the three countries hit by the virus: Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
In an effort to prevent contamination, West African leaders are quickening the pace of emergency efforts, writes The New York Times, deploying soldiers and authorizing house-to-house searches for infected people.
The world bid farewell to a Nobel author, international actors, a guitar hero and the last foreign minister of the Soviet Union. Read about them here.
EXPERTS ARRIVE AT MH17 CRASH SITE AMID CLASHES
An international team of 70 Dutch and Australian investigators finally reached the Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash site in eastern Ukraine on Friday morning. But continued fighting in the area is likely to hinder the forensics team’s work. AP reports that separatists have ambushed Ukrainian soldiers, killing at least 10, some 20 km (12 miles) from where the plane crashed.
UGANDA OVERTURNS ANTI-GAY LAW
Uganda has overturned a draconian anti-gay law that punished homosexuality with life imprisonment. The Anti-Homosexuality Act, passed in December 2013, targeted not only people caught having homosexual intercourse, but also made it a crime to “publicly promote homosexuality” — which included simply offering HIV counseling. The law was struck down on procedural grounds, the BBC reports.
That’s how many kilograms of cocaine have gone missing from police headquarters in Paris, with a street value of 2.5 million euros. Read more about it on our By The Numbers feature here.
MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD
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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