Geopolitics

Iran Talks Stall, U.S. Snowfall, Mummified Mom

A resident of Alden, New York, shovels snow from atop his car.
A resident of Alden, New York, shovels snow from atop his car.
Worldcrunch

Thursday, November 20, 2014

IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS STALL
As talks on Iran’s nuclear program continue in Vienna ahead of a Nov. 24 deadline to reach an agreement, Iran’s nuclear chief told reporters that his delegation saw “no more room for further negotiations” on the design of its controversial Arak nuclear reactor, AFP reports. This reactor, which the West fears could provide Iran with weapons-grade plutonium, is a thorny issue that almost derailed initial negotiations last year. Iran insists that the Arak reactor is for research purposes only.

SNAPSHOT
A resident of Alden, New York, shovels snow from atop his car. Up to six feet of the white stuff fell on the region Tuesday, stranding dozens of motorists on roadways and causing at least seven deaths.

FARC AGREES TO RELEASE GENERAL
Colombia’s rebel group FARC has agreed to release an army general and four other people abducted over the weekend “as soon as possible” after reaching common ground with Colombian government representatives, El Espectador reports. Peace talks between the faction and the government, which started two years ago, are also likely to resume in the Cuban capital of Havana. For more on the five-decade-long conflict, we offer this El Espectador/Worldcrunch op-ed, FARC Understands Nothing About The "People" Of Colombia.

13
An average of 13 people a day have been killed in conflict-torn Ukraine since the Sept. 5 ceasefire agreement, a UN official revealed Thursday.

Observers deployed in eastern Ukraine by Europe’s Organization for Security and Co-operation said they had been shot at by “military personnel” in a government-controlled area west of the embattled city of Donetsk. As AFP reports, both sides have criticized the mission and have questioned its impartiality. Observers have been accused of revealing the positions of fighters from both sides.

MORSI TO FACE DEATH PENALTY
Egyptian prosecutors have asked the Cairo Criminal Court to impose a death sentence for toppled President Mohamed Morsi and 35 other Muslim Brotherhood leaders when the case resumes Nov. 26.

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO
As Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Florian Fuchs and Sven Loerzer report, a bizarre case of a Munich woman who refused to bury her mother, instead keeping her mummified body in her home for five and a half years, is raising a series of practical and legal questions. “According to Süddeutsche Zeitung sources, the 55-year-old daughter had a career as an engineer, but had taken early retirement. When her mother was still alive, the divorced woman tried to commit suicide and was thus known to the police.”
Read the full article, She Lived For Five Years With Her Mummified Mom.

N. KOREA THREATENS NUCLEAR TESTS
North Korea responded aggressively to yesterday’s UN resolution, which could pave the way for the country to be referred to the International Criminal Court. The country threatened to beef up its military deterrence in an “unlimited manner” and to conduct a fourth nuclear test, AP reports. In return, South Korea warned its neighbor that it would be faced with a resolute response from the international community if it went ahead with another nuclear test, and instead urged North Korea to take "specific and actual" measures to improve its human rights situation. North Korea has so far rejected accusations of human rights violations.

VERBATIM
“He is getting better, but everything is relative.” Former Formula One champion Michael Schumacher, who suffered brain injuries in a ski accident last December, is paralyzed, can't speak and has memory problems, his friend Philippe Streiff told French radio.

FAR-LEFT VICTORY IN GERMANY
Left and center-left parties in east Germany’s state of Thuringia have reached a landmark agreement that will see the far-left party Die Linke head the regional government for the first time since the fall of Communism, Deutsche Welle reports. Under the deal, which comes two months after the state’s elections and just days after anniversary celebrations of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Bodo Ramelow will likely become Thuringia’s state premier, though his nomination will be subject to a Dec. 5 vote. The idea of a regional government led by the far-left has caused heated debate in Germany, and yesterday’s announcement is likely to stir trouble in the federal government, where Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right party is in coalition with the center-left.

MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD

SOUTH KOREA FERRY CEO JAILED
The head of the company that operated the South Korean ferry that sank in April, killing more than 300 people, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison, news agency Yonhap reports. Kim Han-sik was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, violating maritime safety laws, embezzlement and corruption.

TRACKING CO2
Who knew pollution could be so beautiful? National Geographic and NASA teamed up to create a striking visualization of how carbon dioxide flows around the world. Check out the mesmerizing video here.

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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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