ISIS Claims Refinery Control, Ebola Epidemic, Bigger iPhones

A volunteer in Kiev says goodbye to his loved one before being sent to eastern Ukraine to join the ranks of special battalion Azov.
A volunteer in Kiev says goodbye to his loved one before being sent to eastern Ukraine to join the ranks of special battalion Azov.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Jihadist group ISIS has claimed to have taken control of Iraq’s biggest oil refinery in Baiji, after it offered hundreds of Iraqi soldiers safe passage if they laid down their weapons, Al Jazeera reports. But Iraq’s foreign minister rejected the claims, and New York Times journalist C.J. Chivers quoted an army officer as saying the battle was still unfolding. According to AFP, the Iraqi air force launched air raids around the refinery, killing at least 19 people, including civilians.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held a one-hour meeting with the leaders of Iraq’s autonomous region of Kurdistan. According to The Boston Globe, Kerry urged them to keep taking part in the national political process amid growing rhetoric that the Kurds should seek an independent state.

Volunteers in Kiev said goodbye to loved onesbefore being sent to eastern Ukraine to join the ranks of special battalion Azov. Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma led talks Monday to help end fighting in eastern Ukraine, bringing together the Russian ambassador, pro-Russian rebel leaders and European officials. The negotiations are part of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's peace plan, which started with a unilateral cease-fire Friday to stop the mutiny that has engulfed the nation's industrial east.

Separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine fired grenade launchers and mortar on a military post near Sloviansk despite rebel leaders agreeing to a ceasefire until Friday, a Ukrainian military spokesman claimed. Speaking to Reuters, Vladyslav Seleznyov said “yesterday during the day and in the evening they fired on our positions." In a phone call with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, Barack Obama urged Moscow to stop the flow of weapons to Ukraine, threatening to impose further sanctions. Putin, who has repeatedly denied that Russia was arming the rebels, insisted that Kiev must put an end to its military operation and seek dialogue. Read more from USA Today.

At least 91 people, most of them married women and young girls, were abducted by suspected Boko Haram gunmen in villages in northeastern Nigeria, near where more than 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped two months ago, Vanguard reports. The Nigerian army announced yesterday that more than 70 Boko Haram members had been killed in air raids.

As fans worldwide prepare to mark the five-year anniversary of Michael Jackson's death Wednesday, reports show that the King of Pop's estate has earned over $700 million since the "Thriller" singer's untimely death in 2009.

The organization Doctors Without Borders says the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa is now “out of control” and that they are “no longer able to send teams to the new outbreak sites.” The charity warns that “with the appearance of new sites in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, there is a real risk of it spreading to other areas.” Last week, the World Health Organization said it had identified 528 cases, with 337 deaths since the epidemic began this year. Ebola is a deadly virus that can kill up to 90% of those infected.

Juliano Alves Pinto hadn't walked since a 2006 car accident. Then two weeks ago, the world watched as he wore a mind-controlled exoskeleton to make the opening kick of the World Cup in Brazil. Now a wheelchair-racing athlete, Pinto spoke with Folha De S. Paulo’s Ramon Barbosa Franco. “The exoskeleton receives information from the brain and transforms it into movements,” Pinto told the journalist. “This was the first prototype, which means that the World Cup opening ceremony wasn’t the end of the exoskeleton, but only the beginning. There is more to do, but the symbolic kickoff marked the opening of a new era in science.”
Read the full interview, Meet The World Cup's Exoskeleton Miracle Athlete.


The high school students rescued from the South Korean ferry that sank on April 16 are scheduled to testify in court today at the murder trial of the ship’s captain and crew members, Yonhap news agency reports. Earlier today, divers recovered one body from the sunken ferry after two weeks of unsuccessful searches. Eleven bodies are still missing, with the official death toll standing at 293.

Apple will begin producing two larger iPhone models for a possible release in September, Bloomberg quotes insiders as saying.

We all love the Game of Thrones theme song, but could this expand=1] jazzy version of the epic tune be even better than the original?

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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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