Wednesday, June 11, 2014
500,000 FLEE IRAQI CITY OF MOSUL
As many as 500,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in Mosul, in northern Iraq, after Islamist fighters from the organization Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant took control of the city, the International Organization for Migration said in a statement. The al-Qaeda-linked group, which also fights in Syria, has extended its grip on northern Iraq, with the BBC relaying reports that they have seized the town of Baiji, home to the country’s largest oil-refinery.
Meanwhile in Washington, the four former employees of security firm Blackwater Worldwide who are accused of killing 14 Iraqi civilians in 2007 will stand trial today.
UKRAINE-RUSSIA GAS TALKS CONTINUE
Ukraine and Russian representatives started a new round of gas supply talks in Brussels, with Moscow extending a deadline that expired yesterday until next Monday for Kiev to pay its gas bill. Negotiations are revolving around the terms of the contract, with Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk announcing that he refused a discount that he saw as a “Russian trap”.
As Kiev’s “anti-terrorist operation” continues in the east, the country’s Health Minister said that at least 210 people, including 14 children, had been killed in recent clashes.
Chilean students protesting against the government’s educational reforms clashed with police in Santiago.
THAILAND HIT BY SLAVERY REVELATIONS
Thailand is facing potential economic sanctions after revelations made yesterday by British newspaper The Guardian of a particularly violent modern-day slavery network linked to the global shrimp supply chain. In the United States, Walmart and Costco said they were taking action in response to the investigation, while the State Department is reportedly intending to launch a review that could lead to Thailand being place on a human trafficking blacklist, triggering economic sanctions and the end of development aid.
TEA PARTY DEALS MASSIVE BLOW TO TRADITIONAL REPUBLICANS
The U.S. House Majority leader Eric Cantor was defeated in Virginia’s 7th district by David Brat, a Tea Party challenger, in what The New York Times describes as “one of the most stunning primary election upsets in congressional history.” Cantor, who had been tipped to succeed John Boehner as Speaker of the House, only got 44.5% of the vote, with his opponent gathering 55.5% after a campaign centered mainly on immigration. For The Washington Post, Brat, an economics professor who campaigned with little more than $200,000, “has just taught Washington — and one of its most powerful leaders — a lesson in humility.”
Writing in Bogota daily El Espectador, Colombian novelist José Luis Garcés González offers a cutting take on soccer’s role in contemporary society around the world.
“In many societies, soccer tends to replace everything, sweeping aside political proposals, religious beliefs, family ties, economic upheaval and social injustice. It represents faith, the mother of all passions, and, in a word, ideology. Perhaps only love supercedes it …”
Read the full article: Soccer, The New Opiate Of The Masses.
MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD
JAPAN-AUSTRALIA TO SEEK CLOSER MILITARY TIES
The Foreign and Defense Ministers from Japan and Australia are due to meet in Tokyo today to discuss increased cooperation in development of defense equipment and a possible submarine deal, Kyodo news agency reports. This comes as Japan is progressively lifting a self-imposed constitutional ban on weapons exports. As AFP explains, the two U.S. allies are also expected to discuss the impact of China’s activities in the East and South China Sea, amid growing tensions between Beijing and its neighbors.
In a Dubai-inspired move, China is reportedly building artificial islands in the disputed waters, which could eventually lead to total control over the area. Read more from Bloomberg.
Scientists have found a way to genetically modify malaria-carrying mosquitos so they produce around 95% of male offspring.
A massive taxi strike has begun rolling out across Europe against the growing ride-sharing app Uber: “More than 30,000 taxi and limo drivers from London to Milan plan to cause traffic snarls in tourist centers and shopping districts.” Bloomberg reports that Uber is now valued at $17 billion.
The English language’s invasion of the French language continues, notably with words that have arrived directly from Silicon Valley. Since Worldcrunch is based in Paris, we asked some of our crew to tell us how to say #hashtag — and other Frenglish words ... Take a look at our video here.
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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