Monday, May 26, 2014
POROSHENKO WINS UKRAINE PRESIDENCY
As many observers expected, multibillionaire Petro Poroshenko will become Ukraine’s next president. The man dubbed “The Chocolate King” leads the race with 53.75% of the votes in the first round, with 70% of the votes counted, The Kyiv Post reports. He said during his victory speech that his first goal was to stop the war in eastern Ukraine, “to put an end to this chaos and bring peace to a united Ukraine.”
But speaking at a news conference this morning, Poroshenko explained that the military operation in the east would continue with improved efficiency. He pledged to give troops better equipment, life insurances and high wages. He also called for parliamentary elections before the end of the year and announced that Interim Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk would keep his job.
Poroshenko added that he was hoping to meet Russian leaders in the first half of June, with Reuters quoting him as saying that restoring stability in the eastern regions would require Moscow’s help. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he was ready for a direct dialogue with the elected president.
The result of the presidential vote appears to have done nothing to appease tensions in the Donetsk region, where leaders of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic have declared martial law “to clear the Republic's territory of Ukrainian military units.”
POPE VISITS JERUSALEM HOLY SITES
Pope Francis is in Jerusalem, where he is visiting the city’s holy and symbolic sites in the last day of his visit to the Middle East. According to The Times Of Israel, the pontiff will be under intense scrutiny from Jews and Muslims as he meets with leaders from both sides. Upon his visit at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, known to the Jews as Temple Mount, he called all to “work together for justice and peace,” AFP reports. Pope Francis also went to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, where he expressed shame in “what man, created in God’s own image and likeness, was capable of doing,” before adding that the Nazi genocide was a “massive idolatry” that must never happen again. Yesterday, the Pope issued an unprecedented invitation to both Israeli and Palestinian presidents to meet for a prayer summit at the Vatican, describing relations as “increasingly unacceptable” and defending the two-state solution. Read more from The New York Times.
ANTI-EU GROUPS GAIN IN EUROPEAN VOTE
The European Parliamentary elections ended yesterday, resulting in unprecedented support for anti-EU and far-right parties in many countries, particularly France and Britain, where the National Front and UKIP finished ahead of government parties. France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls described yesterday’s results as an “earthquake,” as the country’s Socialist Party finished third, with less than 14% of the vote.
Despite the victory of Angela Merkel’s party in Germany and the second place showing by her party’s coalition partners, a party likened to neo-Nazi movements managed to get one of its members elected to the European Parliament for the first time. Meanwhile in Greece, far-left and anti-austerity party Syriza finished first with about 26% of the vote.
Still, EU Observer explains that despite the surge in radical votes, center-right parties will lead the Parliament, taking 214 seats, with Socialist parties earning 189 seats.
Slovakia showed an unprecedented lack of interest in the European Parliament elections Sunday, when just 13% of the country's voters cast ballots.
TWO-DAY VOTE BEGINS IN EGYPT
Egyptians began voting this morning to elect a new president, with former army leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi expected to win easily against sole opponent Hamdeen Sabbahi. The Muslim Brotherhood, whose Egyptian leader Mohamed Morsi was toppled in last July’s coup led by al-Sisi, is boycotting the election. As the BBC explains, the election is taking place under a “huge security operation” amid fears of attacks to disrupt the vote. A state television channel reported an explosion outside a polling station, but the country’s Interior Ministry later denied the claim, saying the sound was in fact that of a car backfiring. Follow the two-day elections live updates on Mada Masr.
For more about Egypt’s likely future president, we offer this Le Temps/Worldcrunch piece, Who Is Al-Sisi? A Man Of The People Or Just Another Egyptian Dictator?
As Silke Wichert writes for Süddeutsche Zeitung, what may be the least sexy footwear on the planet — Birkenstocks — have become this season’s ultimate fashion statement. “Suddenly in the run-up to summer, they're everywhere,” the journalist writes. “Practically all brands, from Isabel Marant to Marni and Zara, are offering their take on the Birkenstock. Customers often ask for Marant Birkenstocks, even though there is no such thing. Birkenstock doesn't care. People refer to these Birkenstock-inspired shoes as simply Birkenstocks, which does wonders for their brand recognition. Besides, in the glossy magazine fashion spreads, the original "Arizona" — the classic Birkenstock unisex model — is virtually always featured.”
Read the full article, Birkenstocks, The Ultimate Anti-Fashion Footwear, Is Officially Hot.
General Wojciech Jaruzelski, Poland's last Communist leader best known for his 1981 martial law crackdown on the independent trade union Solidarity, died Sunday in Warsaw at age 90.
NEW DEADLY RAID IN NORTHERN NIGERIA
Gunmen suspected of belonging to Islamist group Boko Haram killed at least 24 people yesterday in a village in northeast Nigeria, taking the number of victims in the region over the past week to more than 100, Vanguard reports. According to residents, the gunmen arrived in the village two months ago and demanded that they raise 250,000 Nigerian Naira ($1,500) to carry out “God’s work,” but residents took the threat lightly and raised under $500, which angered the gunmen. “They destroyed everything we have, carted away our foodstuff and burned down the remaining ones,” a witness said.
“It’s not fair that the tax I pay covers all the medical expenses of slouches,” Japan’s Finance Minister told his country’s lawmakers.
MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD
IN FEDERER’S SHOES
Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer played a friendly match against former world champion Stefan Edberg — and wore Google Glass to capture the game. Check expand=1] it out 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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