Geopolitics

Putin Speaks, Filthy Everest, Sweaty Rob Ford

Storm alerts have been issued in 40 provinces of northern and central Spain
Storm alerts have been issued in 40 provinces of northern and central Spain
Worldcrunch

PUTIN’S MIXED MESSAGES ON UKRAINE
Referring to Ukraine as Russia’s “fraternal nation” and characterizing the movement that ousted Ukraine leader Viktor Yanukovych as a “coup,” Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed reporters during a live press conference this morning and insisted Russia had no plans to go to war with Ukraine, though he did not exclude military action.

“There’s not been a shot fired in Crimea,” said Putin, speaking from Moscow.

But he called the fall of Ukraine’s government after the Maiden protests an “unconstitutional coup” and said Russia reserves the right to protect its interests. “When they ask us for help — and we do have a request from the legitimate president — we reserve the right” to military action, he said.

More highlights from Putin, and the ongoing standoff on the Crimean peninsula:

  • “It is not our goal to conquer somebody, to dictate to somebody,” Putin insisted. “We are not going to go to war with the Ukrainian people.” He also characterized threatened sanctions from the West as “counterproductive,” saying, “It is those that are going to introduce those sanctions who should think about consequences … This damage will be mutual, and you have to think about that.”

  • The Russian president denied that the 16,000 troops deployed in Ukraine’s Crimea region over the past week are Russian forces, instead calling them “well-coordinated self-defense forces.”

  • At times during the press conference, Putin contradicted himself. For example, while he called Viktor Yanukovych the rightful president, he also acknowledged that the fallen leader has no political future.

  • Putin’s press conference followed his order to end military exercises in Western Russia and called troops back to their bases in a move ostensibly meant to calm an increasingly agitated West over his heavy-handed intervention, Reuters reports.

  • Ukraine’s transitional government in Kiev says Russia demanded that Ukrainian forces in Crimea surrender within hours or face a “military storm,” Kyiv Post reports. Russian Foreign Ministry officials have denied the ultimatums, and the supposed deadline passed this morning without armed conflict. But Russian troops reportedly did fire warning shots at a Crimean air base this morning during a troop standoff.

  • This comes as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry prepares to meet with Ukraine’s new president and prime minister in Kiev today. The United States and much of the West have met Russia's invasion of Ukraine with strong criticism, and many Western leaders are promising to isolate the Kremlin with economic and other sanctions, Kyiv Post reports. “The world is largely united in recognizing that the steps Russia has taken are a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, their territorial integrity — that they’re a violation of international law,” President Barack Obama said at the White House late Monday.

  • The U.S. was preparing to impose sanctions on high-level Russian officials involved in the military occupation of Crimea, as the chaos there created volatility in global markets Monday, hitting the U.S. stock market and pounding the Russian ruble. But despite ongoing tensions in Ukraine, markets were up this morning, the BBC reports.

  • A Kremlin aide said this morning that if the United States imposes sanctions, Moscow might drop the dollar as a reserve currency and refuse to pay off loans to U.S. banks, Reuters reports.

  • The Obama administration has suspended military ties to Russia just a day after calling off trade talks. If Moscow doesn’t pull back, officials plan to ban visas and freeze assets of Russian officials and target state-run financial institutions. Congressional leaders have indicated a willingness to quickly approve economic aid for the fragile, new pro-Western government in Ukraine.

  • For more on the crisis in Ukraine, here’s a Le Monde/Worldcrunch analysis about the options on the table for the country’s future.

  • From Germany, here’s Worldcrunch’s English version of a Süddeutsche Zeitung piece on Putin.

PISTORIUS TRIAL ABRUPTLY HALTED
The judge presiding over the trial of Oscar Pistorius, the Olympic and Paralympic star who has pleaded not guilty to murdering his girlfriend, adjourned proceedings this morning to investigate the prosecutor’s objection that a witness photo was broadcast despite explicit instructions against it, IOL News reports. The prosecutor said that he had been told that Pretoria University Lecturer Michelle Burger's face was shown on eNews Channel Africa. Burger testified yesterday that she heard “bloodcurdling screams” from a woman followed by gunshots.

CHINA STABBING VICTIMS REMAIN CRITICAL
Twenty of the 143 people wounded in Saturday’s terrorist attack at Kunming railway station this week remain in critical condition, Xinhua news agency reports. More than 100 emergency operations were performed after knife-wielding attackers stabbed and slashed passengers with long-bladed knives at the railway station, killing 29 people.

FOTO
Storm alerts have been issued in 40 Spanish provinces warning of strong winds, heavy snowfall, avalanches and dangerous waves along the Atlantic coast, as a fierce storm batters the northern and central areas of the country.

COURT BANS HAMAS IN EGYPT
A Cairo court has outlawed the Palestinian group Hamas group in Egypt, branding it a terrorist organization, AP reports. The court ordered Hamas offices in the country shuttered and all dealings with the group suspended. Egypt's relations with Hamas, an ally to ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, have deteriorated since the military removed Morsi last July.

FIRST FEMALE INVESTMENT BANK HEAD IN SAUDI
Saudi Arabia's National Commercial Bank (NCB) has appointed Sarah Al-Suhaimi as chief executive of its investment banking arm, which represents the first time a woman has been named to lead an investment bank in the conservative kingdom, Reuters reports.

BY THE NUMBERS
Starting next month, Nepalese officials have a new method for trying to clean up Mount Everest after officials estimated that 50 tons of trash have been left on the mountain by climbers over the past six decades. Here’s the heavy trick.

MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD

JIMMY KIMMEL MAKES ROB FORD SWEAT … AGAIN
The day before the Oscars, late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, dressed as a chauffeur, personally picked up Toronto Mayor Rob Ford from LAX airport. But that wasn’t the last laugh, The Hollywood Reporter notes. Ford, who said he traveled to Los Angeles to promote Toronto as “Hollywood North,” used his television appearance to tout his accomplishments and criticized those who had exploited his crack-smoking ways. Meanwhile, Kimmel did what Kimmel does, mercilessly mocking the embattled politico. “Don’t get me wrong,” he told Ford on the show. “I’m glad that you are here. But why are you here? What good could come of this? Have you ever seen this show?” Ford addresses expand=1] why he accepted the invitation in this video.

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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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