UKRAINE STANDOFF CONTINUES
At least five armored vehicles flying Russian banners were reported to have entered the town of Slaviansk, north of Donetsk, as the standoff between Kiev and pro-Russian protesters continues in the eastern part of Ukraine. Although most Western media organizations initially described the vehicles as Russian, Moscow media outlets and Der Spiegel say they are in fact Ukrainian tanks and that a group of soldiers has defected to the pro-Russian side. The German magazine quotes the Ukrainian troops as saying: "We haven't had anything decent to eat for weeks. Kiev has forgotten us." Meanwhile, AFP reports that 20 pro-Russian gunmen entered the mayor’s office in Donetsk, demanding a referendum on Ukraine’s federalization.
The Ukrainian security service claims to have intercepted communications that show Russians commanders are controlling pro-Russian protesters in eastern Ukraine and had given them “shoot to kill” orders. This comes as Ukraine’s Interim Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk accused Russia of “exporting terrorism,” adding that “today's events are starting to endanger Europe and the European Union.” He declared that Moscow has “decided to build a new Berlin Wall and return to the Cold War era.” Read more from RTÉ.
In a phone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin described Kiev’s decision to send troops east as a “sharp escalation” which puts the country “on the verge of civil war.” According to Merkel’s office, the conversation focused on the preparations for tomorrow’s planned four-way meeting in Geneva between Ukraine, Russia, the U.S. and the EU.
SOUTH KOREAN FERRY CAPSIZES
A passenger ship with 477 people aboard, mostly high school students, sank in waters off South Korea's southwest coast Wednesday morning, leaving at least two dead. Several hours after the disaster, 180 passengers had been rescued, leaving some 290 still missing. According to Korean news agency Yonhap, rescuing operations are being hampered by poor underwater visibility, while many of the people still unaccounted for are feared to be trapped inside the ship.
ISRAELI POLICE ENTER HOLY SITE TO DISPERSE PALESTINIANS
Israeli police entered the holy site of the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, known to the Jews as temple Mount, to disperse what The Times Of Israel describes as “Palestinian rioters” after they hurled stones and firecrackers, hurting one policeman, and barricaded themselves in the mosque. Ma’an news agency reports however that Israeli soldiers and policemen used stun grenades and rubber bullets, injuring some 25 protesters. According to the pro-Palestinian media, “About 100 Muslim worshipers have decided to stay inside the compound day and night after right-wing Jewish organizations urged Jews to flock to the compound which they believe is the site of a former temple and slaughter their Passover sacrifices inside.” Five people were indeed arrested on Monday for attempting to sacrifice a goat on the holy site. Here’s a recent Le Monde/Worldcrunch reportage on escalating tensions on the Temple Mount.
The latest showdown comes as three Palestinians were killed in a mysterious explosion that left another four injured.
MORE THAN 100 SCHOOLGIRLS KIDNAPPED IN NIGERIA
Gunmen suspected to be from Islamist group Boko Haram kidnapped more than 100 schoolgirls in Nigeria’s northeastern state of Borno late on Monday, just hours after the massive bombing that killed 75 people in the capital of Abuja, the newspaper Vanguard reports. According to witnesses, the gunmen stormed the local council’s headquarters, killing one security guard, and torched residential buildings and shops before fleeing. Some girls were able to escape, but the others were taken in a truck.
MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD
CHINA GROWTH SLOWS DOWN
The Chinese economy grew by 7.4% in the first quarter of 2014, its slowest pace in 18 months, down from 7.7% compared with the previous quarter, The Financial Times reports. According to the newspaper, “imports and exports have contracted” while Reuters explains that officials believe “the slowdown was an expected consequence of their reform drive, even as some analysts think the economy will lose further momentum.”
Le Monde’s Piotr Smolar talks to a pro-Russian separatist in Donetsk, the eastern Ukrainian city that has become the symbol of anti-Kiev sentiment: “‘I want to live in a country that respects me,” he says. “Kiev won’t be able to reunite the whole population, that’s for sure. At least in Russia, there are people like us. Our lives wouldn’t be better with them but not worse either.’”
Read the full article here: What's Driving Pro-Russian Separatists In Donetsk.
“I’m a refugee like you,” Somalian refugee children write to Syrians. Read more from the BBC.
World’s most expensive instrument on auction. Learn more about it here.
If you’ve never seen anybody do an impression of a fly, a cricket or of a velociraptor, check out this expand=1] guy’s video doing 30 animal sounds.
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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