Welcome to Monday, where Iran vows revenge for the attack on one of its nuclear sites, Ecuador elects a new president and Russia celebrates the 60th anniversary of its pioneering space mission. French daily Le Monde also takes us on the Myanmar-Thailand border where the military coup has reignited a longstanding simmering war.
• Black man shot by police in Minneapolis: Protests erupted after a Black man, identified as Daunte Wright, was shot and killed by a police officer at a traffic stop in a suburb of Minneapolis yesterday. The incident comes amid the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd.
• Iran vows revenge for attack on nuclear site: The Iranian foreign minister blamed Israel for an attack on the underground nuclear site Natanz, and said his country will "take revenge." According to US intelligence officials, it could take more than nine months to resume enrichment in the nuclear facility.
• England eases lockdown as COVID surges in India: Pubs and restaurants begin serving outdoors as lockdown restrictions are eased in England, while across the Atlantic protests erupt in Montreal after the city's toughest COVID curfew went into effect. Meanwhile, India overtakes Brazil for the world's highest daily tally of 168,912 COVID-19 infections, amid fears of a surge in cases as crowds gather for a ritual bath in the Ganges river.
• Four dead in a migrant boat: At least four people were found dead on a migrant boat near the Canary Island of El Hierro. The Spanish Red Cross also reports that 16 of the 23 persons on board were in "serious condition."
• Ecuador's new conservative president: Former banker Guillermo Lasso has won the presidential elections in Ecuador, defeating leftist economist Andrés Arauz.
• 60th anniversary of Gagarin maiden mission: Thousands of people gathered in Saint Petersburg to celebrate Russian astronaut Yuri Gargarin, who became the first human to enter space on April 12, 1961.
• California's Sugar Rush theme park: A pop-up theme park has recently opened in Los Angeles displaying giant lollipops, cupcakes and other treats. Visitors are allowed in only if wearing a face mask.
Ecuadorian daily El Universo features the country's newly elected president Guillermo Lasso, 65, a former banker who carried more than 52% of the vote Sunday in his third run for the presidency.
An old war is rekindled on the Myanmar-Thailand border
For the first time in 20 years, Myanmar regime fighter jets dropped bombs on territory partly controlled by the KNU, an armed group that has been fighting the central government for seven decades and bears the name of a large ethnic minority, the Karen, reports Bruno Philip in French daily Le Monde.
The interminable war had been put on hold a few years ago following a ceasefire agreement signed in 2015 by a dozen ethnic guerrillas, including the Karen National Union (KNU), one of Myanmar's oldest guerrilla groups. But the rekindled flames of conflict have shaken these far-flung corners of the Thai kingdom. Nearly 3,000 Karen have fled to the Thai side of the border river. But most of them were quickly "summoned" by military force and forced to return home by men in black uniforms, members of Thai "rangers' regiments.
For the Thai government, which had announced a few weeks ago that it was preparing for an "influx of refugees," this prospect brings back bad memories of the 1990s. At that time, the war was already raging between a preceding Burmese military junta and KNU fighters. Not to mention other battles that took place further north between soldiers of the same junta and other ethnic groups. Since then, some 100,000 refugees from Myanmar have continued to live in camps along the 2,416-kilometer border between the two countries.
The links between the current Thai government — headed by a former coup general — and the Myanmar regime are close. The man behind the Myanmar coup, General Min Aung Hlaing, called Prime Minister Prayuth the day after the strike to ask him, without irony, for advice on how to protect "democracy" in the country. In mid-March, a new controversy erupted, fueling suspicions of "collusion" between the two countries. A mysterious shipment of 700 bags of Thai rice, ostensibly intended to supply the Burmese barracks opposite Mae Sam Laep, had been deposited on the riverbank.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
Russia marks today the 60th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's historic space mission, when the whole world learned how to say "astronaut" in Russian: Космонавт or cosmonaut. The 27-year-old Gagarin became the first human in space on April 12, 1961 in a single-orbit flight and was hailed a hero in the Soviet Union.
India's carjacking monkeys: animals trained to rob people in rickshaws
This was a different kind of monkey business. Police say they've arrested two men in New Delhi for allegedly using monkeys to rob people in motorized rickshaws.
The case came to light in early March, when a man in the Indian city's Malviya Nagar neighborhood reported that three men carrying monkeys had robbed him of ₹6,000 (about $80). The victim was sitting in an autorickshaw — a three-wheeled vehicle — when the men directed two monkeys to sit in the front and back seats, with one monkey snagging the man's wallet and running away, The Hindu Times reports.
Two of the three men were caught by the police on Thursday at a bus stand and later arrested. The monkeys were immediately handed over to the Wildlife SOS center, an animal rescue shelter, reports the Indian news site Mint. Police believe the primates had been captured from Tughlakabad Fort jungle about three months ago.
The suspects face charges for robbery, acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention, as well as violation of the 1972 Wildlife Protection Act.
➡️ Keep up with all the planet's police reports and plot twists on Worldcrunch.com
Iran's response will be revenge against the Zionist regime in its place and time.
— Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said during a news conference as the country accuses Israel of sabotaging its Natanz nuclear site, after an explosion caused an electricity outage. The incident occurred as Iran and the United States are trying to revive the 2015 nuclear deal that Israel fiercely opposes.
✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet & Emma Flacard
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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