Welcome to Friday, where tensions between far-right Jewish activists and Palestinians escalate in Jerusalem, Russia withdraws troops from Ukraine border and four ponies jump over Brexit obstacle. German conservative daily Die Welt also tells us why the country's political parties should keep a close eye on the Greens' candidate in the upcoming chancellor election.
• Hundreds injured in East Jerusalem clashes: Clashes in East Jerusalem between far-right Jewish activists, Palestinians and Israeli police have left over 100 people injured. Tensions have escalated between Palestinians and Jewish extremists since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, on April 13.
• Indian hospital fire kills 13: At least 13 persons have died after a fire ravaged the intensive care unit of an hospital treating COVID patients near Mumbai. This incident comes as India is facing its highest number of cases and oxygen shortages.
• Russia to withdraw from Ukraine border: Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu announced on Thursday that Russia will pull back its troops near Ukraine and annexed Crimea. Western countries had criticized what they viewed as a show of force.
• UK calls out China in Uyghur genocide: The House of Commons has stated for the first time that a genocide against Uyghurs is taking place in the north-west China's Xinjiang region. MPs are asking the British government to take action, while Beijing condemned the declaration.
• SpaceX rocket launch: NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough, French astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Japan's Akihiko Hoshide have successfully lifted-off on a SpaceX rocket heading to the International Space Station. The launch, originally planned for last Thursday, was delayed because of poor weather conditions.
• State funeral for Chad's slain president: Thousands of people have gathered to pay tribute to Chad's late President Idriss Deby, who died in clashes with rebels on Monday. French President Emmanuel Macron and several African leaders are expected to attend the funeral, in the capital N'Djamena.
• Ponies overcome Brexit hurdle: Four ponies, bought as a birthday gift and detained for a month at Belfast Port over incorrect post-Brexit paperwork, are now to be released, but may face a 30-day quarantine upon arrival in Britain.
Weekly news magazine India Today reports on the country's "vaccination emergency," as India struggles with a new coronavirus surge of cases as well as oxygen shortages in hospitals. So far, only 8% of the population has received at least one dose of vaccine.
Annalena Baerbock: Germany's Greens are grown up — and dangerous
As the race to succeed Angela Merkel as German chancellor accelerates, the country's Green party looks to be in a very strong position. But their environmental ideals mask an illiberal intolerance for their opponents, writes Ulf Poschardt in German daily Die Welt.
The Greens are on a roll: in Annalena Baerbock they have nominated a strong candidate for the German chancellorship. They have chosen a confident, unflappable candidate who will also appeal to the middle ground, to those who don't traditionally vote Green. A former elite trampoline gymnast, Baerbock has two daughters and is married to a PR manager. Her polished appearance and friendly, approachable manner will help make the Greens' anti-growth policies and their calls for redistribution of wealth and bans a little more palatable to the wider public.
The other parties should take note. The Social Democratic Party has already sealed its fate, ensuring it will only play the role of junior partner in a possible coalition, and will not pose a real threat to the Greens' campaign. The Free Democratic Party is in a stronger position, while the Left Party only trusts its unimpeachable figurehead Sahra Wagenknecht. As for the union between the Christian Democrats and Christian Socialists, where sparks are still flying over whether to choose Armin Laschet or Markus Söder as their candidate, they already have the Greens in their sights.
The Greens' friendly face hides deep divisions that are tolerated and even encouraged. At the Berlin rent cap protests, Greens marched alongside people waving banners with hammers and sickles, violent protestors and members of anti-constitutional groups. Now more than ever, those who formerly identified as alternative are distancing themselves from the far left. They are waging culture wars with a vengeance, playing into the bias of the public-service media perfectly.
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In Quebec, "hot mic" gaffe lands judge on the hot seat
We all know the risks of teleworking and what can happen when someone accidentally forgets to turn off a camera or mute a microphone. Just last week a Canadian MP was caught naked during a Zoom conference when his laptop camera switched on as he was changing into his work clothes.
Turns out the exposed lawmaker isn't the only high-profile Canuck to make a faux pas in the daunting new world of digital workplaces. This week, a Superior Court judge in Joliette, Quebec had an embarrassing "technical incident" of his own, one that would end up costing him the high-stakes bankruptcy case he'd been handling.
As the daily Journal de Québec reports, Judge Michel A. Pinsonnault was presiding over the $1.7 million case when, on April 20, he was heard saying during video conference proceedings: "They lie, they lie, they lie."
The far-too-candid comments were in reference to a pair of witnesses who are under investigation for alleged fraud in a parallel case. The judge had forgotten, it turns out, to mute his microphone during his lunch break.
So much for impartiality.
A lawyer for the witnesses told the newspaper that it was "quite a deep shock" for his clients, especially since it was only the second day of the hearings.
The embarrassed judge said his microphone was left on without his knowledge because of a "malfunction." He then apologized for his "unfortunate comments' and recused himself from the case, which is being delayed pending Judge Pinsonnault's replacement by another magistrate.
➡️ Keep up with all the planet's police reports and plot twists on Worldcrunch.com
Global smartphone sales surged in the first three months of 2021 with 340 million devices sold around the world — a 24% increase compared with last year and the biggest jump since 2015, according to data from Strategy Analytics. Sales were driven by the success of new 5G products, particularly in China.
We have not understood the climate emergency at all.
— Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg urges U.S lawmakers to immediately stop subsidizing fossil fuels, as part of a push by Democrats to include fossil fuel subsidy elimination in new climate bill.
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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