PARIS — "Remember the Eighth of May. History may recall it as the day the United States abandoned its belief in allies." Edward Luce's opening sentence in a scathing column penned Wednesday for the Financial Times is probably as close as anybody can get to capturing the European spirit following Donald Trump's announcement that he is withdrawing the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA).
In a similar vein, Le Monde editorialist Sylvie Kauffmann characterizes Trump's move as a "fragmentation bomb" that not only dashes hopes of achieving peace and stability in the Middle East but "also torpedoes his European allies and, behind them, the international liberal order." For German journalists Clemens Wergin and Daniel-Dylan Böhmer with Die Welt, Trump's announcement is "a slap in the face for Europe."
The EU's chief diplomat, Federica Mogherini, who helped finalize the deal back in 2015, said Brussels was "determined to preserve it," and the leaders of Britain, Germany and France quickly released a joint statement Tuesday in which they "urge the U.S. to ensure that the structures of the JCPOA can remain intact and to avoid taking action which obstructs its full implementation by all other parties to the deal."
Milan daily Corriere della Sera — May 9, 2018
The fact that Trump already threatened any company that continues to do business with Iran with "the highest level of economic sanctions' seems to suggest that Mogherini, May, Merkel and Macron are deceiving themselves. But some commentators, among them Le Figaro"s Jean-Jacques Mével, believe that Trump could still agree to an "eleventh-hour" deal, provided the new terms suit him. "In a well-honed act, he starts by theatrically storming out," Mével writes.
Still, it's a risky strategy. "Trump's move could well boomerang," Thorsten Denkler points out in a column for German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung. "If the other contracting parties are unimpressed by Trump's threats, if the agreement simply remains in force without the U.S., and Iran doesn't, therefore, suffer too much from the U.S. sanctions, then Trump has just left the table with a lot of noise, but without achieving anything."
Judging from his instant reaction Tuesday evening, this is exactly the outcome Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is hoping to achieve. "This is a psychological war, we won't allow Trump to win," he said. But the moderate Rouhani will, in all likelihood, face increasing opposition from the hardliners in Tehran, who were opposed to the deal in the first place. Already, Iranian lawmakers set a paper U.S. flag on fire in Parliament this morning, shouting "Death to America!" And Iran's parliament speaker said that, "Trump only understands the language of force."
For all the positive reactions from Tel Aviv and Riyadh — the only powers to have welcomed Trump's announcement — the move may have the opposite effect of its supposed goal, as Michael J. Koplow argues in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Instead of pushing the danger away, in other words, it could bring the region and its immediate neighbors closer to a direct conflict, especially one between Iran and Israel. One of the stages of this confrontation, Koplow writes, could well be Syria, where Israeli strikes on a military base used by Iranian forces this morning killed nine fighters.
French daily La Croix— May 9, 2018
Former U.S. President Barack Obama, who signed what Trump says was "the worst deal ever," warned that violating the agreement was "a serious mistake." Without it, the United States could end up with "a losing choice between a nuclear-armed Iran or another war in the Middle East," he said in a statement. There's also the risk of launching a new nuclear arms race — with Saudi Arabia ready to join the "club," editorialist Arnaud de La Grange writes in Le Figaro. Not to mention, of course, how the Iran announcement will be interpreted in Pyongyang, where the North Korean regime is in its own game of nuclear chicken with the White House.
Either way, President Trump appears to have put us all at a dramatic crossroads, Wergin and Böhmer argue in their Die Welt piece. He could either go down in history as someone "who made a daring decision and in the end got a better deal that actually kept Iran permanently away from the bomb, or as someone who broke a tolerably working agreement and only accelerated the Iranian road to the bomb," they write. A third possibility, according to the journalists, is that Trump's "maximum-pressure tactic" doesn't pan out and he ends up ordering military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities.
In Europe, where May 8 marks the end of World War II, the hope now is that this date doesn't become the starting point of another tragic chapter of history.
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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