Widening Syrian Airstrikes, Bin Laden Hero Unmasked, Manet Record

Protests in Xalapa as anger grows over the case of 43 missing students.
Protests in Xalapa as anger grows over the case of 43 missing students.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition launched airstrikes against the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front and another jihadist group, Ahrar al-Sham, in what appears to be the beginning of a wider military operation in northern Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. This came after the al-Nusra Front seized areas previously controlled by Western-backed rebel groups around the city of Idlib, taking their weapons too. President Barack Obama announced during a post-election news conference yesterday that he would seek Congressional backing for the military campaign against ISIS, a move that The New York Times says opens the door to “a lengthy, potentially contentious debate over the nature and extent of American engagement in Iraq and Syria.”

Protests grew tense in front of government buildings in the capital of Mexico’s Veracruz state late Wednesday, as anger grows over the case of 43 missing students.

Burkina Faso’s army and political leaders agreed yesterday to a one-year political transition, and elections in November 2015 will go ahead as planned, France 24 reports. The country’s political crisis was initially triggered when President Compaoré wanted to change the constitution to extend his 27-year rule. Though he subsequently resigned, the controversy is far from over because there has yet to be agreement on who would lead the transitional government. After the meeting, which also included West African leaders, the army-backed interim leader Lieutenant-Colonel Isaac Zida said he hopes the parties would be able to “find a solution in order to achieve a civilian transition.”

“My ex-wife gave birth to a man. We shouldn't be cowering in fear," Tom O’Neill, the father of the Navy Seal who killed Osama bin Laden, told The Daily Mail. The newspaper revealed the name of the now-retired US. military operative, Rob O'Neill, ahead of a slated Nov. 11 interview, and the article included an exclusive interview with the decorated soldier's father.

The World Health Organization revised down the cumulative Ebola death toll for the second week in a row to 4,818 from a total 13,042 reported cases. The UN agency also confirmed last week’s surprising assessment that the epidemic was slowing in Liberia, the worst-affected country so far, though it insisted the disease was still not under control. Speaking to the BBC, the head of the UN mission charged with fighting the virus said the resources to win the battle were “not here yet.” Meanwhile, President Barack Obama asked Congress for $6.2 billion in emergency funding “to contain and end the outbreak at its source in Africa, enhance domestic preparedness.” This comes amid grim news from Sierra Leone, where a journalist who criticized the government’s response to the Ebola outbreak was allegedly beaten then jailed. Read more from The Guardian.

French flamenco guitar virtuoso Manitas de Plata has died in Montpellier from natural causes at age 93.

Süddeutsche Zeitung journalists Varena Mayer and Charlotte Theile spoke with five Germans from the former East Germany who were born on or near reunification 25 years ago and who talked about how the past is bound to shape the future. “I was born in East Berlin on the day the wall came down, on Nov. 9, 1989,” Berlin social worker Laura Harmsen told them. “My parents' lives changed twofold on that day: They had their first child, and the system they were raised in stopped existing. My birthday is sometimes a bit of a pain. I'm often interviewed and asked to take a position on one thing or another. But there are nice reactions, like when I'm in some administrative situation and have to provide my birth date. People react immediately when they hear the date and tell me what they were doing on that day.”
Read the full article, Born When The Wall Fell, Germany's Transition Generation.


A painting by Impressionist Edouard Manet sold at auction Wednesday, setting a record price of $65.1 million for the artist. Le Printemps, or Spring, was first presented in 1882 and depicts French actress Jeanne Demarsy with a parasol.

Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong have clashed with the police in the densely populated district of Mong Kok. It’s the first rekindling of tensions in more than two weeks, Reuters reports. The scuffles broke out in the middle of the night when the police tried to force protesters, some of whom were wearing Guy Fawkes masks, back into a protest site. In an editorial, local newspaper South China Morning Post writes that “people's patience is running out” in Hong Kong after a recent survey showed that 73% of citizens think the protests should end.


Non-jailbroken iPhones are being affected for the first time by malware, and the devices of hundreds of thousands of users in China are believed to have been infected with “WireLurker,” The Independent reports. The smartphones seem to have been infected via apps downloaded first on a computer from a third-party app store. The goal of the malware is not clear, but it’s apparently a work in progress. The man who discovered it believes it “heralds a new era in malware attacking Apple’s desktop and mobile platforms.”

After being arrested, AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd appeared in front of a New Zealand court today on charges of hiring a hitman to have two people murdered. The 60-year-old Australian rock star, who was released on bail, was also charged with possessing methamphetamine and cannabis. It’s unclear yet how this will affect the band’s planned world tour following a new album release next month.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

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

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.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!