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Flights Grounded Globally After Ethiopian Airlines Plane Crash Kills 157

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  • A Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane chartered by Ethiopian Airlines crashed, killing all 157 people on board.
  • The plane is the second 737 MAX 8 to crash since October, when a Lion Air flight crashed off the coast of Indonesia, killing 189 people.
  • As a result, 22 airlines have grounded their 737 MAX 8 models.

Crash Outside of Addis Ababa

Boeing is facing massive backlash after a brand new Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashed outside of Addis Ababa on Sunday, killing all 157 people on board the plane.

Of the 157 people on board Flight 302, 149 were passengers, and eight were crew members. The victims came from over 35 different countries and included at least 22 employees of United Nations-affiliated agencies, who were flying to Nairobi to attend a conference.

The flight took off at 8:38 a.m local time and was chartered by Ethiopian Airlines, one of Africa’s largest carriers. Shortly after take-off, the pilot of Flight 302 reportedly made a distress call and requested to return to the airport, which he was granted.

The last transmission from Flight 302 was reported at 8:41 am. Just six minutes after take-off, Flight 302 disappeared from the radar, which is the time it is believed to have crashed.

An eyewitness who saw the crash reported that the plane was “swerving and dipping” before it crashed about 40 miles outside of Addis Ababa.

Investigation

Ethiopian authorities announced they would investigate the crash with assistance from the U.S., Kenya, and others. Forensic experts from Israel also came to help with the investigation.

Members of the Red Cross could be seen sifting through debris, recovering passports, and other personal documents, among other things.

While the cause of the crash is still unknown, Ethiopian Airlines tweeted that the Digital Flight Data Recorder and Cockpit Voice Recorder (also known as the plane’s “black box”) had been recovered.


The black box records a number of inputs like the sounds in the cockpit. That also includes the pilot’s conversations. The recorders are specifically designed to aid investigations in aviation accidents, and the recovery of the black box is expected to provide more information about what caused the crash.

Boeing 737 MAX

If Boeing 737-MAX 8 sounds familiar, it’s because just 4 months ago another Boeing 737-MAX 8 plane known as Lion Air flight 610 crashed off the coast of Indonesia, killing 189 people.


The circumstances surrounding both flights are eerily similar.

The pilot of the Lion Air flight also reported issues within minutes of taking off from Tangerang airport in Jakarta. The pilot also asked air traffic control if they could return to the airport, right before the flight went off the radar.

It was believed the flight crashed within 12 minutes of taking off.

Boeing’s latest iteration of the 737 is the world’s bestselling airliner. More than 300 Boeing 737-MAX planes are currently in operation, and since 2017, more than 5,000 have been ordered worldwide.

That means that Boeing has 4,700 unfilled orders for 737s, which represents 80% of Boeing’s orders backlog. Essentially all 737 orders are for MAX versions.

Boeing released a statement following the crash, saying: “Boeing is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the passengers and crew on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, a 737 MAX 8 airplane.”

Boeing also stated that they would send a technical team to the crash site to “provide technical assistance under the direction of the Ethiopia Accident Investigation Bureau and U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.”

However, Boeing has also said that it does not have new plans for guidance. Charlie Miller, Boeing’s vice president of communications, said in a statement: “The investigation is in its early stages, but at this point, based on the information available, we do not have any basis to issue new guidance to operators.”

Unsurprisingly, Boeing has taken massive heat for the crash. Boeing’s stock dropped more than 12% on Monday morning, though it seemed to rebound some later in the day.

However, according to CNN, the drop puts Boeing on track for its worst day since the first day of trading following the 9/11 terror attacks.

Grounded Flights

To make matters even worse for Boeing, numerous countries have responded to the crash by grounding their planes.

As of Monday morning, 22 airlines around the world have grounded their 737 MAX 8 planes.

Notably, the Indonesian Transport Ministry announced today that they will temporarily ground of all Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes operated by Indonesian carriers.

This is especially significant because Indonesia had previously grounded all MAX 8’s in the country following the Lion Air crash, but after inspections, the planes were declared safe to fly.

China also announced it would ground all its 737 MAX 8’s, a move that many consider a big deal because China is one of Boeings biggest markets. Nearly a dozen Chinese airlines have ordered 180 planes from Boeing, and only 76 of them have been delivered.

About 85% of Boeing’s Chinese airline orders that have not been filled yet are for 737 MAX planes. Additionally, Boeing has predicted that China will become the world’s first trillion-dollar market for jets within the next few years.

Ethiopian Airlines for its part took more drastic measures, announcing it will take all of its 737 MAX planes out of service entirely. This also has broader implications for the African continent because Ethiopian Airlines is widely considered the best-managed airline in Africa.

Furthermore, the state-owned airline has ambitions of becoming the gateway to the continent and has been expanding its routes and infrastructure significantly.

However, not everyone is grounding their planes. No U.S. airlines have grounded any of their 737 MAX jets. Together, American Airlines, Alaska Air, United Airlines, and Southwest Airlines own 65 737 MAX jets, which is only part of 548 jets they have ordered.

Even if they did ground those 65 jets, it would not significantly disrupt US airlines, because they have huge fleets of other planes.

Debate on Automation

Sunday’s crash has ignited the debate on automation and aviation.

The latest iteration of the 737 has been noted for its increased capabilities of flying autonomously, and while that might sound like it would increase safety, that is not always the case.

The Guardian’s, Gwyn Topham compares this to self-driving cars, writing: “It is notable that insurers considering driverless cars worry most about the period when highly autonomous vehicles will coexist with human drivers, the uncertain interface between human and artificial intelligence.”

A big part of the controversy around this comes from pilots around the world following the Lion Air crash. The pilots believed that small software modifications to the MAX 8’s autopilot had not been fully communicated to them, and they were not subject to new training to deal with that software.

Specifically, one new feature of the 737 MAX 8 is that the plane automatically corrects if it believes an angle it is flying at puts it at risk of stalling, a safety feature that as reportedly different from what 737 pilots were used to.

This feature, in particular, is a big deal because the black box from Lion Air flight 610 suggested the pilots of flight had been wrestling with this issue.

Boeing argued that if pilots followed procedures, there should not be a problem. However, past crashes have shown that the sensors which aircraft systems rely on can malfunction. They also show that many pilots who have become used to certain technology do not always know what to do when things go wrong.

Which begs the question of whether or not autonomous technology is worth the risk.

Ethiopian Airlines has said that the pilot of Flight 302 was extremely experienced, with 8,000 hours of flying time. However, aviation experts have criticized the lack of experience of his co-pilot, who only had 200 hours.

Whether or not this will hurt Boeing’s sales will remain to be seen. If anything, it seems like airlines that have requested 737 Max’s might not want those anymore. Since those compose over 80% of Boeing’s backlog, that could seriously harm the company.

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (CNN) (The Guardian)

International

Protests Erupt in India Over Proposed Citizenship Bill

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  • Protests broke out all over India after the lower house of Parliament passed a bill that would give citizenship to religious minorities who illegally immigrated to India from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.
  • Muslims are not included on that list, prompting many to worry that the bill would make it easier to jail and deport Muslims residents in India—including those whose families have lived in India for generations.
  • Critics say the bill violates India’s secular constitution, which protects all religions, and that it is a targeted attack on Muslims by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist party.

Protests in India

Protests erupted in India on Monday as the country’s lower house of Parliament debated and passed a controversial piece of legislation called the Citizenship Amendment Bill.

If implemented, the bill would grant citizenship to religious minorities who illegally immigrated to India from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. In order to become a citizen, those individuals would have to live in India for six years and take a test to prove that they belong to one of six religions. 

The religions that would be eligible for citizenship in India are Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, and Parsis. Notably, not included on that list are Muslims.

The bill would represent a huge shift for India, which is a secular country and has a constitution that mandates that all religions be treated equally.

As a result, many have described the bill as the most significant move to change the secular nature of the country since it gained independence in 1947.

The bill would also make it easier to jail and deport Muslims residents in India, including those whose families have lived there for generations, but who do not have proof of citizenship. That could leave millions of Muslims in India stateless.

The bill was first introduced back in 2016 and passed the lower house, but it was dropped by the upper chamber after massive protests against the bill.

Following the re-introduction of the bill, protestors have come out to oppose it, with reports of demonstrations and marches in multiple cities all over India.

In the state of Assam—where people strongly opposed the bill the first time it was proposed—protesters have reportedly blocked roads, burnt tires, and painted walls with slogans against the bill. Shops, businesses, and schools to close as a result.

Opponents of the Bill 

The protesters are not alone in their opposition to the citizenship bill.

Opponents and many legal experts say the legislation would violate India’s secular constitution. Opposition parties have also argued that it discriminates against Muslims, which make up nearly 15% of India’s population.

Many Muslims in India say this discrimination is a very intentional plan on the part of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to make Muslims second-class citizens in India.

Modi is a staunch Hindu nationalist, meaning that he believes India is and should be a Hindu nation.

Ever since he and the BJP were re-elected earlier this year, he has significantly ramped up his efforts to advance his Hindu-nationalist agenda.

One of the most prominent examples of this is the situation in Kashmir. Back in August, Modi stripped Kashmir of its statehood and autonomy.

The move very significantly gave India’s central government much more power over Kashmir, which had been one of the only Muslim-majority territories in India. Modi also sent tens of thousands of troops to the region, basically putting the territory on total lockdown.

That lockdown has largely remained in place since August, with widespread internet and phone restrictions remain in place to clamp down on protests. Shops, businesses, and schools in Kashmir have largely stayed closed.

Additionally, over the summer, Modi’s government started a program in Assam that was very similar to the one proposed in the Citizenship Amendment Bill. 

Under that program, all 33 million residents of the state had to provide documents to the government that proved their ancestors were Indian citizens.

The program ultimately resulted in nearly two million people—many of whom Muslims and lifelong residents of India—being left off the state’s citizenship rolls.

As a result, critics say the citizenship bill is just part of Modi’s efforts to identify and deport or even intern Muslims who have lived in India for years or generations.

Critics and opposition leaders have also tried to paint the bill as endangering democracy in India.

“We are heading toward totalitarianism, a fascist state,” said Asaduddin Owaisi, a Muslim Member of Parliament. “We are making India a theocratic country.”

Supporters of the Bill

Modi and his party have defended the citizenship bill, arguing that it is simply an attempt to protect persecuted religious minorities who migrate from predominantly Muslim countries like Pakistan or Afghanistan.

The bill’s supporters also argue that Muslims are not persecuted in Pakistan, Bangladesh or Afghanistan.

While that is true, critics argue that it is a justification that ignores Muslim prosecution in other countries that neighbor India.

“If [the] Indian government, through this bill, wants to give citizenship to persecuted minorities in the neighbouring countries, how can it exclude the Rohingya of Myanmar who are far more persecuted than any other group in the neighbourhood,” Faizan Mustafa, an expert on constitutional law told Al Jazeera.

Now, the legislation will head to Parliament’s upper chamber where, according to reports, Modi seems to have enough allies that most analysts and experts say the citizenship bill will soon become law.

See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (The New York Times) (BBC)

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New Zealand Volcano Eruption Leaves At Least Five Dead

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  • At least five people were killed and eight more are reported missing after a volcano erupted in New Zealand on Monday. 
  • It is believed 47 people were on White Island at the time of the eruption, including New Zealand natives and foreign tourists. Thirty-four people were rescued.
  • Further rescue operations are on hold because the physical environment has been deemed unsafe, but police have reported that there are “no signs of life” on the island. 
  • Alerts that detailed increased activity of the volcano were issued in the weeks prior to the eruption.

Deadly Eruption

Authorities have confirmed at least five people are dead and eight more are reported missing after a volcano erupted in New Zealand on Monday.

New Zealand police believe that 47 people were on White Island, also known as Whakaari, when it erupted just after 2 p.m. local time. Thirty-four people were rescued and taken to hospitals to have their injuries treated, including both tourists and New Zealand natives. 

Videos posted to social media show enormous plumes of smoke.

John Tims, the deputy police commissioner, announced that rescue operations are currently on hold because of the unsafe physical environment of the island and the risk of another eruption.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that official aircraft have flown over the island since the eruption and that “no signs of life have been seen at any point.” 

“Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island,” New Zealand police said in a statement.

Cruise Ship Identified

Royal Caribbean cruise line confirmed that some of the people on the island at the time the volcano erupted were passengers from one of their ships. 

A spokesperson from Royal Caribbean told the New York Times that the company is “working together with local authorities and providing all the help and care we can to our guests and their families, including offering medical resources and counseling.”

Previous Volcanic Activity Warning

GeoNet, an agency that monitors geological hazard information for New Zealand, has been reporting noticeable levels of volcanic activity on White Island since late September. They issued an alert as recently as Dec. 3. 

“Observations and data to date suggest that the volcano may be entering a period where eruptive activity is more likely than normal,” they said in the bulletin last week. “These eruptions can occur with little or no warning.”

GeoNet also wrote in last week’s alert that “the current level of activity does not pose a direct hazard to visitors.”

When New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was asked if people shouldn’t have been allowed on the island because of the heightened volcanic activity, she declined to give a concrete answer. 

“In this moment in time, the absolute focus needs to be the search and rescue operation…” she said. “…There will be a time and a place to undertake further assessments. Now we have to focus on allowing the police to do their job and focus on those who were in the vicinity of the island at the time.” 

New Zealand police have set up both local and international phone numbers that concerned friends and families can call. Red Cross has also set up a Family Links website to update loved ones of those affected by the eruption.  

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (Telegraph) (Guardian)


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Thousands Paralyze France in Pension Reform Protests

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  • Massive worker strikes and protests have shut down schools, transportation services, and museums in France.
  • Though largely peaceful, there have been reports of protesters throwing projectiles at police, smashing windows, and setting fires.
  • The strike, which is expected to last into the weekend, is in protest of planned pension reforms proposed by President Emmanuel Macron. 
  • Under Macron’s policy, many workers fear they would need to work longer before accessing a pension that would ultimately give them less money.

Strikes Shut Down Trains, Flights, and Schools

Hundreds of thousands of French workers went on strike across the country on Thursday in protest of a proposed new pension reform system.

Under the new system, many unions worry people will need to work longer to see less money than they would under the current system. 

As of midday, French officials are reporting that more than 280,000 people have joined protests across the country; however, that figure doesn’t include counts from major cities like Paris and Lyon.

The protests, which are expected to continue Friday and likely to extend into the weekend, have shut down train lines and canceled flights.  

According to reports, 90% of high-speed and inter-city trains have been canceled. In Paris, only five of 16 of the city’s metro lines ran Thursday. Further, the international train company Eurostar said it will be operating with a reduced timetable until Tuesday.

Air France has also canceled 30% of domestic flights and 10% of short-haul international flights, that coming amid mass walkouts by air traffic controllers.

If all of that wasn’t enough to cripple transportation, one group is reportedly drawing over the QR codes on e-scooters like Bird so that people can’t use them. 

Additionally, according to the education ministry, half of primary school teachers and 42% of secondary school teachers are on strike today. The end result led to some school closing for the day. 

Tourist sites like the Eiffel Tower and museums were also closed, but more notably, many feared hospital staffing shortages as many medical workers walked out to demonstrate. 

For their part, several trade union leaders have promised to continue to strike until Macron abandons his planned pension overhaul.

Reports of Violence

In Paris alone, 6,000 police have been deployed. Reports indicate that 71 people have been arrested in Paris by 3:30 p.m. local time.

With those arrests, there have also been several reports of clashing between police and protesters, with protesters hurling projectiles at police. Police in several cities have since responded with tear gas. 

Videos of protesters setting fires to object in the streets have also surfaced. 

Because the protest in Paris is so huge, the city’s police chief told all businesses and restaurants along the major march routes to close. Later within the day, new reports surfaced that some protesters had smashed in the windows of some businesses.

French President Emmanuel Macron, however, was described by one senior official as “calm and determined” in the face of the strikes —

Macron is “watchful that public order be respected, watchful as to the difficulties for French people, and watchful also that the right to strike is respected,” the aide said.

Why is France Considering Pension Reform?

Currently, France has 42 different pension systems across both the private and public sectors. That means that people retire at different times and will see different benefits. 

Under different forms of the system, for example, aircrews and rail workers get to retire earlier, but people like lawyers and doctors pay a lower tax.

The official age of retirement in France is 62, which is one of the earliest retirement ages in wealthy countries, but that hurdle has already been raised from 60 within the last decade. 

Macron, who campaigned on the promise of pension reform, now says he wants to introduce a universal, points-based pension system. While Macron says such a pension system would help the country compete globally in the 21st century, such a system would mean that some of the most advantageous pension plans would be scrapped. 

Secondly, if a person were to retire before 64, they would end up seeing a lower pension. For example, if they retire at 63, they would see about 5% less.

French people, however, have generally supported pension reform, with one poll showing 75% of people saying they believed pension reform was necessary. Of those polled, only one-third of people said they thought the government could pull off reform.

See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (The New York Times) (NPR)

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