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Ethiopia and Indonesia Crash Parallels Heap Pressure on Boeing

Investigators into the Boeing 737 MAX crash in Ethiopia have found striking similarities in a vital flight angle with an airplane that came down off Indonesia, a source said, piling pressure on the world’s biggest planemaker.

The Ethiopian Airlines disaster eight days ago killed 157 people, led to the grounding of Boeing’s marquee MAX fleet globally and sparked a high-stakes inquiry for the aviation industry.

Analysis of the cockpit recorder showed its “angle of attack” data was “very, very similar” to that of the Lion Air jet that went down off Jakarta in October, killing 189 people, a person familiar with the investigation said.

The angle of attack is a fundamental parameter of flight, measuring the degrees between the air flow and the wing. If it is too high, it can throw the plane into an aerodynamic stall.

“If that’s the case, that does raise the possibility that there is a similar occurrence between the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines accidents,” said Clint Balog, a Montana-based professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Even then, it was too early to draw firm conclusions, he added.

A flight deck computer’s response to an apparently faulty angle-of-attack sensor is at the heart of the ongoing probe into the Lion Air crash.

Ethiopia’s Transport Ministry, France’s BEA air accident authority and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have all pointed to similarities between the two disasters, but safety officials stress the investigation is at an early stage.

“Everything will be investigated,” Ethiopian Transport Ministry spokesman Musie Yehyies told Reuters.

Both planes were 737 MAX 8s and crashed minutes after takeoff with pilots reporting flight control problems.

Under scrutiny is a new automated system in the 737 MAX model that guides the nose lower to avoid stalling, while Boeing has raised questions in the Lion Air case about whether crew used the correct procedures.

Lawmakers and safety experts are asking how thoroughly regulators vetted the system and how well pilots around the world were trained for it when their airlines bought new planes.

Boeing Plans New Software

Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg, facing the biggest crisis of his tenure, said on Monday the company understands that “lives depend on the work we do.”

Muilenburg also said a software upgrade for its 737 MAX aircraft that the planemaker started in the aftermath of the Lion Air deadly plane crash was coming “soon.”

The fix was developed when regulators suggested false sensor data could cause a system known as MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) to overreact and make the jet hard to control.

Canada is re-examining the validation it gave Boeing’s 737 MAX jets, following reports of a U.S. probe into the aircraft’s certification by the FAA, Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau said on Monday.

Acting FAA Administrator Dan Elwell said on Wednesday in a call with reporters that he was “absolutely” confident in the certification of the Boeing 737 MAX 8. The FAA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Canada’s action.

The FAA finds itself in the hot seat, especially over its decision to certify the 737 MAX without demanding additional training. FAA and Boeing will face congressional questions about why the software upgrade took so long to complete and whether Boeing had too great a role in the certification process.

With the prestige of one of the United States’ biggest exporters at stake, Boeing has halted deliveries of its best-selling model that was intended to be the industry standard but is now under a shadow. Developed in response to the successful launch of the Airbus A320neo, some 370 MAX jets were in operation at the time of the Ethiopian crash, and nearly 5,000 more on order.

After a 10 percent drop last week that wiped nearly $25 billion off its market share, Boeing stock slid about 1.8 percent on Monday.

Weekend media reports intensified pressure on Boeing and its domestic U.S. regulator following a call last week by a U.S. flight attendants union for a “certification review.”

The Seattle Times said the company’s safety analysis of the MCAS system had crucial flaws, including understating power.

The Wall Street Journal reported that prosecutors and the U.S. Department of Transportation were scrutinizing the FAA’s approval of the MAX series, while a jury had issued a subpoena to at least one person involved in its development.

Boeing and the FAA declined to comment on that.

Last week, sources told Reuters that investigators found a piece of a stabilizer in the Ethiopian wreckage set in an unusual position similar to that of the Lion Air plane.

Future Orders at Stake

Ethiopia is leading the probe, although the black boxes were sent to France and U.S. experts are also participating.

Investigators were expected to select a handful of the roughly 1,800 parameters of flight data in their initial review, including those thrown up by the Lion Air investigation, before analyzing the rest in coming weeks and months.

Norwegian Airlines has already said it will seek compensation after grounding its MAX aircraft, and various companies are reconsidering orders.

Boeing’s main rival, Airbus, has seen its stock rise 5 percent since the crash, but cannot simply pick up the slack given the complicated logistics of plane-building.

For now, Boeing continues to build planes while keeping them parked.

Some airlines are revising financial forecasts, too, given the MAX had been factored in as providing around 15 percent maintenance and fuel savings.

WestJet Airlines Ltd. on Monday became the second Canadian carrier to suspend its 2019 financial projections, following Air Canada in light of the 737 MAX groundings.

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Paris Catches Asian Tigers in Most Expensive City Race

Paris and Hong Kong for the first time joined Singapore as the world’s most expensive cities to live in, a study revealed on Tuesday, with utilities and transport driving up the cost of living.

Zurich, Geneva and Japan’s Osaka trailed closely, with emerging market cities like Istanbul and Moscow plummeting down the ranking due to high inflation and currency depreciation, said the Economist Intelligence Unit’s bi-annual survey of 133 cities.

It was the first time in more than 30 years that three cities shared the top spot, a sign that pricey global cities are growing more alike, said the report’s author, Roxana Slavcheva.

“Converging costs in traditionally more expensive cities … is a testament to globalization and the similarity of tastes and shopping patterns,” she said in a statement.

“Even in locations where shopping for groceries may be relatively cheaper, utilities or transportation prices drive up overall cost of living,” she said.

Rising costs in cities are often driven by a vibrant job market attracting skilled workers with high wages, said Anthony Breach, an analyst with the British think tank Center for Cities — which was not involved in the study.

Urban planners need to plan ahead and build more housing to keep prices affordable and overall costs down, Breach told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

For the EIU survey researchers compared the cost of more than 150 items such as cars, food, rent, transport and clothing in 133 cities.

A woman’s haircut was about $15 in Bangalore, India, compared to $210 in New York, for example, while a bottle of beer was about half a dollar in Lagos, Nigeria, and more than $3 in Zurich.

British cities recovered a few positions a year after reaching the cheapest level in more than two decades due to Brexit uncertainty, with London ranking 22nd and Manchester 51st, up eight and five spots respectively.

Political turmoil in Venezuela plummeted Caracas to the bottom of the ranking, followed by Damascus, Syria, with Karachi, Pakistan, Buenos Aires, Argentina, and New Delhi also featuring among the 10 cheapest cities.

But a city’s drop in the index does not necessarily mean life automatically gets cheaper for people living there, as prices adjust to inflation often quicker than wages, said Gunes Cansiz of the World Resources Institute (WRI), a think tank.

“The cost of living in Istanbul, for example, might seem to have decreased, but since household expenses have increased, this has no positive reflection on the daily life of Istanbulites,” said Cansiz, director at WRI’s Turkey Sustainable Cities program.

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NATO to Receive First Northrop Surveillance Drone, Years Late

NATO is to receive the first of five Northrop Grumman high-altitude drones in the third quarter after years of delays, giving the alliance its own spy drones for the first time, the German government told lawmakers.

Thomas Silberhorn, state secretary in the German Defense Ministry, said the NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) drone would be delivered to an air base in Sigonella, Italy, followed by four additional systems, including drones and ground stations built by Airbus, later in the year.

NATO plans to use the aircraft, a derivative of Northrop’s Global Hawk drone, to carry out missions ranging from protection of ground troops to border control and counter-terrorism. The drones will be able to fly for up to 30 hours at a time in all weather, providing near real-time surveillance data.

Northrop first won the contract for the AGS system from NATO in May, 2012, with delivery of the first aircraft slated for 52 months later. However, technical issues and flight test delays have delayed the program, Silberhorn said.

Andrej Hunko, a member of the radical Left opposition party, called for Germany to scrap its participation in the program, warning of spiraling costs and the risk that it could escalate the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

“The drones are closely linked to a new form of warfare,” he said. “They stand for an arms race that will see existing surveillance and spy systems replaced with new platforms.”

Silberhorn, in a previously unreported response to a parliamentary query from Hunko, said NATO had capped the cost of the program at 1.3 billion euros ($1.47 billion) in 2007.

Germany, which is funding about a third of system, scrapped plans to buy its own Global Hawk drones amid spiraling costs and certification problems, and is now negotiating with Northrop to buy several of its newer model Triton surveillance drones.

Fifteen NATO countries, led by the United States, will pay for the AGS system, but all 29 alliance nations are due to participate in its long-term support.

Germany has sent 76 soldiers to Sigonella to operate the surveillance system and analyze its findings, Silberhorn said.

He said a total of 132 German soldiers would eventually be assigned to AGS, of whom 122 would be stationed in Sigonella.

NATO officials had no immediate comment on the program’s status or whether Northrop faced penalties for the delayed delivery.

No comment was available from Northrop.

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UK Prime Minister in Last-Minute Push to Win Brexit Support

British Prime Minister Theresa May was making a last-minute push Monday to win support for her European Union divorce deal, warning opponents that failure to approve it would mean a long — and possibly indefinite — delay to Brexit.

Parliament has rejected the agreement twice, but May aims to try a third time this week if she can persuade enough lawmakers to change their minds. Her aim is to have the deal agreed before EU leaders meet Thursday for a summit in Brussels.

 

May’s goal is to win over Northern Ireland’s small, power-brokering Democratic Unionist Party. The DUP’s 10 lawmakers prop up May’s Conservative government, and their support could influence pro-Brexit Conservatives to drop their opposition to the deal.

 

Still, May faces a struggle to reverse the huge margins of defeat for the agreement in Parliament. It was rejected by 230 votes in January and by 149 votes last week.

 

Influential Conservative Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg said he would wait to see what the DUP decided before making up his mind on whether to support May’s deal.

 

“No deal is better than a bad deal, but a bad deal is better than remaining in the European Union,” he told LBC radio.

 

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Monday he saw “cautious signs of encouragement” that the deal might make it through Parliament this week.

 

After months of political deadlock, British lawmakers voted last week to seek to postpone Brexit. That will likely avert a chaotic British withdrawal on the scheduled exit date of March 29 — although the power to approve or reject a Brexit extension lies with the EU, whose leaders are fed up with British prevarication.

 

May is likely to ask for an extension at the Brussels summit, and EU leaders say they will only grant it if Britain has a solid plan for what to do with the extra time.

 

“We have to know what the British want: How long, what is the reason supposed to be, how it should go, what is actually the aim of the extension?” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters in Brussels. “The longer it is delayed, the more difficult it will certainly be.”

 

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders agreed, saying: “We are not against an extension in Belgium, but the problem is — to do what?”

 

Opposition to May’s deal centers on a measure designed to ensure there is no hard border between the U.K.’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland after Brexit.

 

The mechanism, known as the backstop, is a safeguard that would keep the U.K. in a customs union with the EU until a permanent new trading relationship is in place. Brexit supporters in Britain fear the backstop could be used to bind the country to EU regulations indefinitely, and the DUP fears it could lead to a weakening of the bonds between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.

 

Talks between the government and the DUP are aimed at reassuring the party that Britain could not be trapped in the backstop indefinitely.

 

May has said that if her deal is approved by Parliament this week, she will ask the EU to delay Brexit until June 30 so that Parliament has time to approve the necessary legislation. If it isn’t, she will have to seek a longer extension that could mean Britain participating in May 23-26 elections for the European Parliament.

 

May said in an article for the Sunday Telegraph that failure to approve the deal meant “we will not leave the EU for many months, if ever.”

 

“The idea of the British people going to the polls to elect MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) three years after voting to leave the EU hardly bears thinking about,” she wrote.

 

But May suffered a setback Monday when former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson refused to support her deal.

 

Johnson, a staunch Brexiteer, used his column in the Daily Telegraph to argue that the backstop left the U.K. vulnerable to “an indefinite means of blackmail” by Brussels.

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EU May Push China to Open Economy at April Summit

The European Union will seek Beijing’s agreement for deadlines to open up China’s economy at an April 9 summit in Brussels, according to a draft leaders’ statement, trying to coax it into making good on promises to deepen trade ties.

China and the EU will “agree by summer 2019 on a set of priority market access barriers and requirements facing their operators,” according to a six-page joint communique drafted by the EU, which still requires Chinese approval.

The statement, seen by Reuters, said the two trading blocs would set “deadlines for their swift removal by the next EU-China summit 2020 at the latest.”

The statement, which is likely to change, also sets 2020 as the goal for a special treaty to increase investment flows that has been under negotiation for almost a decade.

The communique reflects European frustration over China’s reluctance to allow foreign companies to set up without restrictions while taking full advantage of the EU’s openness, EU diplomats say.

A surge of Chinese takeovers in critical sectors in Europe and an impression in Brussels that Beijing has not kept its promise to stand up for free trade and globalization have given the April meeting new urgency.

Despite an agenda dominated by Britain’s imminent departure from the EU, leaders will use a March 21 summit to discuss China policy, a first for many years.

It is part of a flurry of high-level meetings before President Xi Jinping travels to Italy and France from this week and the bloc holds a summit with China on April 9.

The joint draft statement is set to be formally released at the summit between Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk.

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France Starts New Chapter in National Debate Aimed to End Yellow-Vest Crisis

After wrapping up thousands of town hall meetings, France starts a new chapter of its “great debate,” aimed to address longstanding public grievances and offer solutions to the yellow vest protest movement.

But the broader crisis lingers, seen with upsurge of violence in Paris Saturday, where about 10,000 yellow vests marked their 18th straight week of protests.

Demonstrators smashed and looted businesses on the iconic Champs Elysees and hurled cobble stones at police, who responded with tear gas and water cannons. Others participated in a peaceful climate march that brought together tens of thousand of people—underscoring the diffuse, unorganized complexity of the leaderless protest movement.

Eight weeks of citizen debates, launched in January by an embattled President Emmanuel Macron, have received mixed reviews. Some consider them a groundbreaking experiment in participative democracy. Others dismiss them as a public relations stunt.

The bigger question is whether and how Macron’s centrist government plans to transform the public feedback into tangible policy change that can address pent-up resentments and find an exit to the unrest.

“The problems start now” said analyst Jean Petaux of Sciences-Po Bordeaux University. “To totally finish with the yellow vests, the government has to address at least part of their demands, which are very disparate. And give the sense it is offering credible solutions.”

For Macron, the immediate takeaways have been largely positive. Up to half-a-million French participated in 10,000 town-hall-style meetings nationwide that tackled pre-set topics, ranging from taxes and pubic services, to democracy and the environment. Organizers also received more than 1.4 million online comments outlining other issues of public concern, including jobs and immigration.

“People are learning that politics and how to change a system is a very difficult process,” said Bernard Reber, an expert on participative citizenship at the Paris-based National Center for Scientific Research, citing one early achievement.

A mixed review

The debates have also given the president and his government some breathing room — time that will last through the current “phase two,” which ends in April. Citizens are being randomly selected to participate in regional meetings aimed to prioritize the myriad demands.

Surveys show the majority of French have broadly given the national debates a thumbs up. More than eight in 10 respondents said the meetings gave citizens an opportunity to express themselves, while smaller majorities said they addressed their personal problems and those aired by the yellow vests, according to a Harris Interactive-Agence Epoka poll published this week, echoing others.

But many appear skeptical that all the talking will amount to much. Another survey found roughly two-thirds doubt the government will ultimately take the public feedback into account.

France’s leading Le Monde newspaper, however, gave the effort a careful, initial thumbs up. Critics who dismissed the debates as a diversion “were misguided,” it wrote in an editorial, while the yellow vests “were eclipsed and marginalize by this exercise in democracy.”

“Macron has not yet won,” it added, “he needs to show he hasn’t just listened but heard the country.”

Government members insist that will happen.

“The idea we have to do things differently is obvious,” Territorial Collectives Minister Sebastien Lecornu, who helped to organizing the debates, told the weekly Le Journal du Dimanche. “We may beef up certain themes, accelerate or correct others.”

But Prime Minister Edouard Philippe offered a more cautionary note, those expecting a flurry of government measures emerging from the debates were misguided.

The months of yellow vest protests have slowed Macron’s reformist agenda. The protest movement, named after the fluorescent jackets French keep in their cars, has morphed well beyond its initial opposition to a planned fuel tax hike, to embrace a hodgepodge of grievances of a largely rural and working class France left behind.

The French president took an initial step back by repealing the fuel tax increase. Then in December, he went further, announcing billions of dollars of aid for the most vulnerable and laying out plans the debates. Yellow vests dismissed the announcements as insufficient, the most extreme calling for Macron’s resignation.

“Emmanuel Macron now has to show that his statements — that there is a before and and after the yellow vests — are translated into acts,” says analyst Petaux. “Otherwise, it’s just talk.”

The next step?

So far, there are at least stylistic changes. Often dismissed as arrogant and aloof, Macron has rolled up his sleeves — literally — and participated in roughly a dozen public debates, in a style reminiscent of his presidential campaign.

Political opponents grumble the French leader has hogged media coverage ahead of May European Parliament elections. And indeed, polls show Macron’s approval rating jumped eight points by early March, to reach 28 percent, and his Republic on the March party inching up to overtake the far-right opposition National Rally.

Still, some observers note the debates ultimately involved only a small slice of the population — including many elderly, with time on their hands. “The great majority of French stayed home,” said analyst Petaux. “It’s not that they were sidelined. It’s that they don’t care. They have other things to do.”

But analyst Reber, who attended roughly 30 of the town hall meetings, believes the debates should not be underestimated. “They’ve been unprecedented in every sense,” he said.

A few months ago, he said, many would have dismissed the idea that French would show up and hash out often deeply divisive issues. “But that’s not been the case,” Reber added. “People mobilized — and stayed for a long time. I don’t know many countries in the world that allow citizens to participate in hours-long debates.”

Macron is expected to announce the after-debate roadmap next month. So far, the French president has given little indication of his long-term exit strategy. Some believe he doesn’t yet have one.

 “I’m not sure the government has a clear idea of what it’s going to do with this mass of information” Reber said. “But it has all kinds of options.

A referendum may be the most obvious path, many analysts say. But it carries risks — not only in terms timing, notably whether to schedule such a vote during May European Parliament elections — but also the chance French may vote against it.

The next steps for the yellow vests are also unclear. A number of analysts believe the movement will slowly die out.

Some diehards will likely continue and harden the protests, Petaux believes, while another group will be absorbed into existing politics parties — mostly on the far right and far left.

A third “will relive the nostalgia of the Republic of roundabouts,” he said, remembering the solidarity and friendships struck during the protests.

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UK Leader to Lawmakers: Back my Deal or Face Lengthy Delay

British Prime Minister Theresa May warned Sunday that it would be “a potent symbol of Parliament’s collective political failure” if a Brexit delay meant that the U.K. has to take part in May’s European elections — almost three years after Britons voted to leave the bloc.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, May also cautioned that if lawmakers failed to back her deal before Thursday’s European Council summit, “we will not leave the EU for many months, if ever.”

 

“If the proposal were to go back to square one and negotiate a new deal, that would mean a much longer extension… The idea of the British people going to the polls to elect MEPs [Members of the European Parliament] three years after voting to leave the EU hardly bears thinking about,” she wrote.

 

May is expected to try to win Parliament’s approval of her withdrawal agreement for the third time this week. After months of political deadlock, lawmakers voted on Thursday to seek to postpone Brexit.

 

That will likely avert a chaotic withdrawal on the scheduled exit date of March 29 — though power to approve or reject an extension lies with the EU. The European Commission has said the bloc would consider any request, “taking into account the reasons for and duration of a possible extension.”

 

By law, Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, with or without a deal, unless it cancels Brexit or secures a delay.

 

May is trying to persuade opponents in her Conservative Party and its parliamentary allies to support the withdrawal agreement, which Parliament has already resoundingly defeated twice.

 

Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Sunday his party is against May’s deal — but indicated that it would back an amendment that supports the deal on condition it is put to a new referendum.

 

Corbyn has written to lawmakers across the political spectrum inviting them for talks to find a cross-party compromise.

 

He also told Sky News that he may propose another no-confidence vote in the government if May’s deal is voted down again.

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Brazil Reportedly Weighing Import Quota for US Wheat

Brazil is considering granting an import quota of 750,000 metric tons of U.S. wheat per year without tariffs in exchange for other trade concessions, according to a Brazilian official with knowledge of the negotiations ahead of President Jair Bolsonaro’s visit to Washington. 

That is about 10 percent of Brazilian annual wheat imports and is part of a two-decade-old commitment to import 750,000 metric tons of wheat a year free of tariffs that Brazil made — but never kept — during the World Trade Organization’s Uruguay Round of talks on agriculture. 

Bolsonaro is scheduled to arrive in Washington on Sunday and meet with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House on Tuesday.

Farm state senators have asked that wheat sales be on the agenda, in a letter to Trump seen by Reuters. They estimate such a quota would increase U.S. wheat sales by between $75 million and $120 million a year. 

Brazil buys most of its imported wheat from Argentina, and some from Uruguay and Paraguay, without paying tariffs because they are all members of the Mercosur South American customs union. Imports from other countries pay a 10 percent tariff. 

The Brazilian official, who asked not to be named so he could speak freely, said the wheat quota could be sealed during a meeting between Brazil’s Agriculture Minister Teresa Cristina Dias and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on Tuesday. 

In return, the Brazilian government is hoping to see movement toward the reopening of the U.S. market to fresh beef imports from Brazil that was shut down after a meatpacking industry scandal involving bribed inspectors. 

Brazil is also seeking U.S. market access for its exports of limes that are facing phytosanitary certification hurdles. 

The world’s largest sugar producer also wants tariff-free access to the U.S. market. But Washington is not expected to budge on that issue until Brazil lifts a tariff it slapped on ethanol imports when they exceed 150 million liters in a quarter. 

That is a major demand by U.S. biofuels producers, who are the main suppliers of ethanol imported by Brazil. 

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