Monday. 11/5/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Venetia Rainey

In it for the long haul

The bad headlines about aviation are coming thick and fast, almost seeming to scream at you from the computer screen: Lufthansa is losing €1m an hour and needs a bailout; Boeing’s bottom line is reeling from coronavirus and the 737Max groundings; Air France-KLM warns that a rebound will take years; plane-makers delay deliveries as the crisis hits manufacturing; Emirates Airlines’ president Tim Clark says that coronavirus is a black-swan event for the aviation industry.

But is this really the end of global air travel? In the long-term, will we genuinely be content to replace that important client meeting or family reunion with a video call? Will the middle seat forever disappear – and with it those wonderful chance encounters with a friendly stranger bound for the same destination? Sure, the industry is certainly going to change in the next few years: expect fewer flights, smaller planes and a lot of very visible sanitising measures. And not every company will make it through, with low-cost carriers likely to be worst affected. But this is also an opportunity for carriers to rethink and improve their offering.

As we argue in our forthcoming June issue, we will still fly and we will still pack onto planes to do it. Our work, our wellbeing and our understanding of the world depends on it. “The coronavirus situation is making it clear that aviation brings a lot of social and economic benefits,” Topi Manner, CEO of Finland’s national carrier, Finnair, told Monocle’s transport correspondent, Gabriel Leigh. “The need to travel and to connect is such a fundamental part of how we live in the modern world. I think we are all feeling that now, both at a personal and a professional level.” Hear, hear.

Politics / UK

Timing the exit

The UK has followed other countries in announcing the easing of lockdown restrictions – a mild one at least. Boris Johnson detailed a five-stage alert system yesterday to go with a new publicity campaign that calls on people to “stay alert” rather than “stay at home”. Aside from criticism that the messaging is rather vague, it’s clear that the UK’s progress remains slower than many other countries. Unlike many of his European counterparts, Johnson has yet to provide a clear timeline for when key elements of the lockdown – the reopening of non-essential shops or restaurants, for example – will be relaxed. While it’s true that such timelines might have to be adjusted as countries deal with possible resurgences of the pandemic, they can also offer some hope to an anxious public that an end is in sight. Yesterday marked the first step but Johnson should consider revealing more specifics to the public as he communicates the UK’s exit strategy going forward.

Urbanism / Toronto

Dead letter

Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs has abandoned its plans to develop a “smart city” (pictured) on 12 acres of Toronto waterfront. The Silicon Valley company blamed its retreat on economic uncertainty posed by coronavirus. But it’s also a convenient excuse to ditch a project that, despite ambitious elements such as heated pavements and robotic rubbish collection, has increasingly been defined by public-relations blunders and grassroots pushback. “One of the first critiques was privacy: the idea of embedding data-collecting sensors in physical infrastructure was something that concerned people,” says Dr Natasha Tusikov, a professor at York University and an expert on data governance. “But this has been a troubled project by pretty much any measure you look at it, [including] public accountability and transparency.” With many cities considering the use of trackers to help deal with coronavirus, Sidewalk Labs’ fate should remind officials to be conscious of who they serve. Technological innovations aren’t a goal in themselves; they must have a clear public interest.

Transport / China & Sweden

Car for the course

While many cities are busy planning a future with more pedestrian areas and cycling lanes, the reality is that cars will remain an important mode of transportation. So it might be surprising to hear an automotive CEO say that they hope to sell fewer cars in future. “If we have fewer cars on the road but utilise them better, then we have achieved our goal,” says Alain Visser, CEO of Gothenburg-based Lynk & Co, which is part of the Chinese-owned Zhejiang Geely Holding Group. The firm launched its newest model, 05, to Chinese consumers last week. Visser, a 30-year industry veteran, believes that car-makers have as big a role as anyone in finding mobility solutions for our cities’ future. And he remains convinced that sharing platforms, like the one that Lynk will release later this year, are the way forward. “Our target is not going to be the number of sales in a month,” he says. “It’s going to be the number of members.”

Sport / France

Foals rush in

And they’re off! In France at least, as horse racing recommences at the Paris Longchamp racecourse today. While the French fondness for horses is sometimes associated with its cuisine, racing is big business. And while other sports have been banned until September, horse racing falls under the remit of the agricultural ministry – and got the go-ahead last week. As will by now be familiar to sports fans, the meeting is set to take place behind closed doors. But unlike, say, football – which depends mostly on broadcasting rights, merchandising and ticket sales – it’s the bookies that really shore up the racing industry. In France they’ve been dealt a serious blow: more than 1,000 employees at betting company Pari-Mutuel Urbain were furloughed at the end of March. As the world begins to look beyond the pandemic, the resumption of horse racing – with reasonable crowd restrictions – just might be the winning ticket.

M24 / The Big Interview

The Chiefs Edition: Vas Narasimhan

Monocle’s editor in chief, Tyler Brûlé, joins some of the world’s leading business figures to ask how we get to the other side of the crisis – and what that might look like. First up is Vas Narasimhan, CEO of Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis, who talks crisis management, the search for a vaccine and the importance of the spaces that we work in.

MONOCLE FILMS / Global

Off-the-grid fashion retail

We walk the extra mile to meet shopkeepers who’ve gone off the beaten track to give their customers a different experience.

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