Wednesday. 26/5/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Benjamin Rasmussen

Opinion / Gabriel Leigh

Sonic barrier

The news took just about everyone in the industry by surprise. On Friday, Nevada-based Aerion, which has been working on bringing a supersonic business jet to market for years, announced that it would be shutting down. Aerion had garnered more than €9bn worth of orders for its first aircraft as well as some heavyweight partners such as Boeing, and had been tipped by many as the favourite in the race to bring supersonic flight back to the skies – a race with several contenders.

Concorde was the last civilian supersonic aircraft to fly and in the 18 years since it was retired for good, the race to build a successor has often led to disappointment. The hurdles are admittedly enormous, with many major challenges on the road to achieving the necessary economics, safety and sustainability. But there are still apparently viable designs in advanced stages of development and, for now, they are still on. Denver-based Boom Supersonic (pictured), which is building a supersonic airliner aimed at commercial use, plans to fly its one-third-scale demonstrator aircraft by early next year. If what it says is true, then (relatively) affordable and sustainable travel at more than twice the speed of sound is indeed in our future – hopefully within a decade.

Much uncertainty, of course, remains. But it seems that there are people willing to take the financial and reputational risks to aim for the skies. Aerion blamed its shutdown on an inability to secure financing. But given the amount of R&D it has under its belt (the firm had already spent at least an estimated $1bn (€820m) developing the engine for its first plane, the AS2) it wouldn’t be a surprise to see another firm buying the design so that it lives on in some form. If anyone has a few billion more to spare and a strong appetite for risk, it could well be an idea that takes off.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / USA & Russia

Distant relations

The first summit between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin has been confirmed for 16 June in Geneva, which won out in the diplomatic hosting sweepstakes over other muted central European capitals including Prague and Vienna. The choice carries some notable symbolism: the last Geneva-based summit between these nations, in 1985, was the first meeting between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev (pictured). That engagement came at a nadir of relations – the first US-USSR summit in six years – and is remembered as a breakthrough moment in large part because Reagan and Gorbachev developed a warm, frank but effective personal relationship. The new Geneva summit comes at another low in US-Russia ties but, unlike the 1985 meeting, Biden and Putin have met many times before and have a good sense of each other’s character. That makes it harder for Geneva to work its diplomatic magic – but a frank exchange between these two leaders is assured nonetheless.

For more on the US-Russia summit and choice of Geneva, tune in to today’s edition of Monocle 24’s ‘The Globalist’.

Image: Getty Images

Geopolitics / EU

Ill disposed

The European Commission takes its long-running dispute with Astrazeneca to a Belgian court today, demanding that the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company delivers more coronavirus vaccines. The EU has received just 10 per cent of the 300 million doses that it ordered for the first quarter of 2021. Astrazeneca has blamed production issues for the slow delivery, while pointing out that it is contractually obliged to first deliver doses to the UK.

Brussels might find it hard to prove the urgency of its case as, after a rocky start to its vaccine drive, the EU has now secured more than 2.5 billion doses from several manufacturers and deaths and hospitalisations have dropped dramatically. Brussels also declined a contractual option for 100 million additional shots from Astrazeneca, ordering an extra 1.8 billion doses from Pfizer and Biontech instead. Whether or not Astrazeneca is forced to speed up its delivery – or pay damages in another legal case – expect both sides to go their separate ways in future.

Image: Getty Images

Urbanism / Barcelona

Starting line

Following 20 years of debate, Catalonia’s regional government has finally signed off on a new tramway for Barcelona. Running along Avinguda Diagonal, one of the city’s largest and busiest thoroughfares, it will be a cross-city service that provides a link to Trambaix (pictured) and Trambesòs, the previously unconnected modern light rail networks. Construction on the project, which has a designated budget of €37.6m, is expected to begin before the end of the year. Hailed as an important improvement for ease of travel in the city, the new line is expected to bring environmental benefits too by carrying about 230,000 passengers a day on a journey that was previously difficult on public transport. “It’s a great step forward in the commitment to public transport,” said Damià Calvet, Catalonia’s minister of territory and sustainability when she announced the deal. “The tram is an essential accomplice in the fight against climate change.”

Image: Yupanakorn Boonprem/Netflix 2021

Culture / Thailand

Reversal of fortune

Southeast Asian TV viewers seeking relief from a new round of lockdowns have been turning to Thailand. The country’s Girl from Nowhere has become a hit on streaming services everywhere from Singapore to the Philippines and Vietnam. In every episode, super-powered lead character Nanno, played by former popstar Kitty Chicha (pictured), arrives at a new school as a transfer student and her actions lead to teenage bad guys and girls getting their comeuppance. The wrong ’uns tend to be the popular and privileged who have used their wealth and status to evade justice. Plots are based on real-life events, giving the on-screen retribution added punch. Season one of the Thai-language drama premiered on teen channel GMM25 in 2018 before Netflix began airing the programme globally; the second season was released earlier this month. With coups and corruption plaguing Southeast Asia, fans of Nanno might be hoping that she graduates from school and goes into politics.

Image: Sangtae Kim

M24 / Monocle on Culture

The art world’s grand reopening

Galleries and museums have reopened their doors in the UK and France, and Art Basel Hong Kong has returned as a physical event. To celebrate, we speak to gallerists and artists about some exciting new exhibitions happening in London, New York and Hong Kong.

Monocle Films / Belgrade

Let the games begin

Serbia’s recovery from the disasters of nationalism has been slow but sporting success offers a new vision of what it means to be a Serb. Monocle films travels to Belgrade to meet the future stars of tennis and football.

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