Safety experts worry about dormant planes, rusty pilots returning to skies – National & International News – TUE 15Dec2020

Regulators, insurers and transport experts are raising safety alarms about post-pandemic travel.

Experts worry about dormant planes, rusty pilots returning to skies. Congress debates dueling COVID relief packages. And… were your cotton undies made using Chinese Uighur slave labor?

That and more below.


Safety concerns over dormant planes, rusty pilots returning to skies after COVID downturn

If you’re planning a flight as soon as the lockdowns are over, you may want to think twice. International regulators and insurers have raised safety concerns over planes that have been sitting disused for months, and may not have been properly maintained. In some cases, insects nesting in dormant planes may have even blocked key sensors. For example, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency has seen an “alarming” number of reports of unreliable airspeed and altitude readings after a plane first leaves storage. This could, in part, be due to insects nesting in long-dormant planes blocking the sensors.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is also concerned about a sharp rise in the number of poorly handled landing approaches this year. This could lead to hard landings, runway overruns, or even crashes. The IATA has warned that long-furloughed commercial pilots may find their skills a bit rusty after returning to work. As Greg Waldron of aviation magazine FlightGlobal put it, flying a plane “is not like riding a bike”. Insurers are now questioning airlines about whether they are conducting extra training to make sure that their pilots’ skills are up to snuff before returning to work.

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Congress debates dueling COVID relief packages

Congressional leaders in both parties remain optimistic that a COVID relief deal will be struck before yet another self-imposed deadline on Friday. Lawmakers are hoping to attach it to the federal budget bill, which must be passed on Friday to avert a government shutdown. However, Republicans’ insistence on COVID liability protections for businesses and Democrats’ push for new state and local funding remain sticking points in the negotiation. Nevertheless, senior Republican Senator John Cornyn said he was hopeful that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may hammer out a deal as early as tomorrow.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers have floated two plans, which could be voted on separately. One bill includes fresh aid to small businesses, funding for vaccine distribution, and $300/week in additional unemployment benefits for 16 weeks. The other bill would include the two sticking points, namely the liability protections and $160 billion in funds for state and local governments. The two bills would at least break the all-or-nothing stalemate which has prevented Congress from issuing any new relief to Americans since April.

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China forces more than half a million Uighurs to pick cotton

New research shows that China’s forced labor scheme in Xinjiang Province is taking place on a much bigger scale than previously thought. Xinjiang is home to much of China’s Uighur Muslim minority. In recent years, human rights advocates and some world governments (notably the US) have been calling attention to widespread forced labor and other human rights abuses perpetrated by Chinese authorities in the province. It has previously reported (although China denies it) that millions of Uighurs as well as Buddhist dissidents in Tibet have been forced into “re-education camps”. More recently, it has come to light that manufacturers in Xinjiang, who supply goods for some of the world’s top companies, have been exploiting forced Uighur labor. The US Congress is currently debating action on this, such as a total ban on goods from the province. They are meeting heavy resistance from the likes of Nike and Apple.

Now, a new report indicates that as many as 570,000 Uighurs are being forced to pick cotton in Xinjiang. The province supplies about one fifth of the world’s cotton, and is one of the biggest suppliers to the global fashion industry. While much of the cotton-picking in the province is mechanized, many farms still depend on manual labor.

An open secret

A paramilitary arm of the Chinese government oversees production in much of the province. Under this scheme, workers are often forced to move far away from their homes to live in factories and plantations, while undergoing ideological training. The labor scheme is not a secret in China. Rather state media advertises it as a “poverty relief” program. State media is full of reports of the government’s success in “gradually overcoming the disadvantages of the lack of land, deep-rooted thoughts of being lazy, insufficient inner motivation, and low awareness of going out to work”. One report describes the scene as an effort to “get rid of the old-fashioned, blocked, and lazy thoughts of peasants and herdsmen”.

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Nigeria: Boko Haram claims to have kidnapped hundreds of boys

Friday night, a large group of gunmen with AK-47s attacked the all-boys Government Science secondary school in the northwestern Nigerian state of Katsina. The gunmen then marched about 300 minor male students into the surrounding forests.

The Islamic group Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is evil”, has claimed responsibility for the kidnappings. Boko Haram was responsible for the abduction of 276 school girls in 2014. About 100 of these girls are still missing.

However, the Nigerian government is doubtful as to whether the attack last Friday was the work of Boko Haram. They claim that the statement from the Islamic group was too vague about the details of the attack. Witnesses say a troop of bandits were responsible. The bandits may be holding the boys for ransom. Government troops have surrounded an encampment of these bandits where they believe the children are being held hostage.

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