United Emirates


I know I have said this before but the UAE’s aviation sector could be so much stronger if the major airlines combined and operated from a single hub airport.

Not everyone will agree. And it may never happen. But imagine the possibilities.

DXB has no room for further expansion and will reach its capacity of around 90 million passengers within likely the next twelve to eighteen months.

DWC is being expanded to a capacity of 25million by 2018 but with no contact gates. Emirates would only move there when the main midfield terminals are complete for a capacity of 130 million.

AUH is completing its midfield terminal due to open in 2017 which will increase the airport’s passenger capacity to more than 30 million per year. There is an option to double this in the future to 60 million with further expansion.

But funding for these projects is critical. At the same time both major airlines are under increasing competitive pressure and yields and profits are falling.

But why not simply focus growth and financing on one major airport serving both Abu Dhabi and Dubai linked by high speed rail and outstanding road connections.

Develop DWC into a world class, world leading airport. Home to a single, powerful UAE national airline.

Emirates and Etihad would combine into a single long haul carrier removing the existing yield damaging route conflicts that exist today.

flyDubai would serve as the regional low cost carrier for Dubai and Abu Dhabi, maybe under the same brand as the combined long-haul carrier – with Air Arabia remaining in Sharjah to support the more northerly Emirates.

The opportunity exists to build an infrastructure that supports the growth of both cities and that cements the UAE as a global aviation hub.

Money saved from not building and maintaining competing airports can be invested into solar power, se-salination, metro and national rail connections.

Major airlines around the world would fear the strength of a united UAE aviation strategy and airline. Singapore is constantly investing in its hub where a fourth terminal opens shortly and Doha has already opened its sparkling new airport with more than enough room to expand.

This may be time for Abu Dhabi and Dubai to move from friendly rivals to staunch and powerful partners.

 

The Economist reflects on the Obama presidency


Barack Obama’s presidency lurched between idealism and acrimony but some of his accomplishments will endure, writes The Economist in an article looking at the legacy of his eight year Presidency. The article follows.

1 “A skinny kid with a funny name”

Watch it again. He is unusually stilted at the beginning, as you might expect of a debutant on the autocue and the national stage. But soon he finds his rhythm, those crescendos alternating with electric pauses, ecclesiastical notes chiming with his scholarly charisma in a musical voice. Grippingly, he recounts the story of his life, in his telling a parable of unity in diversity—a moral he was still pushing 12 hard, disillusioning years later. “We are Americans first,” he urged in the Rose Garden on the day after Donald Trump was elected.

In fact, by the standards Barack Obama subsequently set—in a presidency defined by its speeches, and perhaps to be best remembered for them—his turn at the Democratic convention in 2004 was mundane. But his ascent will still be dated from the moment he loped onto that stage in Boston, with the rangy gait that became as familiar as his smile: an unknown politician from Illinois, soon to be the country’s only African-American senator, before, in short order, becoming its first black president. The paean he offered to America, a country that had embraced him as “a skinny kid with a funny name”, was also a kind of dare; the self-deprecation camouflaged a boast, since many in his audience saw the obstacles he faced as clearly as he did. “I’m the African-American son of a single mother,” Mr Obama reportedly told Binyamin Netanyahu when, years later, Israel’s prime minister lectured him on the world’s hazards, “and I live here, in this house. I live in the White House.”

His presidency will be counted in speeches because its trials proved harder to overcome than the barriers he scaled to attain it. Often he spoke as no other president could, becoming, through his identity and eloquence, a receptacle for the hopes of Americans and of—and for—the world. Think of his speech in Berlin in 2008, when he extolled multilateralism and the rule of law, or his now-defunct conciliation in Cairo the following year. Think of his eulogy after the Charleston killings. Yet posterity might score him higher on a broader metric had he been as effective in the more intimate persuasions of Congress, as consistent in projecting empathy as at exhortation, or more resolute abroad; had he been as adept at championing legislation or facing down tyrants as he could be at stirring hearts.

He proposed bold reforms, but some were never enacted, while others seem set to be undone; his flickering diplomatic bravery was offset by a sort of rash timidity. He was an incarnation of racial healing, yet at the end of his tenure the civil-rights triumphs of the 1960s seem more remote, to some African-Americans, than the civil war of the 1860s. Preternaturally though typically calm (too calm, for some tastes), the ratiocination almost visible in his composed features, he was obliged to welcome into the Oval Office a successor who, by spearheading the “birther” movement, had contested his right to occupy it. His critics called his an imperial presidency, and he did indeed govern more by executive authority than he would have liked and than others have before. But in truth his presidency demonstrated the erosion of that office’s power, and maybe of the power of America itself.

2 “Inaction tears at our conscience”

Barry Obama, as he was then known, practised relentlessly on the outdoor basketball courts at Punahou, the idyllic private school he attended in Honolulu. “He loved the game of basketball as much as any player I’ve ever had,” says Chris McLachlin, his coach. He made the all-conquering team less than he hoped, but when he played, says Alan Lum, a team-mate and now a teacher at the school, he was “a fighter”. Arne Duncan, his longtime education secretary and a regular in White House games, agrees. “He plays to win,” Mr Duncan says. “He might have a nice smile, but he’s a killer at heart.” The court is “one of the few places he could be Barack Obama, and not be the president.”

The escapism of basketball, and the tenacity he brought to it, are not the only continuity between his presidency and his old Honolulu neighbourhood, where the modest apartment he shared with grandparents, his school, the Baskin Robbins in which he once worked and the hospital of his birth are bounded by a few blocks, but the views sweep out over the city below and the mountains beyond. His Kenyan father’s absconsion, and the extended absences of his adored Kansan mother, left him prematurely self-reliant. He developed, says Maya Soetoro-Ng, his half-sister, “an air of independence which is misinterpreted as aloofness,” a strength and liability which was another of the traits that he carried on to the mainland and into office. As one former White House official observes, he “doesn’t need or show a lot of love”.

As unlikely an origin as any modern president’s, this was an upbringing at once blissful and claustrophobic, privileged and marginalised. It was worldly in its Asian components yet sheltered from the harshest aspects of America, including, for the most part, its racism—even if, in Mr Obama’s recollections, Hawaii’s live-and-let-live multiculturalism was less accommodating of his blackness than his peers assumed. As with many driven outsiders, this alienation supercharged his ambitions. His background also shaped the internationalist world view that guided him after those ambitions were realised.

By virtue of his age, Mr Obama was less influenced by the second world war and the cold war, and less devoted to the alliances they nurtured, than were his immediate predecessors. His sense of the wideness of the world was extended by a childhood spell in Indonesia. Both time and place, then, made him a man of the Pacific. That orientation was manifest, in office, in the pivot towards Asia that he hoped would be a centrepiece of his foreign policy—though he failed to deliver its central element, America’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. An ingrained sympathy for imperilled, maritime places was manifest in his concern for climate change—though the international deal on carbon emissions that he finalised in Paris is in jeopardy too.

Any president elected in 2008 would have been subject to certain inexorable forces: a shift in global heft to China; a popular demand for retrenchment after George W. Bush’s adventurism. But, more than others, Mr Obama looked aslant at American power, seeing a need, as he put it in his first inaugural address, “for the tempering qualities of humility and restraint”. “If you are willing to unclench your fist,” he told America’s foes, “we will extend a hand.” And he did. He shook Raúl Castro’s hand at Nelson Mandela’s funeral, and restored relations with Cuba. He patiently negotiated sanctions on Iran, then courageously closed a deal to constrain its nuclear programme—a pact that could, at a minimum, delay a military confrontation and may stand as his biggest achievement. These moves helped to revive the world’s opinion of America, which the Pew Research Centre’s surveys suggest is warmer in many countries than when Mr Obama came in.

What is it good for?

What will survive of him otherwise, though, are the wars that he reluctantly fought, and the wars that he declined to. He was awarded the Nobel peace prize in the first year of his administration; in his second inaugural address he declared to applause that “A decade of war is now ending.” But on his watch his country has fought ceaselessly.

The great unknown unknown of his presidency was the Arab Spring, which helped ensure that the wars were inescapable. He had opposed the invasion of Iraq, and as he had promised he brought the troops home from there, perhaps prematurely, in 2011. But the subsequent inferno has sucked them back in. As Islamic State metastasised, he tried—and failed—to make his countrymen see it in a long perspective which, to many of them, seemed naively otherworldly. The “just” war in Afghanistan also proved interminable. In 2016 America has bombed seven countries, often from unmanned drones, his preferred instrument of destruction.

“Inaction tears at our conscience,” he said in his Nobel acceptance speech, “and can lead to more costly interventions later.” Yet, over Syria, that is what Mr Obama chose. The crunch point came in 2013, when he decided not to enforce the “red line” he drew the previous year to deter Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons.

Mr Obama didn’t miss his chances in Syria, his admirers say; he didn’t dither. Rather he turned them down. This, after all, is the man who approved the raid on Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden—a gamble that might have ended his presidency, as the botched rescue of the Iranian hostages holed Jimmy Carter’s. (As Leon Panetta, a former director of the CIA and defence secretary, says of Abbottabad, “there was a certain attraction to just blowing the hell out of the place.”) Mr Obama believed that bombing Syria for the sake of credibility was dangerous and “dumb”, and that further involvement would enmesh America without saving civilians. He still thinks that. One former adviser predicts he will regret what he did in Libya—helping to overthrow Muammar Qaddafi, but replacing him with chaos—more than what he refused to do in Syria.

No one knows what might have been. What is clear is that the Middle East, convulsed by Mr Obama’s blundering predecessor, is even more wretched after his tumultuous reticence. A terrible war, millions of refugees: Admiral Michael Mullen, a former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, describes Syria as “Obama’s Rwanda”. And into the Syrian void stepped Vladimir Putin, the anti-Obama who has shadowed his presidency, profane, unrestrained by scruple and supremely unilateral. Some trace a direct line from that unenforced red one over chemical weapons to Russia’s seizure of Crimea and to China’s island-building in the South China Sea. As Mr Panetta says, the episode “raised questions about whether or not the United States would stand by its word.”

Martin Indyk, a former ambassador and envoy for Mr Obama now at the Brookings Institution, sees, as an underlying rationale, a switch in emphasis from traditional geopolitical rivalries to global concerns such as climate change and nuclear proliferation—which require co-operation with the likes of Mr Putin or China’s Xi Jinping. Mr Obama’s successful, and thus overlooked, handling of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa fits into this category. He beseeched other nations to jointly address these borderless issues, by agreeing and observing enlightened worldwide rules.

But his allies wavered, while his adversaries saw in his yen for collective action an admission of American retreat. And perhaps, in a way, they were right. His record does indeed imply a humble view of both America’s interests and its influence: a fatalistic accommodation with what he sees as a tragically intractable world. A more introverted (if snarling) America, and a more uncertain, leaderless global order, may be part of his legacy, too.

The simplest explanation of his wariness abroad is that he wanted to concentrate on his domestic policies and the change they could bring. “The problem”, says Mr Panetta, “was the world wouldn’t allow him to do that”. As it turned out, his opponents at home showed just as much reluctance.

3 “Sing it, Mr President”

“He fought for that,” says Cheryl Johnson, pointing to the bigger library that in the 1980s replaced the titchy one in Altgeld Gardens—a low-rise housing project on Chicago’s far South Side, polluted then and still by landfills, industrial sites and shoddy construction. Barack Obama is remembered as a young organiser whose grit overcame the wariness caused by his Olympian bearing, the air of a person born to more privilege than he was. He helped to get rid of the noxious fibreglass insulation in the project’s attics, Ms Johnson recalls, collaborating with her mother Hazel Johnson, founder of a pioneering community group, People for Community Recovery.

In Chicago, thinks Reverend Alvin Love, pastor of Lilydale First Baptist Church and an old friend and ally of Mr Obama, he “became the person he was meant to be.” Landing there after student stints in California and New York, he met and married his wife and, later, cut his teeth in politics, including an improvingly failed run for Congress. He found his faith and joined a congregation, immersing himself in the black church and the civil-rights tradition it incubated, such that the cadences and motifs of both thereafter suffused his rhetoric. In Chicago he faced doubts over whether he was “black enough”, a question that overlapped, in a complicated way, with the poisonous and more enduring allegation that he wasn’t truly American. “Chicago is his real birth place,” Mr Love says.

Some Obamaphiles bristle at the idea that he should be thought of principally as a black president—assessed in a segregated category of one. Yet race has been essential to his career, as well as to his finest oratory. The emergency remarks he made, in 2008, after the circulation of radical comments by his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, anticipated his address on the 50th anniversary of the Selma march. In both he advanced a dialectical view of history that transmuted racial traumas into occasions for collective progress, the landmarks of black liberation into milestones in America’s pursuit of perfection. If the story of race is America’s story, his trailblazing role in it must rank among his most lasting contributions.

In “Dreams from my Father”, his memoir, Mr Obama wrote that on leaving Chicago for Harvard Law School he planned to bring the power he would acquire “back like Promethean fire” to communities like Altgeld. And he has—too much for some tastes, not enough for others. His Justice Department strove to protect voting rights (with no help from the Supreme Court). Punishments for cocaine and crack offences were made more proportionate. He pushed for policing reforms. Well before he took office, however, he had eschewed most explicitly race-based policies. “White guilt has largely exhausted itself in America,” he wrote in his second book, “The Audacity of Hope,” an insight amply corroborated by recent events. He believed the best way to help struggling African-Americans was to help strugglers everywhere.

He helped them, vitally but to little recognition, in his handling of the crisis he inherited. The bail-outs and stimulus implemented in his first, fraught months in office not only averted economic catastrophe, saving the banks (eventually at a profit) and the car industry: the slant towards tax credits and welfare spending arrested what might have been a gruesome rise in poverty. David Axelrod, Mr Obama’s long-term adviser, laments a “collective amnesia about just how perilous these times were”: the most dangerous circumstances for an incoming president, he thinks, since Franklin Roosevelt’s in 1933. The changes Mr Obama oversaw, says the White House, will by 2017 have boosted the after-tax income of the bottom 20% of Americans by around 18%, relative to the policies that obtained at the start of his presidency.

The Affordable Care Act helped, too. Without it, says Ms Johnson in Chicago, “I wouldn’t be able to afford my blood-pressure medicine.” Before, she didn’t have health insurance; many people in the neighbourhood used the emergency services as their basic care. “It was a blessing.”

Nonetheless a visit to Altgeld suggests the Promethean fire sputtered. Not far from that library, etched into the crumbling wall of a shopping precinct, is a long list of locals who, Ms Johnson explains, have died at police hands or of environment-related illnesses. “There goes another black brother,” concludes the inscription. All the shops bar the liquor store have closed. “Don’t nobody have nothing to do,” says a reformed troublemaker from elsewhere on the South Side, except “standing on the corner selling drugs, or gangbanging.” Those careers end two ways: “You either gonna get caught, or you gonna get killed.” “Hopelessness,” thinks Ms Johnson, “is a mental illness.”

The black experience in America is as multifarious as the white one, and there is no racial monopoly on poverty; most poor Americans are white. Nevertheless, African-American communities continue to suffer disproportionately from the sort of problems that afflict parts of the South Side. For all the improvements in America’s schools, they are still one of the places the trouble starts.

After knowing the president in Chicago, says Mr Duncan, “if he would have asked me to come and take out the garbage at the White House, I’d have said, ‘I’m in’.” As it was, his long spell as education secretary saw many more minority students go to college, more generous student aid and improved early-childhood provision. The gulf between black and white high-school drop-out rates narrowed (from 5.1 percentage points in 2008 to 2.2 in 2014). But, as Mr Duncan acknowledges, “the achievement gap is still unacceptably large,” not least because, under the prevalent localised funding model, “the kids who need the most, get the least.” Among hard-pressed families, de facto school segregation is rising: the number of students attending schools in which over 90% of students are Latino or black, and over 90% are poor, doubled between 2001 and 2014.

The disparities widen in adulthood. Blacks still earn less than whites, even in similar jobs and with comparable qualifications. They are around twice as likely to be poor or unemployed. The net wealth of a median white household is 13 times higher than a black one, reflecting the particular havoc wreaked by the housing crunch on black families, who tended to have lower home equity. Black men remain wildly over-represented in prison.

Many African-Americans expected faster progress. Some folks, says Mr Love—whose church is in a Chicago neighbourhood where 54% live below the poverty line—thought Mr Obama would ensure their economic rights, as Martin Luther King secured their civil rights. The disenchanted anger has been fiercest over police shootings of young black men in dubious circumstances: an old outrage, but now widely publicised by cell-phone footage, and denounced by a generation of black activists who grew up with the seeming reassurance of a black man in the White House. Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling—their names form a litany which, along with the protests their deaths inspired, has been part of the soundtrack of the Obama years.

“None of us can or should expect a transformation in race relations overnight,” Mr Obama said at the funeral of Clementa Pinckney, a victim of the racist massacre in Charleston in 2015, before unforgettably leading the mourners in “Amazing Grace.” (A microphone captured the moving entreaty, “Sing it, Mr President.”) To some activists, he seemed to have swallowed what MLK called “the tranquillising drug of gradualism”. As a result, the kind of implacability Reverend Wright once espoused is more widespread now than when Mr Obama was elected.

Elation deflated

Some white Americans, meanwhile, are irked by the persistent talk of discrimination, believing, as Carol Anderson of Emory University paraphrases, that “You got a black president, there is no racism,” and that African-Americans’ misfortunes stem from their own failings. Thus for all the elation about race relations that Mr Obama initially encouraged, the share of Americans who worry about them “a great deal” has almost doubled since 2008. Surveys by Pew record the bleakest outlook among blacks; whites, conversely, are far likelier to think race receives too much attention. In Dallas this July, in what may have been the last great display, in office, of his amphibious rhetorical power, Mr Obama grieved the murder of five policemen in terms that resonated more widely. It felt, he said, as if “the deepest fault-lines of our democracy have suddenly been exposed, perhaps even widened.”

Amid the gloom, though, are reasons for optimism; because it bespeaks high expectations, the disappointment may even be one of them. One view, advanced by Mr Love, is that race relations are “not worse but more visible,” Mr Obama’s presidency forcing Americans to grapple cathartically with their prejudices. And, from a historical perspective, change of the kind he represented was always liable to rile those who, as Ms Anderson puts it, “see American society and its rights as a zero-sum game.” Mr Obama, remember, was a symbol of change as well as its agent: not just a black president but the harbinger of a demographic shift that will relegate non-Hispanic whites to a minority in the country by the middle of the century. In 2009 talk-show hosts ranted about black retribution. Many people told pollsters they were afraid—a fear which, in a generous interpretation, has always been an inverted form of guilt.

The bloodshed that followed emancipation in the 19th century, and that accompanied the civil-rights movement of the 20th, suggests a backlash was unavoidable. That halting pattern, which retards but does not cancel progress, may have been on Mr Obama’s mind when he spoke, after November’s election, of the zig and zag of American history. As Reverend William Barber, a latter-day civil-rights leader in North Carolina, says of reactionary schemes to rig his state’s voting rules: “A dying mule kicks the hardest.” Sometimes it kicks very hard indeed.

4 “A hard particle of reality”

As a teenager, says Eric Kusunoki, one of Barry Obama’s teachers, “he was a very good listener,” skilled at negotiating the schoolyard cliques. From there, to Harvard Law School, to the Illinois state senate, his polymathic intelligence and flexible, Hawaiian charm neutralised adversaries and forged alliances. Literary critics admire his summer reading selections, musicians his playlists, scientists and tech entrepreneurs his acumen and curiosity. He is a talented wrangler of small children. Yet despite that wide-ranging appeal, his presidency has been among the most divisive in American history. “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle,” he said in his second inaugural, “or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.” He was already too late.

Listening to politicians in Washington account for the rancour of the past eight years is like documenting irreconcilable sides of a terrible war. “I don’t wake up in the morning, ever,” insists Bob Corker, a Republican senator, “thinking that my goal that day is to stick it in their eye.” The trouble, he reckons, was that the Democratic majorities Mr Obama initially enjoyed in Congress bequeathed a “tremendous laziness” over bipartisan outreach (though he stresses that when the president did dabble in persuasion, he did an “exemplary job”). “It was, ‘Here’s the cake, eat it’,” complains Charlie Dent, a moderate Republican congressman. “It wasn’t, ‘will you help me bake the cake.’” Mr Obama, he thinks, “holds Congress in contempt.”

Some Democrats, disappointed with Mr Obama’s communication with them, too, admit he could have been more affable. But others echo Steve Israel, a now-retiring Democratic congressman, who cites “the poison the Republicans injected into the atmosphere on day one.” In this telling, Mr Obama solicited Republican input on his fiscal stimulus, but they rejected his plan out of hand. The president “extended an olive branch,” says Mr Israel, and they responded “with a baseball bat.”

This is the more convincing version. After all, Mitch McConnell, now the majority leader in the Senate, said in 2010 that his party’s top priority ought to be seeing that Mr Obama served only a single term. Some Republicans came to believe that defaulting on the country’s debts was a legitimate tool in their campaign against him, kamikaze tactics that presaged the wrecking ball of Trumpism. One speech of Mr Obama’s will be remembered less for what he said than what a listener did: the time, in 2009, when a congressman yelled “You lie!” during a presidential address. “No other president in history has given a speech to Congress and engendered that kind of reaction,” says Mr Axelrod.

Republicans didn’t like the Dodd-Frank financial-regulation bill. They thought Mr Obama antagonistic to business. (Noting record-high share prices and strong corporate earnings, one official jokes wryly that “In our efforts to destroy the stockmarket, we failed miserably.”) Above all, they loathed Obamacare. They loathed it so much that, in 2010, not a single Republican voted for the Affordable Care Act; so much that they have tried more than 60 times to repeal all or some of it; so viscerally that, in 2013, some engineered a partial shutdown of the federal government in a quixotic bid to undo it. Some Republican governors turned down the federal money it made available to expand Medicaid in their states.

Again, accounts of this reaction diverge. Senator Corker criticises Mr Obama’s timing. The early months of his presidency were, he says, “a hair on fire moment”, at which health reform was a mistaken priority. Mr Obama, he says, brought the Tea Party insurgency in the mid-term election of 2010, and the implacable mood of Congress thereafter, on himself. (Mr Axelrod says waiting would have meant Obamacare never happened: “If it didn’t get done in the first two years, it wouldn’t get done.”) Then there are the flaws and frictions intrinsic to a mash-up of a private health-care market with state subsidies and mandates. In a mildly redistributive system, some premiums are rising; adverse selection has led some insurers to withdraw.

Most of these glitches are fixable. None makes Obamacare the un-American, socialist anathema of Republican imaginings. Meanwhile, as Mr Obama often points out, the law provided health insurance for around 20m people who, like Ms Johnson in Chicago, didn’t have it. The proportion of Americans without coverage is now the lowest in history—though many seem fated to lose it again. The ferocious antagonism was less a reasonable critique of an imperfect scheme than a self-interested bid to squish his presidency, gratifying the incandescent Republican base even if doing so harmed the nation.

The limits to power

Many democratic leaders leak political capital as they govern, their clout declining in office even as their proficiency improves. Republican election victories and recalcitrance meant that, in Mr Obama’s case, that process was rapid and costly, for him and for the country. America’s finances were patched rather than mended. Immigration remains unreformed. Gun regulations were not tightened, even after the slaughter of children at Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012—for Mr Obama the worst day of his presidency. Each new, avoidable massacre elicited condolences from him that escalated in tearful fury before towards the end subsiding into despair. (“He has to make the speech,” says Reverend Love, “but he can’t make the law.”) The oubliette at Guantánamo Bay remains in operation, despite the closure order he signed on his second day in the job and a last-ditch rush to depopulate it. On Mr Trump’s watch it may fill up again, just as the torture Mr Obama repudiated may be revived.

Unable to pass laws, Mr Obama turned to executive decrees and regulations much more frequently, notes one old acquaintance, than he would have countenanced in his days as a constitutional-law professor. He used them to advance transgender rights and gay rights: after it was legalised, his support of same-sex marriage was emblazoned in rainbow lights on the White House façade. He used them to improve the lot of federal workers, protect consumers and shield some undocumented immigrants from deportation. He needed them to implement America’s commitments under the Paris climate-change deal, limiting emissions from power plants and cars. Benign as these edicts often were, this path was doubly risky. Many will be undone (some have stalled in court); and they set a precedent for President Trump.

Did the colour of Mr Obama’s skin sharpen Republican resistance? Race has infected discussions of public expenditure in America so insidiously and for so long that it is fair to wonder whether Obamacare would have aroused the same passions had its progenitor been white. Mr Obama was not really an American, a few Republicans maintained, so never really the president.

Nonsense, insist most of his opponents, in what, without prying into their hearts, must be an insoluble debate. In any case, wider factors contributed to the bitterness. Every statesman’s record is a compound of leadership and events, his own decisions and external trends he strives to harness. Mr Obama identified one that would define his own presidency a decade ago, in “The Audacity of Hope”: the way a canard “hurled through cyberspace at the speed of light, eventually becomes a hard particle of reality.” He was the first president of the Twitter age, in which the bully pulpit shrank, partisanship intensified and Americans settled into separate intellectual universes, immured in adamant opinions and, ultimately, discretionary facts.

At the same time he governed through the fallout of the financial crash and the ongoing derangements of globalisation, with the rising feeling it induces, as he put it in the same book, “that America seems unable to control its own destiny”. Those forces have unbalanced economies and polarised politics across the world. He met them with the same analytic reasonableness which helped him navigate many crises soundly. That was not always the demeanour the country looked for in its therapist.

5 “That was me”

Like all presidents, Barack Obama has aged in public. Americans have measured his years in the White House, and perhaps the passage of their own lives, in the greying of his hair. Still, at 55, he leaves office 15 years younger than his arriving successor. He has plans. He will continue to be involved with My Brother’s Keeper, a public-private initiative that aims to steer disadvantaged youngsters away from trouble and into work. (“Guess what?”, Mr Duncan recalls him saying, on school visits, to pupils from broken homes. “That was me.”) He is writing another book. His family will stay in Washington until his younger daughter finishes high school in 2019; his library and foundation will be in Chicago. But according to the capital’s scuttlebutt he longs to spend more time in Hawaii—eating the icky shave ice which is a local delicacy, bodysurfing with the daredevils on Sandy Beach. “He didn’t want the job to be his whole self,” says his half-sister, Ms Soetoro-Ng, who still lives there. He is, she says, “remarkably unchanged.”

Given the Democratic Party’s denuded leadership and Mr Trump’s agenda, he might feel obliged to intervene in politics more than he intended. The startling trajectory of his approval ratings suggests that many Americans will listen. He and the obstructionism he endured disappointed some, others never embraced him; plainly the affection he commands was not transferable to Hillary Clinton. For all that, and notwithstanding the anti-incumbency mood, he is twice as popular as George W. Bush was at the end of his second term, and roughly as well-liked as Ronald Reagan; the only two-term president in recent history to leave office more popular was Bill Clinton. “The last time I was this high,” Mr Obama joked at his last White House correspondents’ dinner, another forum in which his versatility shone, “I was trying to decide on my major.”

The uptick in the economy doubtless helps: median incomes are finally rising; the unemployment rate is below 5%. But so must the absence of scandal in his White House, an exemplary probity that may seem even more of a recommendation in the years ahead. So does his unfeigned devotion to his wife and children, a commitment by no means universal among politicians, and which, say those who know him well, is a reaction to that childhood loneliness. Then there is his civility, even when insulted or traduced—another virtue burnished by comparison—plus his generosity. In 2008 he told Coach McLachlin, who he thought left him out of the basketball team too much, to look him up if he came to Washington. Mr McLachlin assumed he would be too busy; the president saw him five times. He wrote to Mr Kusunoki when he retired, and when he lost his wife. Unpublicised loyalty to old acquaintances is a fair indicator of character.

And maybe the standards applied to him have, as Mr Axelrod puts it, been “rightsized”. He tells a story of the campaign of 2008, in which, arriving at a rally, Mr Obama worried that he could not bear the weight of expectation he had inspired. There is wisdom in the adjustment from hero-worship to realism, but there is also sadness. On the night of his first victory he spoke of “unyielding hope” in “a place where all things are possible.” Yet for all his achievements, his intellect and his grace, his eight years in office imply that even the most powerful leader in the world—a leader of rare talents, anointed with a nation’s dreams—can seem powerless to direct it.

From the ruins of Syria to the barricades in Congress and America’s oldest wounds, sometimes nothing has been the best he could do. Sometimes it was all he could do. The possibilities seem shrunken. After its collision with history, so might hope itself.

Etihad reviewing its European investment strategy


I have written plenty of times about Etihad Airways flawed investment strategy in loss-making European Airlines.

As well as expensive these investments are a genuine drain on management resources and a distraction from the primary function of running an airline.

Well it may be that action is now being taken as Reuters and Handlesblatt are both reporting that the airline (or its owner?) is reviewing the strategy of investing in European airlines and is seeking an exit in a shake-up that could lead to the departure of CEO James Hogan.

Etihad saw a strategy to take equity stakes in carriers like Air Berlin, Alitalia and Air Serbia as a way to expand its European network.

Over the weekend Etihad announced it was cutting jobs without getting into specific numbers. Emirates is doing the same.

Hogan’s expected departure, which could come within the next three months according to the sources, and the Etihad restructuring was first reported by German daily Handelsblatt, which cited several sources as saying Etihad wanted to start unwinding its European investments in January.

“It is our long-standing policy never to comment on rumour or speculation,” Etihad said in a statement.

Etihad last week finalised a deal for Air Berlin, in which it owns a 29 percent stake, to lease 38 crewed planes to Lufthansa. It is also buying Air Berlin’s Niki unit and placing it into a new leisure airline joint venture with tour operator TUI.

The measures will halve Air Berlin’s fleet, leaving it with just 75 planes focused on long-haul flying from Berlin and Duesseldorf.

Alitalia is considering job cuts and grounding planes, and Italian media have previously suggested that Lufthansa could become an investor in the struggling carrier, something that both have denied.

Lufthansa already controls a number of European airlines including Austrian, Swiss and Brussels.

There are clearly changes coming at both Emirates and Etihad. The winner, for now, in the ME3 appears to be Qatar where the new airport has given the airline all the room that it needs for continued expansion.

Billionaire Mansion Bashing


Anywhere that calls itself The Billionaire Mansion deserves abuse. Such a pretentious name. And clearly targeting a certain demographic.

It is a nightclub, not a Mansion. Think up-market Rattlesnake rather than Hugh Hefner.

And yes earlier in 2016 a Billionaire Mansion nightclub opened in Dubai, unfortunately in the Taj Hotel next to our apartment building.

The concept comes from Italian entrepreneur and F1 boss Flavio Briatore. A man with a very checkered (pun intended!) history involving formula One race-fixing, accusations of tax fraud, supermodel partners half his age, and the list goes on.

The club includes a Japanese restaurant, an Italian grill, a karaoke lounge, a nightclub and a shisha terrace.

All well and good until they pile out into the limited parking area outside the Taj Hotel at 3am.

Singapore’s Bay Capital investment group is the majority shareholder after it acquired the majority of the leisure and entertainment unit of the Billionaire brand from Briatore. Briatore is both a close friend of former prime minister and bung-bunga party host Silvio Berlusconi as well as a supporter of Donald Trump.

Siddharth Mehta, chairman of Far East Leisure, Bay Capital’s portfolio company, said the clubs were “a statement of style and luxury and we believe that there is great potential in taking the brand to the world’s elite.”

Just what the neighbourhood needs.

Mr Briatore has remained with the company and appears to have a Dubai base.

The club actively uses social media to hype its events and regular nights. Here are a few gems. And some of the hype is truly over the top!

Friday nights:

“Let’s get this ladies night party started with Billion Her! Ladies prepare for a night of dancing and complimentary drinks. Every Friday between 8PM and 12:30 be part of an astounding ladies night!

Sunday nights:

“The aim is to get lost in the music, lost in the moment, lost in the best possible vibe.
The LIST was created for exactly that. The urban phenomenon every Sunday at Billionaire Mansion. The List brings magic, debauchery and urban class together into a phenomenal experience. See for yourself every Sunday at Billionaire Mansion.”

Tuesday nights:

“MonroeNights – Get yourself lost in a moment with great atmosphere, a distinguished crowd and the hippest tracks that altogether provide the perfect recipe for a crazy night of dancing and fun! ***This week’s giveaway include diamond watches from the luxury brand Balmain!***Complimentary Drinks For Ladies.”

There are also Special events:

Golden New Year

“Because every single moment should be remembered. Because you should not settle for anything less than something ineffable. You are invited to join us for a Golden New Year Celebration. Exquisite cuisine, refinement and world class entertainment. Finely chosen ingredients, attentively created dishes paired with the most delicate wines and champagnes.

Plus experience the magic of the spectacle of Burj Khalifa fireworks at midnight! Our festive and luxurious set menu is available at a rate of AED 2500 including beverages!”

By the way AED2,500 is the cheap no bubbly package! Ouch!

And most oddly of all – “Maestro Andrea Bocelli, the greatest ever Italian classical tenor, recording artist, and singer-songwriter, will be performing live in an exclusive evening at Dubai’s Number one nightlife venue, on Saturday, January 7th 2017.

This extraordinary Gala Dinner is set to be one of the most unforgettable events Dubai’s social calendar has ever seen. Exclusively at Billionaire Mansion and for one evening only, Mr Bocelli’s performance will be a unique experience for a select group of privileged guests. The one-off live performance was born from Mr Bocelli’s friendship with Flavio Briatore, owner of Billionaire. Hosting Bocelli at the newly opened venue has been a dream for Briatore, and Mr Bocelli has accepted with enthusiasm his long-standing friend’s invitation. Mr Bocelli will be performing live for 40 minutes with his loyal companion, his piano.”

Tickets are from aed5,500 to aed8,000 per person. For a 40 minute concert!

You would have through that with so much money passing through its doors that the club could sort out its traffic problems! The best they can do is a cheap little sign and even that has gone.

So at 3am every morning that the club is open there is a barrage of car horns from taxis and rich-kid cars trying to leave from the limited space outside the Taj hotel. And no-one wants to take responsibility for sorting the problem out.

The hotel and the club say it is not their responsibility. The RTA says there is nothing they can do. The municipality says call the police. The police say contact the property owner.

It is Dubai – the more money you splash around the less you have to comply with the norms of respectful behaviour and common sense.

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Winter in Dubai

Aleppo – our shame

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I am sitting here in the comfort of my Dubai apartment; all I have to complain about is the incessant construction noise.

I lead a life that is safe, sane and fortunate. The nearest I get to Syria is overflying at 35,000 feet in tin-can comfort, oblivious to the tragedy below.

I, like so many, have ignored for too long, the tragedy that is Aleppo. Of course there are others. But today Aleppo is our greatest failure as a civilized world.

It is hard to tell right and wrong in Syria. But what is clearly wrong is the slaughter of innocent civilians and the documented use of chemical weapons.

Depending on your personal view, Aleppo has now fallen, or been retaken, or been liberated. But my interest is not with any political side. It is with the victims of a civil war that has been raging for more than five years.

The international community – and our leaders – have failed not just to end the war, but to understand the brutality of this conflict. The UN, through the Security Council has been just words. Any resolution has blocked by Russia, and disappointingly, also by China.

The war in Syria is not simply a war against terrorists – Isis and al-Nusra, the al-Qaida franchise in Syria – although this is the narrative the Russian Federation and its allies want us to believe.

Russia’s propaganda machine is forcefully promoting the fall of Aleppo as the “liberation” of a population described as hostages of Islamic terrorists.

The war started as a peaceful insurrection in 2011, an uprising in the long chain of the Arab Spring. The movement turned to arms, and then turned into a civil war and a humanitarian catastrophe.

Syria has become a proxy war; Yemen of course is another. It could have been stopped long ago.

When Obama ruled out any form of US ground involvement Russia stepped in. Aligned with Assad. The west left Aleppo to rot. The legacy is seen in millions of refugees, the thousands of homes destroyed, the millions of children who are uneducated, and the roll call of the dead.

Assad has been helped into a winning position by Iran and Russia. Iran has had effective strategic control over how the war is run for the past three years.

From above, the scale and reach of Russian firepower has rained down on a city that has successfully sheltered insurrections throughout the ages. The devastation of eastern Aleppo is staggering.

Aleppo’s suffering has been long and agonising. The west has failed to provide any effective response. The UN is humiliated. Russia emboldened. Aleppo will join an infamous list of cities whose names are synonymous with mass crimes committed while the world looked impotently on.

One commentary on Facebook says more than I can write here:

“#Aleppo did not fall. Aleppo resisted. Aleppo fought. Aleppo looked evil straight in the eye and did not bow down. Aleppo gave its blood sweat and tears. Aleppo stood up to the Pharaoh of this age and did not surrender. Aleppo was starved, bombed, raped, mutilated, tortured, mocked, but, Aleppo stood. Aleppo. Did. Not. Fall.

Humanity fell. The world looked on as evil ripped apart the heart of Aleppo. The very same world which said never again after Hitler, stood and watched silently as Aleppo bled. Aleppo will forever live on far beyond this worthless earth. The innocent martyrs, the men, women, children, young and old of Aleppo will leave behind a legacy of resistance. The rest of us will just be an example of cowardice…

Aleppo. Did. Not. Fall. Humanity fell.

May Allah aid our brothers and sisters in Syria and grant them victory over their oppressors ameen”

Right or wrong. in 2016 no one should be living under the brutality of war.

The misery and uncertainty is not over yet.

The Boeing 787 – a threat to the Middle East hubs?

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So Qantas has announced that it will fly its Boeing 787 non stop from Perth to London from March 2018.

At the moment Qantas codeshares on Emirates flights from Perth to Dubai and onto Europe. Now Qantas will compete with its own codeshare partner and will by-pass Dubai.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said the 17-hour, 7,829nm Perth-London service would be a “game-changing route flown by a game-changing aircraft.”

 

Currently, Qantas flies daily from both Melbourne and Sydney to London via Dubai with the A380. It is the airline’s only destination in Europe.

Qantas is due to take delivery of the first of eight 787-9s on firm order in October 2017.

It is configuring its 787-9s with 236 seats, comprising 42 business class seats (in a 1-2-1 configuration), 28 premium economy seats (at 2-3-2 abreast) and 166 economy seats (at a very uncomfortable nine abreast).

Boeing lists the 787-9 as having a range of 7,635nm when carrying 290 passengers in a two-class configuration.

Qantas believe that the aircraft would be able to fly the likes of Perth-London Heathrow (7,829nm), Melbourne-Dallas/Fort Worth (7,814nm) and Sydney-Chicago (8,022nm).

 

 

Why does this announcement matter to Dubai? The range of the 787 is a real threat to the superhub concept on which the three big Middle East airlines thrive. The 787 is ideal for long, thin routes of which there are many.

Just one of the many issues that Emirates is facing; but this one is long term and may significantly slow the rate of growth of the mega-hubs.

The A380 really works best on the primary routes which are slot restricted. The 787 allows airlines to bypass the major hubs.

It is likely that Emirates will need to place an order for 787s in the near future to operate long-haul routes where a smaller capacity airliner is needed.

Take the thought a stage further; does global air travel need three mega airports in the middle east. Does it make long term sense for the UAE to invest in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi. I argued years ago that a combined hub at DWC for Abu Dhabi and Dubai with a single national carrier made greater long term economic sense.

But when it comes to airlines pride can get in the way of logic and economics. And while both airlines continue to make money the two UAE based airlines will continue to operate independently.

 

 

 

TuiHad

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Here is another Etihad deal that the European aviation regulators should have a look at. The question, once again, is where does control lie.

That Darwin AIrlines was allowed to re-brand as Etihad Regional while arguing that Etihad has no day to day management of the company was nonsense. This may be the same.

Etihad is planning a new presence in the European tourism business in partnership with German travel company TUI.

It has approved a plan to create a new European leisure airline with a fleet of about 60 aircraft offering 15 million plane seats per year, serving the routes between the affluent centre of the continent and well-established holiday destinations in the Mediterranean.

The new airline is expected to be use the resources of Etihad Airways Partners – the seven-strong global alliance of airlines under the Etihad umbrella – and also of TUI to ensure a “lean overhead structure and competitive production cost”, a statement from the airline said.

When the deal is finally approved, Etihad will own 25 per cent of the new venture, with TUI holding a slightly smaller stake. Majority control of the new venture will rest with the existing owner, the private foundation Niki Privatstiftung.

The new leisure airline group, headquartered in Vienna, is scheduled to begin operations next April. The plan is to serve a broad network of destinations from Germany, Austria and Switzerland with airports at Hanover, Berlin, Düsseldorf, Cologne, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Munich, Nuremberg, Baden-Baden, Hamburg, Basel and Vienna. Key markets will include the Balearics, Canaries, mainland Spain and Greece.

At the same time airberlin will exit the tourism trade to concentrate instead on scheduled short- and medium-haul operations in Europe, as well as an expansion of its long-haul business to include more transatlantic flights.

TUI includes the UK tourism groups Thomson Travel and First Choice.

The demands on management resources, time and capital from Etihad have to be significant as the group tries to turn its investments into self-sustaining profitable operations.

Premium economy by 2018 at Emirates

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Premium Economy on Cathay Pacific

Emirates Airline is planning to launch a premium economy cabin within 18 months according to the airline’s President, Sir Tim Clark, who says that premium economy is an option to reduce declining yields.

Sir Tim Clark stated to Air Transport World that “we are at the stage of finding what form it will take.”

But Clark also admitted the project would require quite a “big upheaval” and adaption of the carrier’s 250 planes as well as those scheduled for delivery.

“I would think within the next year to 18 months, we will have it in the airline, hopefully up and running,” he said, according to the publication.

Will it work?

The EK 777/380 fleet lends itself to a Premium Economy cabin; but the 777 and 380 products will likely be different; as they are in other classes.

There is a marked comfort difference between the Business and Economy products offered on the A380 compared to the far more cramped products on the 777.

On the 380 it may be necessary to make the Economy product less comfortable in order to better sell a Premium Economy product.

A premium economy product on both the 777 and A380 would likely be in a 2-4-2 configuration (compared to the current 3-4-3 in Economy) with maybe 36 or 38 inches of legroom; compared to the existing 32 inches.

But remember that in the two class A380s Emirates already offers a 2-4-2 economy product  on the top deck of the A380 cabin.

Of course the risk is that existing business class fliers choose to downgrade to a premium economy cabin.

An improved menu, better wines, additional baggage allowance, leg-rests, a 19inch wide seat – all of these are likely in a premium economy product. Maybe with an exclusive cabin that can be completely shut off from economy class.

Yes it will work; it is probably overdue. And it will allow Emirates to phase out first class on many routes where there is limited if and demand.