Scotland rebels on aviation passenger tax

first_imgA blow has been struck against the world’s biggest travel tax, with Scotland resolving to half the controversial Air Passenger Duty, which slugs visitors to the UK up to £73 per head ($US91.25) – and double that in premium economy, business class or first class.The governing Scottish National Party has announced it will cut the APD in Scotland by 50 per cent from April 1, 2017, and aim to abolish it completely “when resources allow”. The move is also supported by the opposition Scottish Conservative Party and has been welcomed by the airline industry, which has long claimed that the APD is a tourism and jobs killer.However, one of the consequences of the Scottish move is that it will encourage a “chicken run” across the border when airlines landing in Scotland have to charge travellers only half the tax they pay England. “This is a major step towards the complete abolition of this stealth tax that hinders economic growth, tourism and jobs,” said Willie Walsh, chief executive of IAG, the holding company that owns British Airways. “However, the piecemeal reduction of APD will only serve to undermine airports in the north of England as passengers will rush across the border to get cheaper flights. “This will create a domino effect across the whole country which is not sustainable. The Treasury must acknowledge that partially scrapping APD will not work and that the solution is simple.”Walsh said that UK GDP would gain 1.7 per cent and create 61,000 new jobs over the longer term if the APD was abolished – a finding also supported by Edinburgh Airport.An Edinburgh Airport report estimated that the 50 per cent cut in APD would create nearly 4000 jobs and add £1 billion ($US1.25 billion) to the Scottish economy by 2020. When it was introduced in 2007, the APD was characterised by the then British Labour government as an environmental tax designed to reduce aircraft emissions.However,  it has since grown into the world’s biggest travel tax. The lowest amount paid, by an economy-class passenger on a flight of less than 2000 miles (3220 kilometres), is £13 ($US16.25) and can rise to as much as £146 ($US182.50) for a passenger in a premium-class cabin travelling more than 2000 miles.Even in economy class,  the impost for long-haul travellers is $US365 for a family of four. “This is an important moment in the ongoing debate around APD, as it is clear that there is now cross-party support for reductions in the tax to take place in Scotland from April 2018,” said Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, the trade association representing UK airlines.Edinburgh Airport’s chief executive, Gordon Dewar, said cutting the travel tax by 50 per cent was vital for Scotland’s international ambitions by increasing direct flights and would make holidays abroad more affordable for Scottish families. “The case against freeing up Scotland from this regressive tax is flimsy,” he said. “It is one-dimensional and completely ignores the economic benefits of more spending and more jobs.”Meanwhile, airlines have hit back at claims by a company specialising in compensation payouts that they are using “dirty tactics” to avoid reimbursing customers for delays and cancellations. EUclaim – one of a raft of companies established in recent years to chase claims under EU261, the European Union rule that awards  passengers compensation of up €600 ($US630) for delays — said it had employed university graduates to go through the claims process on airline websites and that, in some cases, it had taken them up to 15 minutes to even find the correct form. It said British Airways, Jet2, Virgin Atlantic and Ryanair, as well as holiday charter airlines Thomson and Monarch, had tried to shirk their responsibilities. EUclaim manager Tjitze Noorderhaven accused BA of trying to confuse passengers with “legal gibberish” and criticised Thomson’s claim response time of up to 56 days. However, many of the company’s claims were disputed by independent British travel journalists and were criticised by the airlines.”Along with other airlines, we would strongly question the validity of this report,” a spokesman for Virgin Atlantic said. “We do everything we can to respond as quickly, clearly stating how and where our customers can apply.” Ryanair, which was accused in the report of changing its terms and conditions to illegally limit passengers’ rights, said the claims were untrue. “Ryanair’s terms and conditions are perfectly legal,” a spokesman said. “We wish to ensure that all Ryanair customers will receive 100% of their EU261 compensation without deduction of claims chaser fees, which can amount to 50 per cent of the compensation payable to the passenger.”Since Ryanair customers can claim this compensation directly from us with no fees, these ‘claims chasers’ provide no useful service whatsoever. Claims chasers don’t like our terms and conditions, because they are designed solely to protect our customers and ensure they receive 100 per cent of the compensation they are due.”last_img read more

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Assorted Signals from the Green Building Market

first_imgEven if they are not entirely clear about its potential benefits or what it should cost, more consumers than ever seem to think green building is a good idea. That’s one of the broad conclusions of two National Association of Home Builders Research Center surveys conducted for Habitat for Humanity and Whirlpool Corporation. One survey, conducted in August, queried consumers; the other, conducted in July and August, focused on builders.More specifically, the majority of consumers surveyed agreed that a green home would be affordable to live in and maintain. The respondents supporting that view came from three income categories: high (67%), upper-middle (65%), and middle (59%). Among low-income respondents, 48% agreed with that perspective. One of the key takeaways in the survey, though, is that only the high-income respondents – 71% of those questioned – agreed that a completely green home would be affordable to purchase.So there is a disconnect, as the researchers put it, between what most consumers believe a green home can offer and their perception of whether or not it is affordable. Among the builders surveyed – all of whom are members of the NAHB Research Center’s Online Builder Panel – 87% indicated they believe green homes are affordable for middle-income families to live in, while 30% felt green homes were too expensive for that segment to purchase or build. For low-income families, 70% of homebuilders believe green homes are affordable to live in, while almost 60% thought green homes were too expensive for that segment to purchase or build.In a press release summarizing the survey results, however, Habitat for Humanity emphasizes that it has introduced a relatively high level of energy efficiency performance into many of its projects, all of which must meet relatively stringent standards of affordability. The release also includes a comment from Larry Gluth, senior vice president of U.S. and Canada for Habitat for Humanity International, intended to drive home the point. “Under Habitat’s nonprofit construction model,” he notes, “Habitat affiliates across the United States are incorporating sustainable materials and energy-efficient products in Habitat homes, as this is both a responsible building practice and it improves the affordability of homes for Habitat partner homeowners.”Passive House expertise spreadsIf the NAHB surveys highlight challenges in bringing more clarity to perceptions about green building and its costs and potential benefits, a brief posted this week by Architectural Record magazine offered an encouraging perspective on professional interest in the Passive House performance standard.The Record item, pegged to the 5th North American Passive House Conference held earlier this month in Portland, Oregon, includes a short Passive House backgrounder, but also points to increased interest in the standard among builders, architects, designers, and energy efficiency specialists. For example, the conference, which drew only a few people to its inaugural meeting, attracted about 350 to the event in Portland. Just as important, Mike Kernagis, program director for Passive House Institute US, told the magazine that the number of certified Passive House consultants went from 15 in 2008 to 200 in 2010.“This is the first conference,” he said, “where we’ve really reaped the benefits of having the consultants come back and show their first projects.”Also well represented at the conference: Habitat for Humanity, whose representatives highlighted the group’s Passive House projects in Vermont, Kentucky, and Washington, D.C. A Map of Passive House Consultants View Certified Passive House Consultants in a larger maplast_img read more

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Realtors dip into land banks to raise funds

first_imgSluggish sales, poor performance of the stock on the bourses and difficulty in raising money from banks and private equity (PE) players are forcing many real estate developers to turn to sell their land banks to raise funds to complete their projects. “A lot of real estate credit is lying unused by the banks and the banks are extremely cautious and selective in lending money to real estate players,” Naveen Raheja, chairman and managing director (CMD), Raheja Developers, said.”Few players, who have good credibility and track records in terms of repayment of loans and overall past experience, are only being lent money by the banks,” Raheja added.As banks remain reluctant to lend to the realty sector large companies like DLF, Emaar MGF, Omaxe and HDIL, among others, that have huge debt portfolios are turning to sell their land banks to reduce their debt and raise money for their pending projects. DLF, the country’s largest developer, sold land worth Rs 403 crore in Pune, Amritsar and New Gurgaon in the third quarter of 2010-11. It is planning to sell 12 million sq ft this fiscal to raise about Rs 7,000 crore. DLF said it will continue to sell land assets to raise money.DLF, in its annual presentation, had already indicated that going forward the company would focus on launching plots than group housing as it helps generate faster cash flows. DLF needs to repay Rs 2,700 crore debt this fiscal and has net debt of Rs 21,424 crore. The company said that of the planned launch of 12 million sq ft sales this fiscal, 10 million will be plotted development in cities like Indore, Gurgaon, Chandigarh and Lucknow. The rest will be group housing projects.Investing in realty? Check property rates HDIL, the country’s third largest developer, is also banking on selling land assets to raise money. Recently, the company sold land in Andheri for Rs 800 crore and at Goregaon for Rs 600 crore. The firm is planning to use the money to repay its debt.Last year, Emaar MGF sold land in Kolkata. According to media reports, the company is in advanced talks with US-based Tishman Speyer for selling a plot in Gurgaon for Rs 1,250 crore. Another developer Omaxe has already raised Rs 60 crore by selling land in Kanpur, Ajmer, Jaipur and Raipur last financial year. The company is planning to sell more non-strategic pieces of land this fiscal, especially where it is not getting good response.”We are selling land banks which are either non-strategic or where we are facing difficulty in development, like getting clearances. So, it hardly makes sense to sit on these land banks. We are selling it off so that we can focus on our more strategic projects,” a senior official at Omaxe told Mail Today.It is not just the large developers that are selling parcels of land to generate cashflows, even small developers who are finding it difficult to raise money for projectrelated construction are selling developed plots for farm houses in Gurgaon and Noida Expressway.For more news on India, click here.For more news on Business, click here.For more news on Movies, click here.For more news on Sports, click here.advertisementlast_img read more

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Jamaica Public Service Foundation Launched

first_img The Foundation will enhance provisions and outputs of early childhood institutions The Jamaica Public Service (JPS) has established its Foundation, which will serve as the main channel through which the firm undertakes its community outreach activities.The JPS Foundation, which was launched at the entity’s Ruthven Road offices in St. Andrew on August 22, seeks, among other things, to enhance provisions and outputs of early childhood institutions, and communities.The overarching objectives include: assisting early childhood institutions to meet and surpass basic standards set by the Early Childhood Commission (ECC) for staffing; development/educational programmes; interactions and relationships with children; physical environment; indoor and outdoor equipment; furnishing and supplies; health; nutrition; safety; and interaction with parents and community members.Three schools have already been identified which the Foundation will endeavour to develop into model institutions over the next three years.  These are: the Mount Olive Basic School in Rockfort, Kingston; York Town Basic School, Clarendon; and Falmouth Gardens Basic School, Trelawny.Speaking with JIS News following the launch, Science, Technology, Energy and Mining Minister, Hon. Phillip Paulwell, who commended the effort, described the initiative as a “tremendous effort” by JPS to advance its community outreach programme.“The objectives are laudable, especially as it focuses on early childhood education and tries to create these model basic schools across the country. It really is in keeping with a new thrust on the part of the JPS…an approach to humanize the efforts of the company and to get consumers to appreciate them for more than just (the provision of) electricity,” he said.President and Chief Executive Officer of the JPS, Kelly Tomblin, said the decision to start with three schools is to ensure the project’s sustainability.“A part of our focus is to bite off just what we can chew in the first instance, and we want to get these three finished. For us it’s starting there, but we think, in the future, we will have many more schools. We are so thrilled with these schools and we strongly believe that if we’re going to have prosperity then we have to begin with the children,” she told JIS News.In addition, the Foundation will provide support for the firm’s over 400 employees involvement in various projects in their communities. The staff will also have the opportunity to identify and contribute to the needs of a school, including sponsoring a child.The foundation will also facilitate employees serving as mentors in their communities, or getting involved in the schools supported by the Foundation The decision to start with three schools is to ensure the project’s sustainability The Foundation will serve as the main channel for its community outreach activities Story Highlightslast_img read more

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Lifelike robots made in Hong Kong meant to win over humans

Citation: Lifelike robots made in Hong Kong meant to win over humans (2018, January 16) retrieved 18 July 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2018-01-lifelike-robots-hong-kong-meant.html David Hanson envisions a future in which AI-powered robots evolve to become “super-intelligent genius machines” that might help solve some of mankind’s most challenging problems. Disney’s venture capital arm is an investor in Hanson, which is building a robot based on one of the entertainment giant’s characters. In this Sept. 28, 2017, photo, David Hanson, the founder of Hanson Robotics, poses with his company’s flagship robot Sophia, a lifelike robot powered by artificial intelligence in Hong Kong. Sophia is a creation of the Hong Kong-based startup working on bringing humanoid robots to the marketplace. Hanson envisions a future in which AI-powered robots evolve to become “super-intelligent genius machines” that can help solve mankind’s most challenging problems. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung) While Sophia’s repartee can be entertaining, she’s easily thrown off topic and her replies, based on open-source software, sometimes miss the mark.Hanson and other members of his team like Chief Scientist Ben Goertzel have set their sights on a time when the computer chips, processing capacity and other technologies needed for artificial general intelligence could enable Sophia and other robots to fill a variety of uses, such as helping with therapy for autistic children, caring for seniors, and providing customer services.As for tackling challenging world problems, that’s a ways off, Hanson acknowledges.”There’s a certain expression of genius to be able to get up and cross the room and pour yourself a cup of coffee, and robots and AI have not achieved that level of intelligence reliably,” Hanson said. Hanson Robotics has made about a dozen copies of Sophia, who like any human is a work in progress. A multinational team of scientists and engineers are fine tuning her appearance and the algorithms that enable her to smile, blink and refine her understanding and communication.Sophia has moving 3D-printed arms and, with the help of a South Korean robotics company, she’s now going mobile. Shuffling slowly on boxy black legs, Sophia made her walking debut in Las Vegas last week at the CES electronics trade show.Her skin is made of a nanotech material that Hanson invented and dubbed “Frubber,” short for flesh-rubber, that has a flesh-like bouncy texture. Cameras in her eyes and a 3D sensor in her chest help her to “see,” while the processor that serves as her brain combines facial and speech recognition, natural language processing, speech synthesis and a motion control system.Sophia seems friendly and engaging, despite the unnatural pauses and cadence in her speech. Her predecessors include an Albert Einstein, complete with bushy mustache and white thatch of hair, a robot named Alice whose grimaces run a gamut of emotions and one eerily resembling the late sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, which won an award from the American Association of Artificial Intelligence. They variously leer, blink, smile and even crack jokes. In this Sept. 28, 2017, photo, David Hanson, the founder of Hanson Robotics, works on his company’s flagship robot Sophia, a lifelike robot powered by artificial intelligence in Hong Kong. Sophia is a creation of the Hong Kong-based startup working on bringing humanoid robots to the marketplace. Hanson envisions a future in which AI-powered robots evolve to become “super-intelligent genius machines” that can help solve mankind’s most challenging problems. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung) An artist and robotics scientist, Hanson worked on animatronic theme park shows, sculpting props and characters for Disney attractions like Pooh’s Hunny Hunt and Mermaid Lagoon. He studied film, animation and video, eventually earning a doctorate in interactive arts and technology from the University of Texas at Dallas.Hanson says he makes his robots as human-like as possible to help alleviate fears about robots, artificial intelligence and automation.That runs contrary to a tendency in the industry to use cute robo-pets or overtly machine-like robots like Star Wars’ R2-D2 to avoid the “uncanny valley” problem with human likenesses such as wax models and robots that many people find a bit creepy.Some experts see Sophia as mainly a clever marketing gimmick.”It’s a good advertising tool, whatever that company produces as a business plan,” said Roland Chin, chair professor of computer science at Hong Kong Baptist University. © 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. More information: www.hansonrobotics.com/ Robots debate future of humans at Hong Kong tech show In this Sept. 28, 2017, photo, David Hanson, the founder of Hanson Robotics, smiles with his company’s flagship robot Sophia, a lifelike robot powered by artificial intelligence, for a photo in Hong Kong. Sophia is a creation of the Hong Kong-based startup working on bringing humanoid robots to the marketplace. Hanson envisions a future in which AI-powered robots evolve to become “super-intelligent genius machines” that can help solve mankind’s most challenging problems. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung) In this Sept. 28, 2017, photo, David Hanson, the founder of Hanson Robotics, smiles with his company’s flagship robot Sophia, a lifelike robot powered by artificial intelligence, for a photo in Hong Kong. Sophia is a creation of the Hong Kong-based startup working on bringing humanoid robots to the marketplace. Hanson envisions a future in which AI-powered robots evolve to become “super-intelligent genius machines” that can help solve mankind’s most challenging problems. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung) In this Sept. 28, 2017 photo, a staff member of Hanson Robotics shows off a skin used for the company’s flagship robot Sophia in Hong Kong. Sophia is a creation of the Hong Kong-based startup working on bringing humanoid robots to the marketplace. The robot’s skin is made of a nanotech material that founder David Hanson invented and dubbed “Frubber,” short for flesh-rubber, that has a flesh-like bouncy texture. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung) In this Sept. 28, 2017, photo, a staff member of Hanson Robotics checks a Professor Einstein educational robot in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong-based startup is privately owned and has a consumer-oriented business that sells thousands of shoebox-sized $200 Professor Einstein educational robots a year. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung) In this Sept. 28, 2017, photo, a robot head is covered by Hanson Robotics’ skin, in Hong Kong. The skin is made of a nanotech material that founder David Hanson invented and dubbed “Frubber,” short for flesh-rubber, that has a flesh-like bouncy texture. His Hong Kong-based startup is combining leading edge artificial intelligence with southern China’s expertise in toy design, electronics and manufacturing to craft humanoid “social robots” with lifelike and appealing faces meant to bridge the “uncanny valley” and win trust from their human users. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung) In this Sept. 28, 2017 photo, a staff member of Hanson Robotics shows off a skin used for the company’s flagship robot Sophia in Hong Kong. Sophia is a creation of the Hong Kong-based startup working on bringing humanoid robots to the marketplace. The robot’s skin is made of a nanotech material that founder David Hanson invented and dubbed “Frubber,” short for flesh-rubber, that has a flesh-like bouncy texture. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung) This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only. Explore further If only it were as simple as that.The Texas-born former sculptor at Walt Disney Imagineering and his Hong Kong-based startup Hanson Robotics are combining artificial intelligence with southern China’s expertise in toy design, electronics and manufacturing to craft humanoid “social robots” with faces designed to be lifelike and appealing enough to win trust from humans who interact with them.Hanson, 49, is perhaps best known as the creator of Sophia, a talk show-going robot partly modeled on Audrey Hepburn that he calls his “masterpiece.”Akin to an animated mannequin, she seems as much a product of his background in theatrics as an example of advanced technology.”You’re talking to me right now, which is very ‘Blade Runner,’ no?” Sophia said during a recent visit to Hanson Robotics’ headquarters in a suburban Hong Kong science park, its home since soon after Hanson moved to the city in 2013.”Do you ever look around you and think, ‘Wow I’m living in a real world science fiction novel?'” she asked. “Is it weird to be talking to a robot right now?” In this Sept. 28, 2017, photo, David Hanson, the founder of Hanson Robotics, poses with his company’s flagship robot Sophia, a lifelike robot powered by artificial intelligence in Hong Kong. Sophia is a creation of the Hong Kong-based startup working on bringing humanoid robots to the marketplace. Hanson envisions a future in which AI-powered robots evolve to become “super-intelligent genius machines” that can help solve mankind’s most challenging problems. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung) In this Sept. 28, 2017, photo, David Hanson, the founder of Hanson Robotics, talks with his company’s flagship robot Sophia, a lifelike robot powered by artificial intelligence in Hong Kong. Sophia is a creation of the Hong Kong-based startup working on bringing humanoid robots to the marketplace. Hanson envisions a future in which AI-powered robots evolve to become “super-intelligent genius machines” that can help solve mankind’s most challenging problems. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung) This Sept. 28, 2017, photo shows Hanson Robotics’ flagship robot Sophia, a lifelike robot powered by artificial intelligence, on display the company’s office in Hong Kong. Sophia is a creation of the Hong Kong-based startup working on bringing humanoid robots to the marketplace. Founder David Hanson envisions a future in which AI-powered robots evolve to become “super-intelligent genius machines” that can help solve mankind’s most challenging problems. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung) Global market revenue for service robotics is forecast to grow from $3.7 billion in 2015 to $15 billion in 2020, according to IHS Markit. That includes both professional and domestic machines like warehouse automatons, smart vacuums and fuzzy companion robots.Hanson Robotics is privately owned and has a consumer-oriented business that sells thousands of shoebox-sized $200 Professor Einstein educational robots a year. Chief Marketing Officer Jeanne Lim says the company is generating revenue but won’t say whether it’s profitable.For now, artificial intelligence is best at doing specific tasks. It’s another thing entirely for machines to learn a new ability, generalize that knowledge and apply it in different contexts, partly because of the massive amount of computing power needed to process such information so quickly.”We’re really very far from the kind of AI and robotics that you see in movies like ‘Blade Runner’,” said Pascale Fung, an engineering professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “Sorry to disappoint you.”Unlike toddlers, who use all five senses to learn quickly, machines generally can handle only one type of input at a time, she noted. In this Sept. 28, 2017, photo, Hanson Robotics’ flagship robot Sophia, a lifelike robot powered by artificial intelligence, speaks, in Hong Kong. Sophia is a creation of the Hong Kong-based startup working on bringing humanoid robots to the marketplace. Founder David Hanson envisions a future in which AI-powered robots evolve to become “super-intelligent genius machines” that can help solve mankind’s most challenging problems. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung) read more

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