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Pandemic shuts Earth’s eyes on the skies



It’s as if the Earth has closed its eyes, some scientists say: the coronavirus pandemic has forced astronomers in northern Chile to shut down the world’s most powerful telescopes, running the risk of missing out on supernovas and other spectacles in space.

Scientists have been unable to take advantage of the pristine skies over Chile’s Atacama desert since late March, when its array of world-renowned observatories were shuttered.

That means humans will be oblivious to what astronomers call randomly occurring transitory phenomena, like Gamma-Ray Bursts (GRBs) or supernovas — lost forever to the starry wastes.

“Any GRB or supernova that goes off while we’re shut down, we can’t really observe it. We will have missed the opportunity to observe it because it catches on so fast and then fades away, so it’s these opportunities that are lost,” says astronomer John Carpenter.

It’s also a critical time to observe Betelgeuse, the giant red star in the constellation of Orion — the 10th brightest in the night sky — which has suddenly dimmed, prompting speculation that it could explode, though that could take decades.

“We were starting a campaign to observe and monitor it when we had to close — so we couldn’t continue,” Carpenter told AFP.

Eyes on the Skies

An astronomer prepares equipment ahead of a solar eclipse at the La Silla European Southern Observatory in Chile’s Coquimbo region, on July 2, 2019. PHOTO: AFP/File / Martin BERNETTI

Carpenter is chief scientist at the revolutionary Atacama Large Millimeter Array, or ALMA, an observatory whose 66 antennae combine to make it the world’s most advanced radio telescope.

Carpenter said his observatory’s operations have been on hold since March 18.

ALMA is just one of an array of observatories in Chile’s arid north that comprise more than half of humanity’s astronomical power. Just 400 kilometers (250 miles) away from ALMA is the Paranal Observatory and its Very Large Telescope, the world’s most powerful.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit Chile hard, forcing a month-long lockdown of its capital Santiago. More than 2,450 people have died from Chile’s 150,000 COVID-19 cases.

“There are a very small number of people who are taking care of the observatory but no observation is being carried out,” said Itziar de Gregorio, head of the science office of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) which runs some of the key observatories.

De Gregorio voiced a more optimistic view over the opportunities for stargazing lost to the Earthly health crisis: scientists are likely to get another chance.

“These transitory phenomena are not usually unique. If they occur today, bad luck! But the next year surely many more will come by,” he said.

Stalled probes

A supermoon — when the moon reaches its closest position to the Earth — rises over Santiago, on April 7, 2020. PHOTO: AFP / Martin BERNETTI

Astronomers chose the vast Atacama desert for its pristine atmosphere — there is little rain and low humidity year-round.

With telescopes shut down and antennas switched off, space watchers are instead focusing on processing the myriad data collected during long accumulated nights of observation.

Specialists have “several months” of work to keep them going until the pandemic passes and the planets are opened up to them again, said Caludio Melo, ESO representative in Chile.

“Of course, at any given point new observations will be needed but we cannot know yet when that will be,” Melo told AFP.

In some ways, the biggest losers are young scientists working to finish research on doctoral studies, “because they have more critical deadlines,” said Carpenter.

The long weeks of standstill mean a lag in their observation requests, he said.

“It will be a significant delay. We observe approximately 4,000 hours every year at ALMA with the 12-meter antenna complex, so if the shutdown lasts six months, it is 2,000 hours of lost observation.”

Reporting and photos: AFP


Emirates undertakes largest known fleet retrofit project



Emirates has kick-started its plans to upgrade the entire interior cabins of 120 Airbus A380 and Boeing 777 aircraft – two of the largest commercial aircraft types in service today.

This ambitious project, representing a multi-billion dollar investment to ensure Emirates’ customers “fly better” for the coming years, officially commences in November and is managed entirely by Emirates’ Engineering team.

The target is to completely retrofit four Emirates aircraft from start to finish every month, continuously for over 2 years. Once the 67 earmarked A380s are refreshed and back in service, 53 777s will undergo their facelift. This will see nearly 4,000 brand new Premium Economy seats installed, 728 First Class suites refurbished and over 5,000 Business Class seats upgraded to a new style and design when the project is complete in April 2025.

In addition, carpets and stairs will be upgraded, and cabin interior panels refreshed with new tones and design motifs including the iconic ghaf trees which are native to the UAE.

No other airline has handled a retrofit of this magnitude in-house, and there’s no blueprint for such an undertaking. Therefore Emirates Engineering teams have been planning and testing extensively, to establish and streamline processes, and identify and address any possible snags.

Trials began on an A380 in July, where experienced engineers literally took each cabin apart piece-by-piece and logged every step. From removing seats and panelling to bolts and screws, every action was tested, timed and mapped out. Potential impediments to completing the installation of Emirates’ new Premium Economy Class or the retrofit of the remaining three cabins in just 16 days were flagged and documented for expert teams to review and address.

As part of the programme, new purpose-built workshops will be set up at Emirates Engineering to repaint, re-trim and re-upholster Business and Economy Class seats with new covers and cushioning. First Class suites will be carefully disassembled and sent to a specialised company to replace the leather, arm rests and other materials.

From the trials, Engineers discovered several unexpected solutions for instance: that existing food catering trucks could be easily repurposed to move parts destined for refurbishment from the aircraft to the workshop for their refresh, as these vehicles had doors of the right width and offer sufficient space.

Until the retrofit programme starts in earnest in November, a cross-disciplinary team has been assembled to regularly review the planning process, address any issues, and track updates on various aspects of the project such as procurement, staffing, and training.

Emirates’ new Premium Economy cabin class, which offers luxurious seats, more legroom, and a service to rival many airlines’ business offering, is currently available to Emirates customers travelling on popular A380 routes to London, Paris, Sydney. More customers will be able to experience the airline’s new Premium Economy cabins starting from year end, as the retrofit programme picks up momentum.

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Eleanor helps over 30 Maldives hotels elevate guest services



Eleanor has been named as one of the top 10 concierge software providers globally.

Based on accurate, timely reviews from real users, the HotelTechAwards rank the world’s best hotel software firms and products and it also provides hoteliers direct access to a growing network of hotel technology professionals and decision-makers.

“The guest experience is the cornerstone of our platform. Our unified resort wide solution, Eleanor, has been built for resorts off the back of many years working in the industry and addresses the needs of both Sales and Marketing departments and perhaps just as importantly, the operational requirements of the team on the ground at the property. The days of resorts working with disjointed systems are now behind us,” says Darren Caple, co-founder and CEO.

“We are on a mission to make the guest’s resort experience as easy and as frictionless as possible. Whereas traditional providers in the market have come at this purely from a guest communication perspective, our background in resorts has allowed us to combine this basic requirement with the streamlining of operational processes. The result is truly a resort wide solution that removes the need for countless different systems to be deployed.

Eleanor allows resorts to deliver consistent, superior service levels to guests across all stages of their journey with contactless features helping to alleviate sensitive touch-points in the post pandemic period. More than 30 properties in the Maldives use our Eleanor platform to help butlers and guest services elevate the guest experience. These properties are seeing an increase in incremental revenue by over 30% and operational efficiencies of 600+ man hours per month. We are also beginning to roll out the platform in some Caribbean properties!”

Eleanor is making waves in the hospitality industry by pushing the conventional limits of what a resort guest app can achieve through its unique ability to facilitate direct bookings for services and activities. The traditional ‘request to book’ feature that is common amongst almost all other hotel apps is removed by a power booking and operational platform sitting at the heart of the solution that covers all the resorts’ departments. It’s this module which realises enormous operational benefits and insights for the resort.

“We, at Eleanor, are humbled and honoured that our clients have provided such positive reviews. Feedback from our clients, partners and hoteliers are incredibly valuable for us and we will continue to improve our offering and services”, said Caple.

To celebrate this success, Eleanor is currently offering resorts a free one month trial, together with free setup and training and discounted monthly fees.

Eleanor, founded in 2018 and has its headquarters in the United Kingdom. Created from over 15 years of hands-on expertise, Eleanor allows resorts to deliver consistent, superior service levels to its guests across all stages of their journey with contactless features helping to alleviate sensitive touch-points in the post pandemic period. Eleanor also helps to unlock operational efficiencies and boost incremental revenue and guest loyalty.

Hotel Tech Report’s Best Concierge Software 2022 Runner Up, reviewed as a preferred and reliable hotel software product by the global hotelier community.

For more information, visit

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Emirates’ recruiters scour the world for cabin crew talent with 30 city stops



Emirates, the world’s most global airline, is seeking talented people with a passion for service to join its award-winning cabin crew team.

As air travel returns with a vengeance, the airline’s recruiters are busy meeting and hiring candidates in 30 cities from now until the end of June. In this latest drive, Emirates’ teams will travel from Australia to the UK, and dozens of European cities in between, as well as Cairo, Algiers, Tunis and Bahrain.

Abdulaziz Al Ali, Emirates Group’s Executive Vice President for Human Resources said: “There’s no more exciting airline than Emirates for anyone interested in a flying career, and we’ve received tremendous interest since we began our recruitment drive for cabin crew in November.”

“While parts of the application process are done online, we always make the effort to meet our candidates in person whenever we can, and that is why our Talent Acquisition team is doing a whirlwind 30-city tour over the next 6 weeks to assess prospective candidates.”

Emirates’ truly global cabin crew team represent 160 nationalities, reflecting its customer mix and international operations in over 130 cities on six continents.

All Emirates crew are based in the exciting cosmopolitan city of Dubai, with company-provided accommodation, tax-free salary and more benefits.

Interested candidates can read more about the Emirates cabin crew role, and apply online at:

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