Monday, December 15, 2014

Poland 'ghost' airports'

The European Union has given Poland more than 100 million euros ($125 million) to build at least three "ghost" airports in places where there are not enough passengers to keep them in business.
The result is gleaming new airport terminals which, even at the peak of the holiday season, echo to the sound of empty concourses and spend millions trying to attract airlines.
Poland is not the only country in Europe to have built airports that struggle to attract flights. Around 80 airports in Europe attract fewer than 1 million passengers a year, and about three-quarters of those are in the red, according to industry body Airports Council International. Some cost much more to build than the Polish projects. One airport in eastern Spain, open for three years, has so far received not a single flight.
But Poland is striking because the country received so much money for its projects from EU funds.
Poland received 615.7 million euros in EU support for airports between 2007 and 2013, according to figures supplied to Reuters by the European Commission. That was almost twice as much as the next biggest recipient, Spain, and more than a third of all member states’ money for airports. The government declined to provide all the information on which it based its decisions to invest in the airports, but Reuters has reviewed data on three sites where traffic fell dramatically short of forecasts.
Poland is often touted by Brussels as one of the most efficient users of EU aid, and there is no suggestion the country used EU airport money corruptly. European help has been vital in improving Poland's aviation infrastructure, only a small share of the country’s airport spending has been on white elephants, and passenger shortfalls may have been exacerbated by the 2008 global financial crisis. Spokespeople at some airports said the projects could be considered a success because they were creating jobs, bringing in tourists, and driving investment in the regional economy.
But it is clear mistakes were made in Poland, planning officials and aviation executives say. The whole experience raises questions about how the government will handle the next big injection of EU money, which it expects to be 82 billion euros over the next seven years.
The problem is most striking at the recently rebuilt Lodz passenger terminal, where passenger numbers in 2013 fell almost one million short of forecasts, according to European Commission documents examined by Reuters.
On a relatively busy day this summer, just four flights arrived and four departed. In between, the place was almost deserted. In the early afternoon a single passenger, a woman in a blue-and-white striped T-shirt, sat in a 72-seat waiting area. Outside on the tarmac, five sets of movable steps stood waiting for a jet to land.
Where there aren’t enough passengers to make an airport viable, local governments keep them on life support through subsidies, according to a report by CEE Bankwatch Network, a non-governmental watchdog. The beneficiaries have often been the airlines that use them. 
Jacek Krawczyk, the former chairman of the board of Polish national airline LOT who sometimes advises the European Commission on aviation policy, said Poland was no worse than other EU countries at building airports, but the sheer volume of EU money it was trying to absorb in a short space of time explained some problems. The European Union has now tightened up the rules on state aid that airports can receive.
Krawczyk, who was not directly involved in planning any of the airport investments, said that in those Polish cases where things did go wrong, “there was no corruption, just wrong priorities.” 
Between 2007 and 2013, the European Union promised funding to help build and upgrade 12 Polish airports. Some of the projections underlying the plans were highly ambitious.
The government declined to detail its predictions for passenger numbers. But figures for three of the airports – Lodz, Rzeszow and Lublin – are contained in letters on a related topic sent by the European Commission to the Polish foreign minister. The letters show Polish authorities projected combined passenger numbers for the airports to be more than 3 million passengers a year. In 2013, the actual number was just over 1.1 million.
Together, the investments in the three airports totaled about 245 million euros. Around 105 million of that came from the European Union. The rest came from central government in Warsaw, local governments and the airports themselves.
The airport with the biggest projected traffic was in Lodz.
In its heyday, the city was a thriving textile manufacturing center. Now, many of the elegant 19th-century merchant’s houses lining the main drag, Piotrkowska Street, are crumbling.
Jerzy Kropiwnicki, mayor of Lodz between 2002 and 2010, wanted to attract foreign investment and tourists. The city had a small airport that handled domestic flights; but Kropiwnicki felt a big international terminal would revive the local economy.
"I used to endlessly answer questions like: 'How do we get to you?' and 'How do we fly there?'" Kropiwnicki told Reuters.
Poland, which had joined the European Union in 2004, was gearing up for a massive injection of EU cash to be spent on development projects between 2007 and 2014. To get the funds, the country had to prepare a strategic plan for civil aviation. At the Transport Ministry, this task fell mainly to Andrzej Korzeniowski.
He was given three months to draft the plan and meet the EU funding deadline. “I slept on a camping mattress under my desk," Korzeniowski, now retired, told Reuters. "I had no time to eat."
Looking back on the 160-page document he drafted, Korzeniowski says it was, under the circumstances, a good program. But it had a big shortcoming: It let local governments decide where new airports should be built, and how big they would be. “That was the biggest mistake, for which we’re now paying the price,” he said. “The local governments decided, 'I’m a prince in my domain, the government doesn’t tell me what I’m supposed to do, we do what we want.’”
By 2005, passenger numbers in Lodz were shooting up. Wojciech Laszkiewicz, an adviser to the mayor who went on to be deputy chief executive of the airport, said the team decided to rebuild the terminal entirely.
The airport commissioned a feasibility study from advisory firm Ernst & Young (EY), published in November, 2009. EY predicted a minimum of 1.042 million passengers in 2013 for Lodz. That was less than the government forecast but many more than the 353,633 who actually passed through the airport last year. EY declined to comment.
Lodz’s mayor, Kropiwnicki, left office in 2010, two years before the new terminal opened. The aim of the airport was to help stimulate the local economy, he said, and it is achieving that. "From my point of view, the airport wasn't supposed to make a profit."
The problem, say aviation industry officials and consultants, is that passenger numbers for any individual airport are impossible to predict with confidence. Even if national forecasts hold true, local factors can pull passengers away from one airport and attract them to another.
Lodz quickly became a victim of this "cannibalization,” as the airline industry calls it, because Warsaw airport was also upgraded, and a new highway built which brought the capital within 50 minutes’ drive of Lodz.
“To have an airport in Lodz from that point of view makes no sense at all," said Krawczyk, the former airline chairman. He is now president of the Employers’ Group of the  European Economic and Social Committee, a Brussels-based consultative body that advises on EU decision-making.
In a statement, a spokesman for the Ministry of Infrastructure and Development said it could issue guidelines, but could not directly influence local authorities: "A decision on expanding or building an airport for a particular region is the prerogative of the local authorities."
Under EU rules, though, the initial cash for airports comes from national governments. They are reimbursed by the EU when it approves a scheme.
Only investments worth over 50 million euros have to seek the Commission’s prior approval, and many of the Polish airport investments were below that threshold. The Commission has since said its approach to funding the airports will undergo a radical change. In February, it introduced stricter criteria, and said loss-making airports will be forced to wean themselves off state aid. It did not name any countries.
For now, the Polish airports still need help, and that can be expensive. Senior managers in the Polish aviation industry said the cost of running a small regional airport would be at least 3 million euros a year. At the moment in Europe, they are often propped up through financial injections from local authorities, which are often their biggest shareholders.
The state also has indirect methods of helping the airports, in particular by giving money to the airlines – mainly low-cost carriers like Ryanair.
"In practice, these payments serve as an incentive for airlines," CEE Bankwatch Network, the non-governmental watchdog, said in its report.
Lodz and Rzeszow airports did not respond to questions about how much they pay airlines. A spokesman for Lublin airport said only that it was successfully boosting communications to help the local economy.
But public records for Podkarpackie, the mountainous, forested region where Rzeszow airport sits, show that between 2011 and 2014 its government paid 5.7 million euros to Ryanair in exchange for advertisements promoting the region, which appeared on Ryanair’s web site and in its in-flight magazines. Podkarpackie spent another 3 million euros to advertise with Polish carrier Eurolot over a three-year period.
In all, 70 percent of the region’s 2013 promotional budget went to airlines that fly into Rzeszow airport.
These payments are problematic, say several people involved in Polish aviation, because the airports are at the mercy of the airlines. With so many airports to choose from, airlines can easily shift routes.
“The relationship between the local airports and low-cost carriers is suicidal,” said Krawczyk, the former airline chairman. For low-cost carriers, he said, “nothing will ever be enough. ... At some point they will say, ‘If you don’t give us more, we’ll go.’ And they go.”
A spokesman for the region where Rzeszow is located said the deals were good value because they allowed it to target the kind of travelers it wants. He said tourist numbers in 2013 were double the level in 2010.  A Eurolot spokeswoman said such marketing deals were widely used in the aviation business in Europe. She said the airline provided marketing exposure for the region, for example by painting its jets in the region’s colors.
Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary told Reuters such advertising was a good deal for local governments because the Ryanair website reached a huge audience. He said Ryanair brought economic benefits to places that are off the beaten track, in part by flying in tourists. But “if the airport doesn’t want me, that’s fine. I’ve 80 other airports in Europe who want the growth. We don’t force any airports" to pay.
"If Rzeszow has enough low fares, Rzeszow can grow to 1 million visitors, 5 million visitors, 10 million visitors,” said O’Leary. “They provide – well, I don’t know what Rzeszow is famous for, but it's famous for something."
(Additional reporting by Robert Hetz in Madrid and Rene Wagner in Berlin; Edited by Sara Ledwith) (Source: /special-report-eu-funds-help-poland-build-ghost-082335225.html)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Russia Baltic military actions 'unprecedented' - Poland

Poland says the level of Russian naval and air force activity in the Baltic Sea region has been "unprecedented" this week.
Defence Minister Tomasz Siemoniak said most of the activity was in international waters and airspace and Sweden was the country most affected.
Nato partners of the Baltic states, including the UK, have military jets on an air policing mission in the region, monitoring the Russian planes.
Fighting in Ukraine has raised tension.
Mr Siemoniak said Russia was "not preparing to attack" but it was testing Nato defences, which "does not serve to build good relationships and trust".
The three small ex-Soviet states in the Baltic - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - joined Nato in 2004.
Speaking on the Polish news channel TVN24, he said there was no need to put the Polish army on a state of high alert.
Nato and Ukraine accuse Russia of fomenting the conflict in eastern Ukraine and supplying the pro-Russian rebels there with troops and heavy weapons. Russia denies the allegations, but admits that Russian "volunteers" are helping the rebels.
'Near miss'
Several incidents have been reported in the region this week:
  • On Tuesday the Norwegian military said one of its warplanes had a "near miss" with a Russian fighter which had ventured too close, north of Norway
  • The Finnish air force said that there had been "unusually intense" Russian activity over the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Finland, with most flights involving bombers, fighters and transport planes heading between the Russian mainland and the Kaliningrad enclave, between Lithuania and Poland
  • Nato said on Monday the alliance's jets intercepted Russian planes repeatedly in the Baltic, and reported more than 30 types of Russian military aircraft in the area
The spike in activity follows a study by the London-based think tank European Leadership Network, which detailed 40 incidents over recent months, including 11 that it said were of a "more aggressive or unusually provocative nature, bringing a higher level risk of escalation".
In one case, an SAS civilian airliner taking off from Copenhagen narrowly avoided colliding with a Russian reconnaissance plane.
Separately, Sweden conducted a massive search in October for a suspected Russian submarine in the waters near its capital Stockholm, but after a week-long hunt no submarine was found.(Source: /news/world-europe-30429349)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Mystery of 'Vampire' Burials in Poland

The mystery behind several "vampire" burials in Poland has been solved.
People who were buried with sickles (curved, sharp farming knives) around their necks, or rocks at their jaws, to prevent their corpses from reanimating were natives to the area in which they were buried, according to a new study.
The fact that all the people buried as vampires were local suggests they may have been felled by a cholera epidemic that swept through the region, said study co-author Lesley Gregoricka, a bioarchaeologist at the University of South Alabama.
Tales of the dead coming back to life have truly ancient roots, going back to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Babylonians and beyond, said study co-author Tracy Betsinger, a bioarchaeologist at the State University of New York at Oneonta.
For all these stories of the dead coming back to life, "the word collectively used is a 'revenance,'" Betsinger told Live Science. 
Gregoricka and her colleagues analyzed bone fragments from the Drawsko cemetery, a Polish site where vampire burials were found. The cemetery dates from the 17th to the 18th century, the researchers said. Some people at the site were buried with sickles under their necks or rocks under their jaws, to prevent them from reanimating. (The sickles were intended to decapitate the people if they tried to rise from the grave, while the rocks pinned their jaws shut so they weren't able to feed on the living, Gregoricka said.)
The researchers then took a closer look at 60 of the 333 burials from the site, six of which were "vampire" burials intended to prevent a corpse from reanimating. The team analyzed the ratio of strontium isotopes (versions of the atom with different numbers of neutrons) in the skeletons. Because each location has a unique ratio of these isotopes, and people's bodies naturally take the elements up from the environment, analyzing strontium isotope ratios can reveal where a person is from.
Contrary to the initial hypothesis that the "vampires" were immigrants, the team actually discovered that all of the vampires were locals.(Source:

Monday, November 24, 2014

Poland prepares for immigrants

A debate took place on news channel TVN this week looking at Poland and its immigration situation.According to Joanna Tyrowicz of the National Bank of Poland’s Economic Institute and the University of Warsaw, there are a number of factors involved.

“First of all, there is the difference in pay. Wages in Poland are higher than many other countries and this can make it an attractive option for employment,” she told the station. She went on to add there was also the networking factor. “I know someone who knows someone who is already there...”

She also stated “most immigrants, when asked how long they wish to stay, will reply ‘only a short period’. However, many end up staying longer than this.”

Piotr Arak of policy analyst news source Polityka Insight highlighted one of the country’s neighbours as a perfect example. “Due to the proximity of Ukraine, there are now a large number of immigrants trying to get jobs here,” he said.

“With today’s regulations, it’s quite easy to get qualifications there and then ply your trade here. It seems to me that this trend will only continue and it’s possible up to 2.5 million Ukrainian may eventually emigrate here.” (Source http://www.

US troops keep Poland, Baltic deployment for 2015

A ‘temporary’ deployment of US troops in Poland and the Baltic states has been extended through 2015, a US commander in Europe said. NATO sells its presence as a deterrent to an ‘aggressive Russia’, with Moscow countering that it only escalates tension.
The alliance deployed several hundred US troops in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia earlier this year. The move was explained by a desire to give confidence to these NATO members after the political crisis in Ukraine and the secession of its region of Crimea to rejoin Russia. The alliance called it an annexation and said countries in the region feared that Moscow would militarily attack them.
Originally the troops were supposed to stay until the end of the year, but now NATO wants to keep them for at least 12 months more, said Lieutenant-General Frederick Ben Hodges, Commanding General of US Army Europe.
"We have planned rotations out through next year. Units are designated that will continue to do this," Hodges told journalist in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius.
"There are going to be US Army forces here in Lithuania, as well as Estonia and Latvia and Poland, for as long as is required to deter Russian aggression and to assure our allies," he said as cited by Reuters.
A 1997 Russia-NATO agreement forbids the alliance from having troops permanently stationed in the Baltic States, so the deployment remains a temporary mission. However, it’s not immediately clear when, if ever, NATO would consider the perceived threat of a Russian aggression no longer valid and withdraw the troops.
Washington’s assurances to its eastern NATO partners were also delivered last week through diplomatic channels.
“When NATO and the US as part of NATO took new members into the alliance, this means that we are ready to participate in the defense of the security of these countries, and this means that we are ready to give our lives for the security of these countries,” said US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs Victoria Nuland during a visit to Latvia.
Amid the Ukrainian crisis, Poland and the Baltic states have been among the most vocal critics of Russia. Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite went as far as branding Russia ‘a terrorist state’ last week, prompting some Russian MPs to call for the severing of diplomatic ties with Vilnius.
Russia considers the build-up of NATO troops close to its borders provocative and dangerous. Moscow’s envoy to the alliance Aleksandr Grushko said NATO “is turning the Baltic region, which used to be militarily calm, into an area of military confrontation with Russia.” (Source http://rt. com/news /208227-nato-troops-poland-baltic/)

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Pronounced dead, 91-year-old Polish woman awakens

A Polish doctor says she has been in "deep shock" since learning that a 91-year-old woman she pronounced dead woke up in a morgue several hours later.
The doctor — identified in the media as Wieslawa C. — said on TVN24 television Friday that she was sure the patient was dead after finding "no basic life functions" during a morning house call on Nov. 6.
She said she checked for a pulse on a forearm and neck arteries, listened for a heartbeat and the sound of breathing, and checked the pupils for reaction to light, but found none. "If I had had doubts, I would have called the ambulance, done an electrocardiogram, but I was sure that the patient is dead," the doctor said.
The doctor examined the elderly woman, identified by the media as Janina Kolkiewicz, in the eastern town of Ostrow Lubelski after relatives noticed she was not breathing.
Some two hours after she was pronounced dead the woman was taken to the morgue. Shortly before midnight, an undertaker who brought in another body noticed that Kolkiewicz was moving inside a bag she had been placed in. Once it was opened, she complained of being cold and asked for hot tea, the media said. She was then taken home.
A spokeswoman for the local prosecutors, Beata Syk-Jankowska, told The Associated Press that she had never heard of such a case before, and that prosecutors are investigating whether the patient's life and health were endangered by the inaccurate death diagnosis.
They also are urging a regional court to void the death certificate that local authorities issued, which discontinued Kolkiewicz's benefits such as her pension.
"In the legal sense, the woman is dead, but in reality she is clearly alive," Syk-Jankowska said.
She said Kolkiewicz has required no hospitalization since being removed from the morgue and is now in good health. (Source: com/pronounced-dead-91- old-polish-woman-awakens-152547283.html)

Friday, November 7, 2014

Apple blocks malicious software Wirelurker on iPhones

Apple says it has blocked Wirelurker, the first piece of malware able to infect iOS devices and applications which have not been jailbroken.

Identified by security researchers Palo Alto Networks on Wednesday, the malware has been spotted shipping alongside pirated copies of Chinese Mac apps, before jumping to iPhones and iPads over a USB cable.

Apple says that it is “aware of malicious software available from a download site aimed at users in China, and we’ve blocked the identified apps to prevent them from launching.”

The company did not elaborate on how it is carrying out the blocking, but did emphasise that “as always, we recommend that users download and install software from trusted sources”.

The infected apps were discovered on the Maiyadi App Store, a third-party application store based in China which is largely filled with pirated and unauthorised copies of major apps, such as Dropbox, Spideroak and Autodesk.

Wirelurker works by abusing capabilities in Apple’s operating systems designed to enable large enterprises to install their own applications on employees’ devices. That enables the malware to not only scrape data from affected users’ iOS devices, but even go so far as to install third-party applications on those devices, and infect installed applications.

It is the first in-the-wild malware family that can do this, and only the second ever that attacks iOS devices through OS X via USB.

A second Apple vulnerability disclosed this week, known as Rootpipe, remains unpatched. The researcher who discovered it has not revealed how the vulnerability, which lets attackers gain root privileges without entering a password, can be abused, and says he is waiting for Apple to issue a patch.(Source: http://www.theguardian. com/)