Planet Business

Ghost airports, the ‘gig economy’ and an English rose called Cortana

Image of the week: Brain stimulants

The ‘Economist’ magazine is “stimulating and challenging”, just like the free kopi luwak coffee that it was giving away on the streets of London in a bid to get passersby to subscribe. The ‘Economist’, however, has become a little too challenging a prize for its 50 per cent owner,

Pearson

, which is seeking to make an exit from the 172-year-old “newspaper” just days after it sold off the ‘Financial Times’ to Japan’s

Nikkei

. But the sale of the business magazine will be a little more complicated, as other shareholders include family dynasties Cadbury, Rothschild, Schroder and Agnelli. Large volumes of caffeine may be consumed in the engineering of this deal.

In Numbers: Up in smoke

322 billion

:

Number of cigarettes that

British American Tobacco

(BAT) sold in the first half of 2015. This was down 2.9 per cent on the same period last year.

3.5

:

Estimated percentage decline in cigarette sales across the industry over that time.

£2.5 billion

:

The tobacco giant still managed to make this much profit from smokers in six months.

The Lexicon: Gig economy

The “gig economy” is one in which self-employed people scramble together a living from a variety of sources: driving a car for

Uber

, selling stuff on Etsy, making ad money from YouTube. It’s like freelancing, only you’re more likely to get paid. Democratic presidential candidate

Hillary Clinton

believes this on-demand economy is “unleashing innovation”, but also “raising hard questions about workplace protections”.

In a gig economy, fixed salaries are hard to find, but employee-less companies are not. But does the gig economy exist? Not in the US, according to the Wall Street Journal, which says the trend is failing to show up on key economic indicators – such as the percentage of people who declare they are self-employed – and remains “marginal”.

Getting to know: Cortana

Cortana is Microsoft’s “truly personal digital assistant” and its answer to Apple’s Siri. First trialled on smartphones last year, the voice-activated Cortana is now coming to Microsoft’s latest operating system, Windows 10, with different “personalities” for different countries. In the UK, for example, customers have apparently told

Microsoft

that “she” should sound like an “English rose”, which the company translates as “a voice that sounds easy-going, with slightly self-deprecating modesty”. Based on an artificial intelligence character of the same name in the Microsoft-owned video game Halo, Cortana already has one major achievement to her name: she correctly predicted the winners of the first 14 matches of the knock-out stage of last year’s World Cup.

The List: Ex-airports

Spain’s Ciudad Real airport was sold at auction for €10,000 earlier this month, the price reflecting its status as a bankrupt “ghost airport”. Spain’s first private international airport had cost more than €1 billion to build. So where else in the world might former air transport hubs be found?

1 Berlin: Once the largest building in the world, Berlin-Tempelhof was built in 1923, but the last planes flew out of it in 2008. It is now a massive public park. 2 California: The Marine Corps Air Station at El Toro in the Californian desert used to be somewhere US presidents landed; now it's a filming location for Top Gear.

3 Hong Kong: Recently reinvented as a cruise terminal, Hong Kong's Kai Tak International Airport was a plane-spotter's paradise, but was perhaps built that little bit too close to the city for comfort.

4 Cyprus: Nicosia International Airport has been festering away since 1974, when it became the scene of fighting between Greek and Turkish forces and became a UN-controlled buffer zone.

5 Croydon, London: Croydon Airport was once the main airport for London, but it closed in 1959 and was built over. It was the first airport to introduce air traffic control and its control tower is now a visitors' centre.

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