Congressional Air Cargo Caucus Meets to Learn About Vaccine Distribution Issues

By Kathryn B. Creedy

Congressional Air Cargo Caucus listened as the world’s top cargo carriers echoed IATA’s recent call urging governments to begin coordination now on Covid-19 vaccine distribution.

What IATA termed the “mission of the century,” is already being heeded by cargo carriers with both FedEx and UPS gearing up logistics support for pandemic-related PPEs and investment in dedicated facilities designed for the health care community.

The event was organized by Air Cargo Caucus Co-Chairs Representatives Paul Mitchell (MI) and Cheri Bustos (IL). Members heard from executives at Atlas Worldwide, UPS, FedEx, DHL, ABX Air. Also speaking were Representatives Garret Graves (LA) and Sharice Davids (KS). The session was organized with the Cargo Carriers Association (CAA) which invited The Regional Air Cargo Carriers (RACCA) to listen in.

Bustos noted chicago Rockford International Airport, in her district, was the fastest growing cargo airport in the world in 2018 and growth has remained high in 2019 and 2020. “This is a true economic driver for a region like mine where a family of four makes $48,000 a year,” she said, echoing her Congressional colleagues on the importance of the cargo industry. “We need these jobs.”

Cargo Operators Urge Action in Planning for Vaccine Distribution

“Distribution is the question of the moment,” Roger Libby, EVP Corporate Public Policy, DHL Americas, told the caucus. “We are looking at the distribution of 10 billion doses globally. There are specific requirements for distribution including storage temperature requirements to ensure the efficacy of the vaccine. This is all part of what DHL is working on.”

He explained the immense task, predicting 200,000 pallets across 15,000 flights. It will not only be a global effort, but the industry must look at inbound logistics and domestic distribution.

“The development of an emergency response plan for this is critical,” he said, calling for public-private partnerships to resolve warehousing issues and IT infrastructure to measure inventory and predict demand. “The government must partner with pharmaceuticals, cargo and logistics to ensure distribution.”

All the executives urged crews get the vaccine early.

Bobbi Wells, VP-Safety and Airworthiness, FedEx, said policy makers should be thinking now about air cargo distribution pointing to the unprecedented collaboration within the industry, sharing ideas and best practices and developing better ways to meet PPE distribution requirements.

“I see a need for regulatory authorities to have the same sort of transparency and collaboration,” she told lawmakers, noting governments around the world see cargo as critical infrastructure. “We need consistent definitions and regulations to describe essential workers, simplify customs clearance and the adoption of performance-based regulatory infrastructure that makes us safe but meets our needs. The response to the crisis is limited by regulations and we need to develop contingencies ensuring we address risk while enabling distribution. Such collaboration will only make us stronger and more resilient in the future.”

Bob Boja, Director-Operations, ABXAir, agreed. “What challenged us the most was the changing and inconsistent regulations around the world that our pilots had to endure,” he said. “Rules were changing daily. The G7 worked to coordinate a statement of principles on the treatment and protection of air crews especially in China. Expanding those principles more broadly is critical. We also need better testing methods. We applaud FAA for its flexibility on training, checking and medical regulations and encourage that to continue.”

Libby indicated flexibility has been paramount throughout the pandemic especially given the drop in capacity with the grounding of passenger aircraft belly capacity. He, too, pointed to other challenges such as the differing flight restrictions, pilot restrictions, changing rules and customer procedures.

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“If governments take a prescriptive approach, it could hamper the ability to gain maximum flexibility that allows us to do our jobs,” he said.

Jim Forbes, EVP and COO, Atlas Air Worldwide, noted the role of the Congressional Air Cargo Caucus in resolving many government-to-government restrictions on serving different destinations, including lifting the cap on cargo charter flights to China and the open skies agreements that provide flexibility for overflight and landing rights.

Wells indicated FedEx flexed its networks to meet the evolving demand and that needs to happen again in vaccine distribution. The company flew 530 extra flights out of China, replacing belly cargo capacity, over and above its basic schedule.

Huston Mills, VP-Flight Operations & Safety, UPS, also called for the risk-based approach guided by collaboration with CDC and others. “We don’t want to be hindered by overly prescriptive rules,” he said. “The one-size-fits-all concept won’t cut it. We need to ensure the testing protocols, especially for pilots, is not overly invasive and we need to harmonize that worldwide to keep us moving.”

Air Cargo – Transportation Lifeline

“One thing is evident,” said Libby. “Small business is more vulnerable because they don’t have access to capital or redundant supply chains or the footprints to cope with what we have experienced. They don’t have the flexibility to engage in e-commerce strategies and pivot their operations. Small businesses are relying on air cargo to access global markets and make their businesses more resilient. They have seen how important air cargo is to health and safety, and now, for economic recovery.”

Mills reported UPS is already building on the pandemic response in place since the outset of the outbreak. “It’s going to be the cargo express industry that will be responsible for distribution both domestically and worldwide.”

A pair of Shorts Photo: Kathryn Creedy

He described facility requirements in recounting the company’s efforts. A recent press release outlined facility enhancements, saying the company has committed to building additional cooler space (2-8 degrees Celsius), and freezer space (minus-20 degrees to minus-80 degrees Celsius) in its new GMP facility in Louisville. UPS Healthcare is also expanding its GDP facility space in Hungary, and GMP space in the United Kingdom through its Polar Speed subsidiary where it operates a dispensing pharmacy that serves more than 20,000 patients daily. The new GMP warehouse and transportation hub will be located in the Midlands, UK, to further facilitate its clients’ growth needs.

“The ability of our crews, maintenance professionals and dispatchers to respond to the demand, meant we could provide assistance and the delivery of goods,” concluded Wells. “That is going to continue to be important as we now pivot to vaccine distribution and the economic recovery around the world.”

The meeting was recorded for access here (Passcode: .1.Xn7yw)

Game Changer: Flight Safety Foundation Weighs in on Pilot Training

Independent safety experts are being ignored in favor of legislative politics

By Kathryn B. Creedy

In the pilot training and experience debate, little coverage is given to independent safety experts who call for an overhaul in the way we train pilots. In all the political rhetoric, the two sides – Colgan families, a labor union and legislators vs. the regional airline industry – often talk passed each other while independent safety voices are drowned out by politics as the pilot shortage worsens.

The Flight Safety Foundation (FSF), one of the most highly respected aviation safety organizations in the world, issued a Position Paper calling for science-based pilot training solutions versus relying on a minimum number of hours to assess pilot quality.

Disappointingly, but certainly not a surprise, coverage was limited to the issuance of the paper and failed to explore the subject further. In fact, no one has explored what aviation safety experts think is necessary, despite the wide-spread agreement by experts who have no other motivation for their efforts than safety.

FSF conclusions echo a 2015 report by the Office of Inspector General calling for an overhaul in pilot training to address concerns in how crews monitor aircraft in an automated age. It cited the Air Asiana crash in San Francisco, the crash of a UPS cargo jet in 2013 and the Colgan 3407 accident in Buffalo, noting crews were not properly monitoring the condition of the aircraft  and confirming training issues were not just restricted to regionals.

OIG also cited a 2010 Flight Safety Foundation study reporting 80% of the 30 veteran commercial airline pilots it studied flew manually under 10,000 feet but were unable to meet standards using only basic instrumentation if automation failed. Indeed, OIG and FSF recommendations are the same made by a score of speakers at last Fall’s Royal Aeronautical Society’s Maintaining Pilot Recruitment and Training Standards conference.

The question we should be asking legislators and ALPA is why they ignore the mounting evidence and the collective wisdom of what needs to be done from independent experts from around the world. They raise red flags on pilot training methodology that goes far beyond the petty war being waged by legislators on regionals.

Safety arbiters sidelined by politics

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The nation’s two safety arbiters – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) – openly admit they have been sidelined by politics in the wake of the Aviation Safety and FAA Reauthorization Act of 2010. This despite the fact during hearings on the bill before it passed, both rejected the idea hours alone are an appropriate metric of a pilot’s skill citing the fact all the pilots involved in regional and most commercial accidents had far more than 1500 hours.

FSF agrees. “It cannot be assumed that critical skills and knowledge will be obtained only through hours in the air,” said FSF President Jon Beatty, in releasing the Position Paper – Pilot Training and Competency. “A data-driven approach to pilot training is an essential element in continuing to improve the industry’s safety performance. Training must target real-world risk and ensure a progressive and satisfactory performance standard.”

Beatty countered assertions made as recently as the February 27th House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee hearing the outstanding safety record was due solely to the 2010 law.

“The results speak for themselves,” ALPA President Tim Canoll testified. “In the 20 years prior to the 2010 rule, 1,100 passengers lost their lives in Part 121 accidents. Since the rule that has been reduced to zero.”

ALPA’s statement is misleading since the 1,100 including 9/11, TWA 800 and other accidents, but ALPA would have you believe they were all, with their myriad of causes, resolved by requiring every pilot to have 1500 hours and the new law. In fact, the 1500-hour rule did not become effective until 2013 with no accidents in the intervening three years. Seems the industry got the job done without it.

But such reality doesn’t stop ALPA. When asked for a comment on the FSF report, ALPA spokesperson Corey Caldwell sent this: “While ALPA appreciates the work that went into the white paper, we are disappointed that the Flight Safety Foundation chose to omit the fact that since Congress passed the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Extension Act of 2010, there have been zero fatal passenger airline accidents in the United States. In the two decades prior to enactment of the law, which strengthened pilot training and qualification requirements, more than 1,100 people died in U.S. passenger airline accidents. This change in the law and associated rules have moved the United States into an environment where flight training, flight time, and demonstration of competency are well balanced – and has resulted in safer skies.”

On the contrary, FSF, rather than omit the relationship between the law and the safety record, addressed it head on.

“[The industry’s] outstanding safety record is attributed to a variety of factors and the diligent efforts of thousands of aviation professionals around the world…,” said the FSF press release. “It is not the result of any one factor, including any particular change in the hours requirement for pilot experience.” (My emphasis.)

In fact, it put credit for our safety record where it belongs.

Big data important to aviation safety

FSF cited the collection and analysis of safety data and information as key to mitigating risks before they lead to accidents. That risk-based approach clearly is successful and applies just as much to pilot training as any other aspect of aviation safety.

The regional industry has been saying for years the experience garnered by flying banners, reporting traffic and instructing is actually doing more harm than good based on data on how new hires fared in training. This was later confirmed by academic studies showing the quality of some pilots has deteriorated because they lose the professionalism and discipline so important to NTSB. As a result, regionals have increased their training footprint from 10 to 15 sessions.

“Pilot experience, which also is an important safety factor, historically has been associated with the number of flight hours accumulated over a pilot’s career,” FSF said. “What often is overlooked, however, is the quality of flight time and how it is accumulated. Was it in single- or multi-engine aircraft? In visual or instrument conditions? In a structured, professional environment, or in an often less intense, general aviation environment? The type of experience and the flight environment must be considered to provide meaning to the [flight hours] number.”

FSF’s final conclusion is simple: “[FSF] believes the pilot career path we have today will not take us where we need to go tomorrow. It is time to take a data-driven, pragmatic approach. The industry has reached a crossroads in determining how pilots need to be selected, hired, trained and mentored for career growth. Changes need to be made if the industry is to continue its stellar safety performance in an era of expected rapid growth in many regions of the world.”

Being bold

FSF’s Position Paper, the OIG report, the collective wisdom of global experts and concerns raised by the regional airline industry itself, demand we put politics aside and clear a path for the future.

“The industry needs to be courageous and bold to make these changes and not simply rely on the ways of the past,” Beatty concluded. “Through these changes, the industry can continue to serve the needs of the airlines while enhancing safety standards on behalf of the traveling public.”

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Science Over Politics: Confirm Landsberg to NTSB

Congressional questioning of NTSB nominee reveals Congressional hyprocricy

By Kathryn B. Creedy

A slightly refreshing breeze wafted through Capitol Hill recently during Senate hearings on the nomination of Bruce Landsberg to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). He comes to the post after a distinguished career as president of the AOPA Foundation, executive director of the AOPA Foundation Air Safety Institute and long years ferreting out the cause of fatal accidents and offering up solutions to prevent future accidents.

Why is he so refreshing? He bluntly called the 1500-hour rule a solution in search of a problem and the lack of pilot qualifications a non-issue, echoing numerous other aviation safety experts, including the NTSB, who have dared to say the same thing.

 

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NTSB Nominee Bruce Landsberg took fire from senators for his comments the 1500-hour rule is a solution in search of a problem.

Of course, this opinion raised the ire of senators who asked for an explanation. Most vocal was Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill) who attempted to score political points by lambasting the nominee’s position.

The hearings also served to expose Congressional hypocrisy.

Ironically, Duckworth outed her own contradictory positions on aviation safety since it is Congressional meddling that has inserted politics into aviation safety.

Congress sends mixed signals on NTSB

“Congress has given NTSB a unique mission to prioritize safety above all other concerns,” said the Senator from Illinois. “And NTSB’s role in providing clear guidance to Congress and the public on what is the safest course of action, irrespective of costs or political hurdles, is incredibly valued.”

Congress should heed its own advice – prioritize on safety above all other concerns – including politics that falsely suggests Congress is looking out for aviation safety. For the past seven years, it has preferred politics over safety and studiously ignored studies warning the rule has been counterproductive and actually compromises safety.

On one hand, she lauds the impartiality of the NTSB yet ignores the opinion of then-board chair Deborah Hersmann, who testified against the 1500-hour rule. By criticizing Landsberg, she again signals this supposedly impartial, do-what-is-best-for-safety agency should not do its job in applying science to this controversial rule.

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Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill) There is so much to admire about Senator Duckworth but her stance on aviation safety is not one of them.

Likewise, she, conveniently uses NTSB’s impartiality as a reason to oppose Landsberg but then, just as conveniently, ignores it when those at NTSB – the real arbiters of aviation safety – who testified an arbitrary minimum number of hours is a poor metric of pilot quality. Congress also ignored protests by the FAA, which echoed Hersmann’s testimony that there have been many accidents where pilots had 20,000 hours and still made mistakes. The FAA’s Office of Accident Investigation and Prevention (AVP) found little relationship between the 1,500-hour requirement and airplane accidents.”

In questioning Landsberg’s contentions about the 1500-hour rule, Duckworth, in fact, is violating her own stated desire to keep politics out of the NTSB because she does not like what it says. This is ironic, especially since the two pilots involved in the crash had far more than 1500 hours. In fact, the Colgan accident had far more to do with commuting than hours, which immediately became victim of the Congressional and ALPA politics despite NTSB findings commuting was an issue in the Colgan accident.

To his credit, Landsberg said he believed in “performance-based regulation as opposed to an arbitrary, one-size-fits-all rule.”

Indeed, that is exactly how aviation safety was once governed. Apply rules in a common-sense way to fit the operation. What would work for the major airlines would not necessarily work for the regionals or general aviation so tailor the goal to meet the differences in the operation so safety can be improved at all levels.

That is not what happened in 1994 after the industry experienced four accidents – two at the major airlines and two at regionals. Conveniently ignoring the mainline accidents, ALPA again went after the regionals and turned on its head the reasoning that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all safety regulation. The result was more abandoned communities.

Landsberg elaborated on his comments, saying all pilots (that means both before and after the rule) face the same certification requirements. He added pilots could take different paths to prove their skills, just as members of other professions don’t all go to the same schools.

“I don’t want this to be construed as I’m not in favor of high standards. I am,” Landsberg testified. “But I think it becomes no degradation of safety — that’s my litmus test — that people can meet the performance requirements as opposed to just saying you have to have 1,500 hours no matter what.”

Finally, he promised legislators he would “give independent safety recommendations on flight training without regard to industry wishes or political considerations,” according to Politico’s Morning Transportation Report (MTR). Let’s hope so.

Just the facts, Ma’am

Duckworth also needs to get her facts straight. MTR reported Duckworth cited 154 accidents in the eight years before the rule. The NTSB cited only six, three of which had nothing to do with pilot skills but were mechanical.

I queried Duckworth’s office suggesting such an important data point would have shown up before. I was right to question the gentle lady from Illinois. Turns out it was not the number of accidents but the number of fatalities illustrated by a chart, you guessed it, supplied by ALPA, according to her spokesperson Mark Copeland. Hardly an unbiased party given its entire effort was specifically designed to create a pilot shortage to win back regional flying for major airline pilots, however economically nonsensical that is.

Duckworth said the lack of accidents after the rule was proof enough that the rule worked, a favorite message from ALPA. But, anyone who has been in aviation safety for more than a minute knows there is always more to the story and restricting your argument to a single factoid is inaccurate if not, as in this case, purposely misleading.

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Source: Office of Tammy Duckworth Numbers don’t lie. They do if you leave out the rest of the story.

A quick look at the chart reveals a few things. First, is attributes the lack of accidents since 2010 solely to the 1500-hour rule. You will note that no accidents – regional or larger – happened after 2009. But the rule did not go into effect until 2013. What happened?

Airlines were incorporating safety procedures such as safety management systems and other data-centric safety programs along with new technology in addition to the industry-led increased training footprint which added roll upset and stall recovery, two recommendations from the NTSB. These are recommendations aimed at the entire aviation industry, by the way, not just regionals, because pilot skills have been cited as causative in larger airline accidents. Ms. Duckworth and ALPA conveniently ignore the hard industry work because it had nothing to do with hours.

ALPA titled this chart Numbers Don’t Lie, ironic since it ignores one simple truth – the industry got the job done without the 1500 rule. But that doesn’t fit to ALPA’s narrative which also does not recognize industry efforts to increase safety in the immediate wake of the Colgan accident. If Duckworth and ALPA were truly honest they would have pushed the vertical dash line to the right to 2013 when the 1500-hour rule became effective.

No one will argue there should be zero fatalities, but, using Duckworth’s own yardstick, Landsberg is right. The rule is a solution in search of a problem. 

What also bothered me about Duckworth’s misrepresentation was the assumption regionals were hiring 250-hour pilots. While that may have been allowed under the old rule. Does she have stats to suggest they actually were?

Why would airlines hire 250-hour pilots when there has been a surplus since the late ‘90s. The industry has been warning about pilot shortages for decades but it dodged three major pilot shortage threats, which meant airlines had the pick of the litter.

When pilot supplies tightened in the late ‘90s, the economy nose-dived with the Dot.com bust. That was followed shortly thereafter by 9/11 and the serial bankruptcies and industry consolidation that ensued when pilots were screaming about furloughs.  Regionals were able to find plenty of pilots with plenty of time. The industry did not truly stabilize until about 2014/15 and so, too, did airline employment which was followed by true industry growth that was more than just recovery from the Great Recession.

Erring on the side of true honesty in this debate you should know regionals were advertising for 250-hour minimum for right-seat pilots. Even so, the fact that Colgan pilots had many more than 1500 hours makes that irrelevant, as noted by both the NTSB and FAA when they said pilots with thousands of hours still make mistakes.

Focusing on the goal – improved safety

Landsberg has yet to be confirmed which is a shame. During the RACCA annual meeting in 2016, NTSB’s Deputy Director Office of Aviation Safety John DeLisi made it clear the yeoman work done by the commercial aviation industry has paid dividends in improved safety. He said this allows the board to concentrate on general and business aviation.

Landsberg’s experience in this area is needed and he would be a valuable asset to the board’s efforts. The sooner he is confirmed the better.

 

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Regional operators vital to UPS operations, small communities

 

747-8F First Flight

By Kathryn B. Creedy

Few understand the critical nature of regional air cargo operations in the United States better than UPS, which delivers more than 2.7 million packages by air on an average day. The express giant relies on these partners to deliver time-sensitive shipments, including medical supplies and other life-sustaining products to local hospitals around the country. Its regional partners, most members of the Regional Air Cargo Carriers Association (RACCA), also help it fulfill the demands of online shoppers who increasingly expect fast delivery for their orders.

With multiple regional carriers serving small-town and medium cities around the world, UPS has 100 gateways just in the United States in addition to hubs at Ontario, CA, Rockford, IL, Louisville, KY, Philadelphia, PA, Columbia, SC and Miami, FL. And it is working with regional carriers to ensure the next generation pilot pipeline.

“Regional cargo carriers are an important part of the UPS network,” said UPS Spokesperson Jim Mayer. “They are an important part of our network throughout the US, in less populated areas where it is impractical to use a UPS cargo jet or to ferry packages over the road. Without regional carriers, large geographic areas of the country would not have access to UPS’s express network, which offers next day delivery nationwide. Because of the distances involved, ground transportation is not a feasible alternative. In order to be delivered by the following day, the volume must go by air. Healthcare shipments to rural hospitals are an example of the critical packages carried by regional cargo carriers.”

Mayer pointed to one route that could not be served without its regional air cargo partners. “One of our longer feeder aircraft flights is Winnemucca, NV (WMC) to Ely, NV (ELY), to Salt Lake City (SLC), UT,” he said. “An express package shipped from Winnemucca would go via small feeder air carrier to Salt Lake and, depending on the final destination, would head via a UPS jet to our regional hub in Ontario for Western delivery or our Worldport hub in Louisville, for delivery to the rest of the country. WMC to SLC is 353 miles or a five-hour drive. Given the distance, it is not possible for a package shipped from Winnemucca and transported over the road to make it to SLC in time to make the connection with the UPS jet. Transportation by small feeder aircraft is the only feasible way to ensure that package is delivered overnight.”

Developing programs for the pilot pipeline

The relationship with “Big Brown” and regional carriers goes far beyond how regionals deliver for UPS, however. UPS and Ameriflight, one of the largest regional cargo carriers, recently announced their intent to expand a pilot development program put in place earlier this year. Ameriflight, along with all regional carriers, has had a difficult time staffing its pilot corps.

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There are two phases to the gateway program with Phase One being for UPS interns who fly for Ameriflight for a number of years and then flow back to UPS Airlines. “Phase Two of the program is for any current or future Ameriflight pilot who wants to eventually move on to UPS and much larger aircraft,” said Ameriflight CEO Brian Randow. “We feel it will be a true success in helping with the pilot shortage. Phase Two will be completed by the end of the year and pilot selection begins in January.”

The UPS-Ameriflight Pilot Gateway Program is the first in the major/regional cargo industry, and helps to address that shortage.

“Promoting pilot careers is important for the long-term health of the aviation industry, and this program is a unique strategy to help ensure highly skilled pilot staffing into the future,” Capt. Roger Quinn, UPS Airlines Director of Training.

The practice of developing pilot gateway programs has gained increasing popularity amongst regionals and the UPS/Ameriflight effort means Ameriflight pilots who successfully complete the program qualify for the guaranteed interview with UPS Airlines, subject to its hiring needs and the candidate meeting all program and hiring requirements. Ameriflight has similar arrangements with Allegiant Air, Omni Air and Frontier.

While specific details for Phase Two have yet to be completed, Phase One of the UPS/Ameriflight Gateway Program offers a path under UPS Airline’s Intern Program. After completing a UPS internship, pilots get Part 135 flying experience at Ameriflight while preparing for a potential career at UPS. Pilot candidates get the benefit of UPS mentorships with the giant freight operator’s flight-qualified management team and chief pilots.

“We are particularly excited about this partnership with UPS and the opportunity it affords us,” says Ameriflight Chief Operating Officer Bill Poerstel. “This agreement will allow us to turn UPS interns into Ameriflight pilots, ultimately helping to support UPS for years to come.”

After completing the UPS internship, pilots are eligible for employment at Ameriflight where they gain the type of experience – keeping to schedules, decision making and building hours – that airlines are looking for. Pilots who work for regional carriers are seen to be far better prepared for an airline career than those who build their hours in non-airline pursuits such as towing banners or traffic reporting.

Regional cargo operators and large integrators such as UPS have created a symbiotic relationship not only to serve the critical, life-saving needs of the medical community as well as consumers but to encourage pilot careers and ensure a steady pipeline of professional pilots into the future.

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