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The suspension of all new federal regulations by the incoming administration will not impact BasicMed reforms, as had been feared by some in the aviation community. The directive issued on Jan. 20 by White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus halts publication of new regulations until approved by an agency director appointed by the incoming administration and suspends the effectiveness of previously published regulations for 60 days. The published effective date of the BasicMed rule, May 1, 2017, is more than 60 from the Jan. 20 directive, which exempts BasicMed from this directive. Additionally, the directive excludes those regulations subject to statutory deadlines.

The FAA reauthorization bill signed by President Obama in July 2016 required the FAA to publish rules for third class medical reform no later than January 2017, providing an additional level of assurance that BasicMed will not be impacted by the regulatory hold.

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Elaine Chao was easily confirmed by the United States Senate on Tuesday as the 18th Secretary of Transportation by a vote of 93-6. Chao is expected to support efforts to privatize the delivery of U.S. air traffic control services, though she did not share her opinions on privatization formally during the confirmation process. A privatized air traffic control system would likely be funded by user fees, which are popular with airlines but have stirred opposition from the general aviation community. In a recent earnings call, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly was cautiously optimistic about Secretary Chao and the new administration: “We're very enthused about her nomination. I don't know that it's clear exactly what the administration's focus will be in aviation. I think there's broad desire to roll back regulations, but I don't know that we know of anything that is specific.”

Ms. Chao previously served as the Secretary of Labor from 2001-2009 under President George W. Bush and is married to Mitch McConnell, the senior U.S. Senator from Kentucky and current Senate Majority Leader. Ms. Chao immigrated to the United States at the age of eight speaking no English with her parents, who were refugees of the Chinese Civil War.

U.S. Air Force officials have expressed support for a proposal by Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to acquire several hundred low-cost light-attack and observation aircraft. As proposed by Sen. McCain, “the Air Force should procure 300 low-cost, light-attack fighters that would require minimal work to develop. These aircraft could conduct counterterrorism operations [COIN], perform close air support [CAS] and other missions in permissive environments, and help to season pilots to mitigate the Air Force’s fighter pilot shortfall.”

The Air Force has been supporting CAS and COIN operations with sophisticated multirole aircraft like the F-16, F/A-18, and F-22, which cost tens of thousands of dollars per hour to operate, fly at speeds ill-suited to low-altitude missions and require the resources of a large airbase or aircraft carrier for sustained operation. Excitement for low-cost, light-attack aircraft has been kindled by the ballooning unit cost of the Lockheed-Martin F-35—now hovering around $100 million. Aircraft proposed for evaluation by industry experts have a unit cost on the order of $10 million and a cost per flight hour under $1,000.

Support for the aircraft purchase hinges on availability of an off-the-shelf design, rather than funding development of a new airframe from government coffers. Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute on the future of American airpower, USAF Gen. David Goldfein said, “We're actually right now looking at an experiment where we go out to industry and ask, 'What do you have, commercial-off-the-shelf, low-cost, that can perform this mission?’ We're going to do this experiment and just sort of see what's out there, and I expect many of the companies to come forward.”

Textron and Sierra Nevada Corp. are two likely competitors to build the proposed light attack aircraft and both have off-the-shelf designs available. Textron makes the Beechcraft AT-6 (developed from the T-6 Texan II, which is operated in large numbers by the U.S. Air Force and Navy for initial pilot training) and the Textron LandAir Scorpion jet. The Embraer A-29 Super Tucano, while designed in Brazil is manufactured by the Sierra Nevada Corporation in Jacksonville, Florida. According to Betsy McDonald, Communication Manager with Sierra Nevada, "The A-29 Super Tucano is fully Buy American compliant and is actually the only aircraft in its class with a U.S. military type certification." The eventual winner of the Air Force T-X competition to develop a new jet trainer to replace the Cold War-era T-38 may be able to adapt that aircraft to perform the light attack role, but given that project’s requirements for high speed, high-G flight, such an aircraft would likely struggle to compete on price with the AT-6 and A-29.

A formal request for information from the defense industry could come as early as Spring 2017.

UPDATE: A previous verision of this article listed Textron as the only large U.S. manufacturer with existing products for the light attack role. The article has been updated to include Sierra Nevada as manufacturer of the Brazilian Embraer A-29.

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It was 50 years ago, in 1967, that NASA scheduled the first Apollo mission, with the aim to land on the Moon, and EAA will celebrate that era of exploration this summer at AirVenture, with a reunion of Apollo astronauts and a slate of special events. The reunion is expected to be the largest gathering of Apollo astronauts at Oshkosh since 1994, when the “Salute to Apollo” program brought together 15 of them. Many of the activities will be centered on AirVenture’s “Apollo Day,” on Friday, July 28, which will be highlighted by a major evening program at the Theater in the Woods. Among the astronauts who will attend are Frank Borman (Apollo 8), Walt Cunningham (Apollo 7), Fred Haise (Apollo 13), Jim Lovell (Apollo 8 and Apollo 13), and Al Worden (Apollo 15).

“A number of Apollo astronauts have already committed to the event, as have other people closely involved with America’s space program during that era,” said EAA’s Rick Larsen. “This will be a rare, unforgettable gathering of the people who met the challenge of flying to the moon and safely returning, representing hundreds of thousands of individuals who contributed to its success. You may never get another opportunity to see these people in person, up close, as you will at Oshkosh this summer.” Additional astronauts are expected to confirm their attendance in the coming weeks. Further details on events and schedules will be announced as they are finalized. The Apollo 1 mission, in 1967, was destroyed in a launch-pad fire, in which three astronauts died. Apollo 11 was the first mission to reach the Moon, in 1969, and in 1972, Apollo 17 visited the Moon for the last time.

Proposed San Francisco Class B airspace changes would enable lower-angle descents into SFO optimized for the higher glide ratios of modern jet aircraft, reducing noise and fuel consumption. “A low thrust descent in a clean configuration results in the smallest noise footprint [regardless of altitude], and a descent in a clean configuration at near idle thrust results in lower fuel burn” says Rick Cote, an ATC Specialist with Northern California TRACON (NCT).

Representatives from NCT held public meetings around the SF Bay Area this week to solicit comments on the airspace redesign. Glider pilots expressed concern about the proposal to extend the 8,000-foot shelf to the northeast. This extension would limit glider to access the mountain wave lift around Mt. Diablo that now takes them to the base of Class A airspace on windy days.

Powered aircraft pilots had more to celebrate in the proposal. By converting from a system defined predominantly by DME rings and VOR radials to an airspace defined by latitude and longitude coordinates, the FAA proposal was able to give back large volumes of airspace not regularly used by jets arriving or departing SFO. Visitors to the area will appreciate charting of the common transition routes through the Class B surface area.

The proposal also removes that portion of the Class B airspace currently sitting on top of San Jose International. Aircraft departing San Jose are currently restricted by the 200-knot speed limit for flight underneath Class B airspace for the first several miles of their climb. The proposed change would free those aircraft to climb at optimal speeds.

Affected parties should submit comments no later than March 16, 2017. After incorporating public comments, the final redesign could take effect as soon as the January 2018 sectional chart update.

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Hawker Pacific has solidified its position in Australia with the acquisition of Adagold FBOs in Brisbane and Cairns. Hawker Pacific has operations throughout Australia, the Middle East, Pacific and Asia. The acquisition is a strategic one as opportunities for business aviation expand in Queensland. “The acquisition comes as Queensland gears up for the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, the scheduled completion of a new runway at Brisbane Airport in 2020 and the opening of a new Casino in Brisbane,” the company said in a news release. “Cairns continues to be a premier tourist destination with increased business traffic.”

The two FBOs began operating under the Hawker Pacific brand on Jan. 24. The company will operate two facilities at Brisbane, its existing facility and the new one in the general aviation precinct. “In addition to added capacity, the closer proximity of the new FBO facility to the new runway at Brisbane Airport will deliver significant time saving for Hawker Pacific customers particularly when utilizing the General Aviation precinct,” the company said. For more, see Hawker Pacific's website.

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Change is certainly a constant in aviation. Beyond aircraft technological advances, the rules that govern how air traffic control handles those aircraft are also frequently adjusted.

One area in particular that’s seen significant discussion and change in the past three years is opposite direction operations (ODO). The official Pilot/Controller Glossary defines ODO: “Aircraft are operating in opposite directions when: a. They are following the same track in reciprocal directions; or b. Their tracks are parallel and the aircraft are flying in reciprocal directions; or c. Their tracks intersect at an angle of more than 135 degrees.”

Simply put, planes converging more-or-less head on is an ODO. While this can happen in any phase of flight, the context we’re discussing is an aircraft landing or departing a runway contrary to the established flow of traffic.

Occasionally, situations occur that force the FAA to examine its procedures and modify them if needed. The bigger the, uh, “situation,” resulting changes are more likely and more dramatic. That’s precisely what happened with opposite direction ops.

The Good Old Days

Up until Summer 2012, running ODOs was fairly straightforward. It only required good judgment and awareness of the obvious risks. We are, after all, talking about airplanes running at each other from opposite ends of the same runway.

If a pilot requested an ODO departure, I’d examine the big picture. Was the active runway flush with arrivals and its hold short line packed with ready-to-go departures going in the “correct” direction? I may have told him, “Expect indefinite delay,” or just flat out, “Unable. Say intentions.”

However, if an ODO wouldn’t hurt our flow, I’d accommodate it all day.

Our early morning departures were one big ODO. If American wanted Runway 9, Fedex wanted 27, Jet Blue wanted 36, and United wanted 18, it was no problem. I’d tell the departure controller which aircraft was coming off which piece of concrete, clear one guy for takeoff, and the moment he was off the departure end, clear another aircraft in the reciprocal direction. Our tower crew called it “dial-a-runway.”

The same applied to late night arrivals, when all of our RON (Remain Over Night) airliners started flocking to the field. Approach just let us know which runway each wanted, we’d approve it, and Approach sequenced them appropriately, spaced so the preceding aircraft would be off the runway before the opposing one crossed the threshold.

Mixing and Matching

Just departures or just arrivals were fairly easy. Once we mixed opposite direction arrivals and departures, we had to be especially careful with separation requirements. We could, of course, apply visual separation, either from the tower watching both aircraft or if one pilot had the opposing aircraft in sight. Radar separation between IFR airplanes requires 1000 feet vertical separation or three miles laterally for radar approach controls. (Centers need five miles.)

Approach and tower controllers could also use course divergence instead of the 3-or-1000 rule. To apply this to ODO aircraft, both aircraft’s courses must differ by at least 135 degrees. (See the image on the next page.) It takes common sense and awareness of aircraft performance to apply all of these rules. Otherwise, bad things could happen.

Imagine a Boeing 737 at 150 knots on a five-mile final to Runway 27. A Cessna Citation X requests an ODO, to depart Runway 9. If I launch the Citation, by the time he’s lifting, the 737 would be inside three miles out and I’d have over a 300 knot head-on closure rate between two aircraft. I could force the Citation to turn tight to either 045 or 135—creating ODO course divergence—and apply tower-provided visual separation until I had that divergence. The worst case is that the 737 gets a go-around and a turn away from the departure.

In reality, I’d avoid all that crazy risk, let the 737 land, and then clear the Citation to go. We’re trained to keep sufficient space between ODO arrivals and departures, not to create conflicts. Not to say we don’t run things tight on occasion, but those should be highly mitigated risks taking into account aircraft speed, distance, types and maneuverability. For instance, swap the aforementioned jets for a pair of 100-knot Piper Cherokees, and it would’ve worked great, since they’re slower, more nimble aircraft.

Nevertheless, no amount of instruction, talent or experience can overcome human fallibility or the law of averages. Controllers make mistakes every single day. Saying “right” turn instead of “left.” “Traffic, nine o’clock” instead of “three o’clock.” Most are instantly caught and corrected and never get noticed off-frequency. However, when a mistake balloons into a huge mess involving multiple airliners and hundreds of passengers, it’s going to get some attention.

Chain Reaction

July 31, 2012: Washington National Airport in Washington D.C. lies just south of the prohibited areas surrounding the U.S. Capitol Building and the White House. Visual approaches to its longest runway—Runway 1/19—are tightly controlled and follow the Potomac River. Northbound arrivals to Runway 1 follow the Mount Vernon Visual Runway 1 chart, and southbound landers track the River Visual Runway 19.

Thunderstorms were building south of the airport. The northerly Mount Vernon arrivals were having trouble getting into Runway 1. A supervisor at Potomac Approach called the tower supervisor to ask if they could change to Runway 19.

The tower supervisor was occupied, so another staffer answered. The approach supervisor asked if they could “flush them all into 19.” The tower staffer told Approach, “Go ahead and run them in quickly.” The approach supervisor hung up and coordinated a runway change with his radar controllers.

Unfortunately, the tower staffer misheard Approach’s request. She thought he was asking for tighter spacing between arrivals to Runway 1. She had no idea that Approach was swinging the arrivals around to Runway 19, right in the face of the departures. With her, the first link in the communication chain broke.

From Bad to Worse

In the middle of this situation was the unsuspecting tower controller. Unaware that anything had changed, she cleared two aircraft for takeoff on runway 1: a Chautauqua Airlines Embraer 135 (CHQ3071), followed by a Republic Airlines Embraer 170 (RPA3467). Both were assigned standard northwesterly routes that would turn them away from prohibited airspace.

As CHQ started its climb, Tower got a nasty shock. A second Republic Embraer 170—RPA3329—checked in “on the river,” eastbound on the River Visual to Runway 19, converging with the climbing, northwest-bound CHQ aircraft. Tower directed RPA3299 to turn southbound, heading 180. The two aircraft missed one another by only 0.8 nautical miles and 800 feet, well below the three miles and 1000 feet required. That was an operational error, “a deal” in ATC shorthand.

Things escalated. RPA3467 had also departed on a north-northwest heading. He was almost abeam the still southbound RPA3299, and his route would put it well behind the other Embraer 170.

At approach, the supervisor saw what was happening and called Tower again. This time, the actual supervisor picked up. “Hey,” Approach asked him, “what are you guys doing launching north? Yeah, remember?” The surprised tower sup—who didn’t, in fact, remember because he hadn’t been part of the original conversation—dropped the phone and ran to the tower controller.

He instructed Tower to issue a right turn to 090. He intended that for the departing RPA3467, who was still northbound, possibly to bend him further away. Unfortunately, inexplicably, Tower issued them to the now southbound arriving RPA3299. The NTSB report states: “He [the supervisor] did not immediately recognize that the local [Tower] controller had misunderstood his direction because both aircraft were Republic Airlines flights, he heard her instruct a Republic flight to turn, and he was uncertain about the flight numbers of each aircraft.”

The end result was that RPA3299 swung right, a 270-degree turn all the way around to heading 090, and wound up on a converging course with the northwest-bound departing RPA3467. The radar track showed the two Republic airplanes got within 2.05NM and 800 feet of each other—another deal.

One Bad Nail, Many Hammers

Other ODO incidents had occurred here and there, but this one lit off the firestorm. The media got wind of the events  and painted a histrionic picture of an already-ugly situation. The talking heads on TV demanded that the FAA “do something.” Secretary of Transportation Ray Lahood promised, “We will get to the bottom of this, and we will take all appropriate action to prevent similar miscommunication in the future.”

A week after the incident, the FAA indeed took action—big time. Pending new procedures, it suspended opposite direction operations at all Part 139 airports (the ones that handle the majority of commercial airline traffic). The only exceptions were emergencies and official FAA flight inspections.

For me and many other controllers around the country, this was incredibly frustrating. A facility across the country had fouled up, but we all had to pay for it. By “we,” I mean both controllers and pilots.

ATC exists to provide services to the flying public. Now those services had been curtailed. Gone was the morning “dial-a-runway.” Gone was a chance for time-critical air-ambulance flights to shave a few minutes off their flights. Gone was the freedom of choice when fast-moving weather barreled in and pilots wanted to take off from whichever runway would keep them out of the storms.

As we always do in ATC, we found workarounds. The main designator for the runway in use is our ATIS broadcast. If I had an air ambulance requesting opposite direction, and nothing else going on, I’d quickly record a new ATIS declaring the formerly “opposite” runway as the active, coordinate this with Approach, and clear the Medevac for takeoff. Once he was airborne, I’d re-record the ATIS with the original runway.

All that took some work, but if someone needed it and I had the time, why not perform the service? We get paid to sort these things out, but even that was just a band-aid fix.

The New Rules Stipulated

The wholesale ban didn’t last, thankfully. Affected ATC facilities could resume ODO as soon as they developed new internal procedures that met three key requirements. First up? Traffic calls. When running two opposing aircraft to the same runway, we’re now required to tell them about each other. It was obviously good practice to do so before, but now it’s required. Surprises aren’t always welcome, especially the “head-on” kind.

Second, arrivals require designated cutoff points. Before the changes, ATC simply used judgment to ensure spacing. Picture the ODO example I used early on (one guy departing 9, another on a five-mile final to 27), and that both aircraft were IFR Piper Cherokees. Gauging their speed and distance, I could launch the 9 departure on a 045 or 135 heading with plenty of room before the 27 arrival became a factor.

The new regs replace that freedom with hard cutoff points. For an arrival-departure scenario, if an arrival is inside a certain distance to the airport, we can’t clear an opposite-direction takeoff. Our airport uses 10 miles for turbine aircraft and seven miles for piston airplanes/helicopters. In the Piper scenario, with the arrival only five miles out, I’d have to hold the departure.

There are different cutoffs for arrival-arrival conflicts. If two arrivals are inbound to opposite ends of the same runway, the second one can’t get closer than seven miles before the first one crosses the threshold. This allows room if the first aircraft goes around.

The final major change involves coordination procedures, which was really the failure point in the Washington National situation. It wasn’t like Tower was purposely running both Republic flights to opposing ends of the same runway and botched the spacing. It was basic miscommunication. The new rules require extreme clarity: “All coordination must be on a recorded line, state ‘opposite direction,’ and include call sign, type, and arrival or departure runway.”

The specifics of these procedures are developed on a per-airport basis, and each airport is subject to the guidance of the FAA district under which it operates. That means you’ll encounter different procedures at different airports. Some cutoffs points are 15 miles away. Some are five. Some only allow VFR opposite direction. Some still prohibit all ODO—even VFR pattern traffic and the FAA’s own Flight Inspections—except for emergencies.

These new regs clearly attacked the situation “head on” and mandated increased clarity and safety, while sacrificing a good deal of flexibility. I certainly miss how creative we could be with our traffic flow. Will the FAA ever allow us to return to the old “dial-a-runway” days? Who knows? In the meantime, controllers and pilots just have to play by the current rules. If you’re requesting an ODO yourself, you might be waiting longer than you hoped to get what used to be easy.

Tarrance Kramer works his traffic right ways, sideways, and opposite ways, somewhere in the Midwest.

This article originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of IFR magazine.

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Now that it has been established that we live in a world of regular facts and alternative facts, the morass of confusion over the announced closing of the much-fought-over Santa Monica Airport comes into perfect focus. As far as this airport is concerned, there aren’t so much alternative facts as multiple parallel realities. I think even if you live there, it’s not possible to discern the right thing to do.

In this space, I’m an aviation opinion writer and on the subject of airport closures, I’m expected to default to auto-preach and thunder about the FAA’s back-alley decision to allow the city to first shorten the airport’s runway and second close it by 2028. But I’m not much of a choir leader because I believe keeping an airport open in the wrong place may be bad public policy in the service of what is, after all, just another special interest: general aviation.

I’ve been to Santa Monica exactly once and have flown over it several times. It’s stunning how this strip of pavement survives, encroached by a relentless tide of urban development. Like clockwork since the day AVweb started, we have published multiple Santa Monica stories. Google offers up more than 18 million hits on everything combined and in the distant back pages you’ll find a trail littered with court fights, FAA decrees, city council intrigue and vocal pilots. Our story over the weekend details the latest development which was—suspiciously—engineered over the weekend between the FAA and the city. It allows the city to whack 1500 feet off the runway and eventually close it in 2028. Aviation alphabets and local interests were unaware of it.

Personally, I don’t see how this was ever not going to happen, given the value of the real estate and the overwhelming economic pressure on it to deliver more of a return than an airport ever could. As pilots, we’re good at tuning out these larger considerations in favor of our own interests. But I like to think in addition to being a pilot, I’m also a citizen capable of weighing pros and cons that may affect my own fortunes. I also like to think I know the greater good when I see it.

With Santa Monica, the alternative facts kick into high gear. For every article like this one that provides a glimpse into what some neighbors think, you see a counterargument from airport supporters who are just as sure they’re right. As pilots, after all, we are perfectly capable of being our own worst enemies if we argue that neighbors knew the airport was there when they moved in. True, but they also have a voice in whether it stays there. As the Air & Space article points out, some residents didn’t mind the airport until jet operations ticked up. When a Gulfsteam blows over your picnic table, you tend to notice.

A few years ago, a cabal of irate neighbors elected council people to curtail or close my home airport and, at the time, I wondered then if that was good public policy. Did it represent the will of the community? It turns out that it did not and the FAA did a stellar job of keeping the council from gaining an inch at the airport’s expense. Is this true at Santa Monica, too? How could we possibly tell? I don’t see the FAA’s decision as a sellout so much as the kind of negotiation regulatory agencies do. On the other hand, I don’t like that it was done quietly on a weekend. What don’t we know about this deal?

I’m not so sure this perspective from the local paper is any more right than anything else I’ve read. The author concludes that FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, an Obama appointee, made the decision to close SMO as a slap in the face to Republicans and that President Trump will reverse it. The reason is that Trump will want to punish the rich liberals in Santa Monica by sticking them with a stinky, noisy airport.

The flaw in that theory is that the rich Hollywood liberals who railed against Trump base their jets at SMO and closing it would deny them access. Or maybe just shortening the runway would chase the jets away, but keep piston aircraft active. That might actually be a net plus for the community, since the pistons are quieter. Either way, nothing is happening toward closure until beyond 2028.     

How about an alternative fact theory? Trump actually ordered the closing because he’s a real estate guy and knows an opportunity when he sees one. Nice place for a hotel or a resort, no? Or maybe a rich donor asked for a little payback for as surely as I sit here typing, not everyone in Santa Monica is liberal. This could be just as likely as Trump reversing Huerta. Or not. Watch closely to what happens with the runway shortening to see what’s next.

Meanwhile, my successor will be stuck writing Santa Monica stories for at least the next decade, maybe longer. I hope I don’t have to.

At the Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, Florida, Flight Design showed off the new CTLS with Dynon's HDX avionics package. AVweb took a demo flight in the new airplane.

Swift Fuels says it’s pushing hard to market its 94UL unleaded aviation fuel to more airports and that the infrastructure is in place to refine and distribute it virtually anywhere in the U.S. At this week’s Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, Swift’s Chris D’Acosta told AVweb that UL94 can be burned by about 65 percent of the U.S. general aviation fleet. The remaining aircraft require 100-octane fuel. In this AVweb podcast, D'Acosta gave us additional details about both UL94 and Swift's efforts to field a replacement for 100LL.

At the Sport Aviation Expo is Sebring this week, we spoke with several manufacturers of light sport aircraft (LSAs) about their expectations for the newly announced FAA BasicMed rule. The people who spoke to us for this AVweb exclusive podcast acknowledged that there are buyers for whom avoiding a medical is the key criterion and who might prefer a larger aircraft but felt most of their buyers were pilots who wanted a safe and modern two-seat aircraft.

Picture of the Week
Picture of the Week

Rainbows abounded in a shower at Orange County Airport. Gregg Erickson, of Poplar Grove, Illinois was waiting to take off and in the right place at the right time. Colourful shot, Greg. Click through to see it full size and a few others, too.

Providence Approach: King Air 1234 contact Bradley Approach on 123.95.

Providence Approach: King Air 1234 contact Bradley Approach on 123.95.

Providence Approach: King Air 1234 - contact Bradley Approach on 123.95

King Air 1234: (Scratchy static)Here,  you reply from your seat. This PTT is a POS.


 

Graeme Smith 

 

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