Lifted by e-commerce demand, cargo-only flights emerged as a lifeline for carriers during the pandemic when commercial traffic slumped. Half of air cargo normally travels in the belly of passenger jets.
While North American airlines are reducing all-cargo flights as passenger traffic rebounds, that shift is more gradual in Canada due to a slower easing of travel restrictions.
Cargo remains important for Canada‘s largest carrier, accounting for 43% of second-quarter revenue, even as it restores passenger flights, a company executive told Reuters.
“We (cargo) were a single-digit piece of the business before COVID. We hope to be a bigger part of that in the future,” Jason Berry, Air Canada‘s vice president for cargo, said in an interview, without providing a target.
Air Canada‘s ambition comes as international air cargo volume hit its strongest first-half growth since 2017, airline trade group IATA said. But staffing shortages and space constraints have exacerbated congestion at hubs like Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and at some U.S. ports.
U.S. railroad operator Union Pacific Corp recently warned that bottlenecks at West Coast ports have spread East, impacting some inland terminals, including Chicago.
Air Canada, which trucks cargo arriving at Toronto Pearson International Airport to its facilities in Chicago and New York, could appeal to freight forwarders seeking alternatives like secondary U.S. airports to bypass the congestion, said Brandon Fried, executive director of the Airforwarders Association.
“Many of the airports in the U.S. in particular have ramped up quickly, and with that rapid growth there has been operational challenges. We’re seeing congestion, massive lines and wait times to recover product at major gateways,” Air Canada‘s Berry said.
“We have our own facility in Chicago with our own employees, while a lot of our competitors are suffering because the U.S. has seen such a quick rebound that there is a lot of struggle for manpower down there,” he said.
“With our own facilities we can control our own destiny and effectively bypass much of the disruption. We believe we have a strategic advantage in our Toronto hub, actually all of our hubs: Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.”
Keeping employees to handle cargo, as opposed to contracting out such tasks, helps airlines have more control over service and workforce when there is a labor shortage, said Stan Wraight, president of Montreal-based Strategic Aviation Solutions International (SASI).
Air Canada‘s services could be competitive on time against carriers that fly indirectly to O’Hare, said Wraight, of SASI, which advises airlines, airports and financial organizations on air cargo logistics.
However, the Canadian carrier would lose advantages in efficiency against airlines that offer non-stop direct service to Chicago, he said.
“Competitors of Air Canada with direct flights are on the ground and unloading cargo a day earlier,” said Wraight, whose company has previously done work for the carrier.
Shawn Richard, vice president for global air freight at SEKO Logistics, said the company has increased its volumes with Air Canada, which he said can save two to three days’ time.
SEKO, a U.S.-based global logistics and freight forwarding specialist that also uses certain U.S. carriers, would increase business with Air Canada if the “situation deteriorates,” Richard said.
O’Hare has processed nearly 1.3 million metric tonnes of cargo through the first half of 2021, a near 50% surge from a year ago, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA).
Soaring shipments “challenge O’Hare’s cargo ramps, both airside and landside,” but the CDA is taking steps to alleviate congestion and expand cargo facilities, a spokeswoman said by email.
Berry said Air Canada‘s introduction of new converted Boeing 767 freighters this year will help its business even as it draws down cargo-only flights on widebody passenger jets from roughly 285 a week during the second quarter to around 125 flights a week later this year.
Freighters, equipped with pallets and a main deck cargo door, are easier to unload than “loose-loaded” passenger planes that moved cargo onto the main deck during the pandemic, Wraight said.
Berry said the return of fully vaccinated American travelers to Canada this month will also help cargo.
“We know that means more airplanes flying into the U.S. and that opens trade lanes for the globe to feed into and out of the U.S. on our network.”
(Reporting By Allison Lampert in Montreal and Sanjana Shivdas in Bengaluru; Editing by Denny Thomas and Dan Grebler)
Big gap between Pfizer, Moderna vaccines seen for preventing COVID hospitalizations – Yahoo News Canada
Amid persistent concerns that the protection offered by COVID-19 vaccines may be waning, a report released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that America’s workhorse shot is significantly less effective at preventing severe cases of disease over the long term than many experts had realized.
Data collected from 18 states between March and August suggest the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine reduces the risk of being hospitalized with COVID-19 by 91% in the first four months after receiving the second dose. Beyond 120 days, however, that vaccine efficacy drops to 77%.
Meanwhile, Moderna’s vaccine was 93% effective at reducing the short-term risk of COVID-19 hospitalization and remained 92% effective after 120 days.
Overall, 54% of fully vaccinated Americans have been immunized with the Pfizer shot.
The surprising findings came as a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel recommended against offering booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine to all Americans ages 16 and older. In a striking rebuke, 16 of 18 experts told the agency it had not mustered enough data to make a third shot the norm.
In lengthy briefings to the panel, representatives from Pfizer pointed to clinical trial results involving 306 mostly healthy participants to argue that a booster “restores” the 95% vaccine effectiveness rate seen earlier in the pandemic.
Company officials also touted evidence from Israel, which rolled out boosters after seeing a rise in hospitalizations among people who were fully vaccinated. Those hospitalizations dropped dramatically after third doses were given, Israeli scientists have said.
But panel members made clear that despite Pfizer’s aggressive stance, it had not gathered enough evidence that a third shot was safe for young people and for those at lesser risk of becoming severely ill with COVID-19.
“We need age-specific data” on the safety and protective benefits of a further booster, said Dr. Ofer Levy, a panel member who directs the Precision Vaccines program at Boston Children’s Hospital.
FDA clearance for booster shots for everyone 16 and older would be seen as something “close to a mandate,” said Dr. Eric Rubin, a panel member and infectious-disease expert at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Rubin worried that such a move could redefine what it takes to be considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
“None of us are there yet,” he said.
But others apparently are. Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s top advisor on vaccines, has come out strongly in favor of booster shots, saying before Friday’s vote that a failure to endorse the shots “would be a mistake.”
And in mid-August, Biden himself said his administration would begin making booster shots available the week of Sept. 20 to those vaccinated for at least eight months.
Biden cautioned at the time that his plan was contingent on FDA approval. But his announcement stoked concerns of political meddling in a matter that required the unhindered evaluation of scientists.
“This should demonstrate to the public that the members of this committee are independent of the FDA,” Dr. Archana Chatterjee, dean of the Chicago Medical School, said after the vote. “In fact, we do bring our voices to the table when we are asked to serve on this committee.”
The panel unanimously agreed that a third shot of the vaccine now sold under the brand name Comirnaty should be offered to select groups: individuals 65 and older, people at risk of developing severe disease, and those, including healthcare workers, whose occupations put them at high risk of infection.
Dr. Peter Marks, who leads the FDA’s evaluation of drugs and vaccines, told panel members that the agency could give its blessing to booster shots with an emergency use authorization — a regulatory step that falls short of the full approval Pfizer had sought.
The company issued no statement Friday in response to the panel’s vote.
Researchers in the United States have been warning for months that the immunity afforded by COVID-19 vaccines might be waning. The CDC reported that in late July, close to three-quarters of the 469 people swept up in a Massachusetts outbreak were fully vaccinated. And the agency has launched several studies aimed at detecting changes in vaccine effectiveness in healthcare workers and others who were vaccinated early.
But virtually all of those infections appeared to be mild. And health officials eager to induce vaccine skeptics to step up for their shot — including Fauci and Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — have repeatedly praised the vaccines for keeping most fully vaccinated people out of hospitals.
The new report on waning vaccine efficacy challenges that expectation.
Researchers from around the country found striking differences between two mRNA vaccines long thought to be interchangeable.
When the Moderna vaccine received emergency use authorization in December, the company reported that 30 people in its clinical trial developed severe cases of COVID-19, including nine who required hospitalization. All 30 patients were in the placebo group, resulting in a vaccine efficacy against severe disease of 100%.
Ten people in Pfizer’s initial clinical trial developed severe cases of COVID-19. Nine of them were in the placebo group, including seven who were hospitalized, resulting in a vaccine efficacy against severe disease of 88.9%.
Once the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines were rolled out to the public, their records of preventing COVID-19 hospitalizations in the first four months were neck and neck — 93% and 91% effective, respectively. But the degree of protection diverged after that.
When they focused specifically on the period 120 days beyond the second dose, the study authors found that the Moderna vaccine remained 92% effective at preventing COVID-19 hospitalizations. But the equivalent figure for the Pfizer vaccine was 77%.
The results were published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are based on mRNA technology, which delivers temporary instructions to the body’s muscle cells that help it learn to recognize the spike protein, a key part of the coronavirus’ structure. But “they’re actually not necessarily interchangeable,” said Dr. Timothy Brewer, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at UCLA.
Each vaccine is formulated and administered differently, Brewer said, and those differences could affect the strength and duration of the two vaccines’ protection.
Moderna’s shot contains 100 micrograms of vaccine, more than three times the 30 micrograms in the Pfizer shot. And Pfizer’s two doses are given three weeks apart, while Moderna’s two-shot regimen is administered with a four-week gap.
Brewer also pointed to evidence that the Moderna vaccine seemed to elicit higher levels of a key antibody than the Pfizer vaccine.
“We know from other studies the neutralizing antibody levels will decay over time, so starting at a higher level will mean that you have farther to go before you decay to a point where efficacy drops off,” he said.
Dr. Robert Murphy, who directs Northwestern University’s Institute for Global Health, said the Pfizer vaccine’s reduced protection against severe disease may bolster the case for boosters for all who got the vaccine, not just the specific groups identified by the FDA advisory panel.
“Based on the data I have seen, persons who received the Pfizer vaccine would benefit from a booster dose at this time,” he said. “I don’t see why we have to wait until the younger people get sick and become hospitalized.”
But Dr. Arnold Monto, who chairs the FDA advisory panel, applauded the agency’s willingness to withhold a full-throated call for boosters until a stronger case can be made. And he suggested that as more evidence accumulates, boosters for all might still get the nod.
“That’s the beauty of the emergency use authorization,” said Monto, an epidemiologist at University of Michigan. “It can be changed based on changing data.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
CN Rail to slash capital spending, resume stock buybacks as shareholder battle looms – The Globe and Mail
Canadian National Railway Co. has moved to fend off a battle for control of the company’s boardroom, rolling out a list of investor-friendly plans Friday that includes share buybacks, layoffs and reduced spending.
CN unveiled the changes, including the sale of non-rail businesses and other steps intended to boost profit and improve productivity, as it defended its actions in the failed takeover of U.S. railway Kansas City Southern.
CN’s announcement came less than a day after its second-largest investor, TCI Fund Management, gave the company 21 days to call a shareholder meeting at which TCI plans to oust CN’s chairman, chief executive officer and two directors.
Mathieu Gaudreault, a CN spokesman, said the company received TCI’s meeting requisition notice and will respond later.
British billionaire Chris Hohn, who owns TCI, said CN is poorly run by people with little or no rail experience. Mr. Hohn said the failed attempt to buy Kansas City Southern underlined CN’s “flawed decision making” and “a basic misunderstanding of the railroad industry and regulatory environment.”
Ben Walker, a partner in TCI, dismissed CN’s Friday announcement as “reactive” and said it does not change the plans to wage a boardroom fight. The dissatisfaction with CN’s leadership precedes the failed KCS bid, he said, pointing to CN’s underperformance in recent years compared with its rivals.
“A lot of the things they’re doing should have been done already as part of a continuous improvement plan and efficiency optimization,” Mr. Walker said by phone. “We’re hopeful that shareholders will vote for our slate of independent, high-quality nominees.”
KCS agreed to a cheaper bid from rival Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. and is awaiting regulatory approval.
On a conference call with analysts Friday, CN executives defended their handling of the KCS bid and said the company’s management and board were the best people to lead the company.
“We have the right leadership team and management team to execute our strategic plan, both in the short term and the long term,” said Jean-Jacques Ruest, CN’s chief executive officer. “We have a vision for the industry which is forward-looking, not backward-looking.”
Mr. Ruest said the non-rail businesses that could be sold or shut down include its Great Lakes commodity ships, freight forwarding business and Winnipeg trucking company TransX Group, which CN bought in 2019.
“There is no sacred cow at CN,” Mr. Ruest said on the call. “Do they fit in the long-term strategy? Do they also contribute to feeding the beast or bringing business to the railroad?”
CN said it will eliminate 650 management jobs and 400 unionized positions in train operations.
Walter Spracklin, a Royal Bank of Canada stock analyst, said CN’s “strategic refocus” was inevitable.
“It is clear to us that CN’s operating efficiency has deteriorated over the past several years and the company has gone from industry leader to industry laggard,” Mr. Spracklin said. “That said, as an early pioneer of [precision scheduled railroading], we believe the company has the potential to achieve … efficiency levels that are among the best in the industry.”
TCI’s nominees to CN’s board include former CN and Union Pacific Railroad executive Jim Vena as CEO.
The US$40-billion hedge fund, launched in 2003 by Mr. Hohn, owns more than 5 per cent of CN’s shares, worth about $4-billion. TCI is also the largest owner of CP shares, at 8 per cent, and owns almost 3 per cent of Union Pacific.
In 2008, TCI led a boardroom fight at U.S. railway CSX Corp., replacing four of 12 directors.
Among the steps CN announced Friday:
- Resuming share repurchases to reach $1.1-billion by the end of January, 2022;
- Increasing shareholder returns, including share buybacks of $5-billion for 2022;
- Replacing two directors in 2022, including chairman Robert Pace, whose planned retirement was previously announced;
- Improving the operating ratio, which compares sales with costs, to 57 per cent; and
- Increasing train length and speed.
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US FDA panel okays COVID-19 booster jabs for people over 65 – Al Jazeera English
Recommendation comes after science advisory panel rejects Pfizer proposal to provide booster jabs to most people.
A United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel has given approval to a booster jab of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for people over the age of 65 and others at high risk of the disease.
But the influential FDA panel of scientists on Friday rejected widespread delivery of boosters to most Americans, delivering a surprise blow to the Biden administration’s plan to combat the highly contagious Delta variant by rolling out third jabs of the vaccine next week.
Members of the FDA’s panel of outside experts voted unanimously to support boosters for older Americans and at-risk people after rejecting Pfizer’s proposal to provide boosters of the vaccine to the general public.
The FDA’s move to clear the way for booster jabs only for older and at-risk people came as President Joe Biden planned to host a COVID-19 summit on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York next week.
The US has been pushing partner nations to increase the availability of vaccines worldwide. The World Health Organization has urged the US to hold off providing boosters to its citizens until more of the worldwide population has received an initial inoculation.
“We will be asking participants to commit to a higher level of ambition” on a “common vision for defeating COVID-19 together”, White press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
During several hours of discussion, the FDA panel of scientific advisers voiced frustration that Pfizer had provided little data on the safety of extra doses. And they complained information provided by Israeli researchers about their booster campaign was not useful for predicting the US experience.
Pfizer Inc and its German partner BioNTech, as well as rival vaccine maker Moderna Inc, have presented analyses of clinical trials showing that the effectiveness of the vaccines wanes over time.
As a result, people who were vaccinated earlier on in the pandemic are now more vulnerable to infections, particularly in the face of the fast-spreading Delta variant of coronavirus.
Booster doses help restore the waning levels of antibodies produced by the original inoculation, the drugmakers have said.
Top FDA members have been split on the necessity of the boosters, with interim head Janet Woodcock backing them but some of the agency’s top scientists arguing they are not needed yet.
Members of the advisory panel said the Pfizer and the FDA request for approval for people as young as 16 years old is too broad. Most of them said they would support boosters for older Americans, but did not think they were needed yet for younger adults.
Many vaccine experts said the data so far only suggested a need for boosters in older adults and people with compromised immune systems. The critics include two FDA scientists who resigned as the Biden administration announced its booster shot plans.
A separate panel advising the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will meet next week to recommend which groups should get them.
The White House said it was ready to roll out boosters next week if health officials approve the plan. That programme now is likely to be narrowed in light of the advisory panel’s views and the FDA’s partial approval of the use of boosters.
A report published in The Lancet medical journal on September 13 concluded that even with the threat of the more contagious Delta variant, “booster doses for the general population are not appropriate at this stage in the pandemic.”
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