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Campaign to ease pilot overload from antiquated safety warnings

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By Jamie Freed

(Reuters) -When it came time to land at San Francisco on July 7, 2017, the pilots of an Air Canada jet could not recall a critical piece of information buried on page eight of a 27-page briefing package: the closure of one of the airport’s two runways.

Mistaking the runway they were cleared to land on for the one that was closed, the fatigued pilots chose the wrong reference point and lined up to land on a parallel taxiway instead. They came within seconds of colliding with four planes.

More than three years later, a global campaign has been launched to improve aviation safety by reducing the kind of information overload experienced by the pilots of Air Canada 759.

The reform of the more than century-old system of Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) – originally modelled after Notices to Mariners – is part of a wider push to make aviation simpler, particularly in the wake of two Boeing 737 MAX crashes.

For long-haul flights, there can be up to 200 pages of NOTAMs for pilots to review on paper or an iPad, many of them as irrelevant as general bird hazard warnings, grass-cutting at airports or low-altitude construction obstacles relevant only to helicopters and light planes.

For decades, such standardised bulletins issued by national air navigation authorities – part of a global safety regime overseen by the United Nations – have helped to keep aviation safe.

But the industry has grown so large that the noise created by redundant warnings is increasingly seen as a hazard.

Displayed in unpredictable order and written in a telegraphic code conceived decades ago, the upper-case notices are riddled with byzantine abbreviations that can pose problems even for experienced pilots when they are overworked, particularly for non-native English speakers.

A warning that a navigation aid will be unavailable at Hong Kong International Airport for less than two hours in late May, for example, appears as:

A0290/21 NOTAMN

Q) VHHK/QNMAU/IV/NBO/AE/000/999/2219N11355E005

A) VHHH

B) 2105252130 C) 2105252329

E) SIU MO TO DVOR/DME ‘SMT’ 114.80 MHZ/CH95X NOT AVBL DUE MAINT.

In the United States, investigators have warned for years that the torrent of data could either overwhelm pilots or just be ignored.

Many are issued to avoid legal liability rather than improve safety, say experts.

“(NOTAMs) are just a bunch of garbage that nobody pays any attention to,” U.S. National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt said at a 2018 hearing on the Air Canada incident, which helped spur the global campaign for change.

BABY STEPS Now, the U.N. International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is leading efforts to overhaul the system.

Its first step is to get rid of outdated NOTAMs. Officially, the warnings are supposed to expire after 90 days. But 20% of the more than 36,000 active globally notices are older than that, according to ICAO.

“You can imagine how incredibly frustrating it is for crews because basically what we’re saying is, ‘Here’s 200 pages of junk. In there is one NOTAM that could potentially end your career, or place your aircraft and passengers in danger, and it’s up to you to find it,'” said Mark Zee, the founder of flight operations advisory firm OPSGROUP, who has played a key role in lobbying for change.

The next step, which Zee said was slated for 2022, will prioritise the most important warnings at the top of the briefing package and allow airlines to filter out those not relevant for their crews.

A final step – long overdue, according to pilots – would be to change the format of NOTAMs to make them more reader-friendly.

Airspace NOTAMs, for example, are often given as a set of latitudes and longitudes that are meaningless unless pilots have time to chart them – and they do not, Australian Federation of Air Pilots Safety and Technical Director Stuart Beveridge said.

“So we’ve actually suggested they move into the 21st century and look at upper and lower case, punctuation, plain standardised language, time formats that are not just strings of numbers, and where possible, graphical information,” he said.

While the campaign is promising, it demonstrates the glacial pace of change in global aviation, safety experts say, adding it could take years more before all countries put changes into effect.

In Albania, for example, there is an active NOTAM issued in 2000 that provides pilots with a telephone number to call should they have a Y2K-related communications problem.

“So I’m basically reading about Y2K thinking they can’t possibly mean that thing from 20 years ago that never happened,” Zee said.

“And right at the bottom there’s one that says, for example, no jet fuel available for two weeks. I’ve missed it. Now I’ve flown in and I can’t get fuel to get back out again.”

(Reporting by Jamie Freed in Sydney; additional reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal; Editing by Tim Hepher and Richard Pullin)

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New Zealand’s Ardern says lockdowns can end with high vaccine uptake

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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday the country should aim for a 90%-plus rate of inoculation, and could drop strict coronavirus lockdown measures once enough people were vaccinated.

New Zealand eliminated COVID-19 last year and remained largely virus-free until an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant in August led to a nationwide lockdown.

With its biggest city Auckland still in lockdown and new cases being reported every day, Ardern said vaccinations will replace lockdowns as the main tool against the virus, allowing authorities to isolate only those who are infected.

“If that rate (of vaccinations) is high enough then we will be able to move away from lockdowns as a tool,” she said.

The highest possible vaccine rates will give the most freedoms, Ardern said, adding that the country should be aiming for a 90% plus rate of vaccination.

After a sluggish start to its vaccination campaign, some 40% of adult New Zealanders are fully vaccinated and about 75% have had at least one dose.

Authorities reported 15 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, all in Auckland, taking the total number of cases in the current outbreak to 1,123.

The Director General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield warned earlier this week that New Zealand may not get to zero COVID cases again.

 

(Reporting by Praveen Menon; editing by Richard Pullin)

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Canada fossil fuel workers want victorious Trudeau to keep retraining pledge

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s narrow election victory this week reinforced Canada‘s commitment to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, but workers in the country’s sizable fossil fuel sector said they also expect him to keep his promises to retrain them for jobs in a clean-energy economy.

Oil worker advocacy group Iron & Earth estimates Canada will need around C$10 billion ($7.8 billion) over 10 years to retrain fossil fuel workers, but is sceptical about government promises to help after past pledges failed to materialise.

“At what point do these stop being promises and start being actions? These are people’s livelihoods on the line,” said Luisa Da Silva, executive director of Iron & Earth.

Da Silva said the country risks losing the skilled labour crucial to a clean energy economy if the government does not prioritise transition funding, which the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement recognizes as important to ensure no workers are left behind as the world decarbonizes.

As the clean energy economy takes off, it will generate some 640,000 jobs by 2030, a 50% increase from 2021, with strong growth in Alberta, industry body Clean Energy Canada forecasts.

But Steve MacDonald, CEO of Emissions Reduction Alberta, a provincial government-funded organization that invests in emissions-reducing technology, said it would be difficult to recreate the sustained economic contribution that was associated with the oil and gas sector.

Two years ago, the Liberal Party announced a “Just Transition Act” to support and retrain oil and gas workers, but only launched consultations to shape that legislation in July, and then put it on hold in August when the election was called. Trudeau announced a similar programme worth C$2 billion during the 2021 election campaign.

The oil and gas industry is Canada‘s highest polluting sector, accounting for 26% of all of carbon output. Yet Canada is the world’s No. 4 oil producer and some 450,000 jobs directly or indirectly linked to the industry are at risk over the next three decades as the country slashes climate-warming carbon emissions, TD Bank estimates.

So any talk of shrinking the sector is touchy, particularly in the staunchly conservative energy heartland of Alberta where many oil and gas workers live in remote communities scattered across the prairies and northern boreal forest. Trudeau sparked fury among them in 2017 when he talked about “phasing out” the oil sands.

Those remarks contributed to a wipe-out of Liberals in Alberta during 2019 election, although Liberal candidates are leading or elected in two seats in the just-concluded 2021 election. Failing to help retrain workers could batter local economies and sap support from government efforts to tackle the climate crisis.

“With the loss of any position in the oil and gas industry, the effect trickles down seven times due to the loss of economic spinoff effects,” said Gerald Aalbers, mayor of Lloydminster, a city of 31,000 straddling the Alberta-Saskatchewan border where an estimated 15% of jobs depend on the fossil fuel industry.

“The costs to retool the economy and businesses, let alone employees, will be tremendous.”

‘ONE-INDUSTRY CITY’

Canada‘s petroleum sector, which includes oil and gas extraction and refining, contributes about 5.3% to national GDP.

The Trudeau government is working with major producers like Suncor Energy to develop technologies like carbon capture to allow companies to bury emissions underground rather than cut production.

Still, downsizing of the industry seems inevitable if Canada is to meet its 2050 net zero goal, and an interim target of cutting emissions 40-45% from 2005 levels by 2030.

In the oil sands hub of Fort McMurray, where a nearly a third of all jobs are in fossil fuels, workers are nervous.

“We are a one-industry city,” said Dirk Tolman, 59, a heavy equipment operator and union leader at Suncor, who has worked in the oil sands since 2008. “Without the oil sands I don’t know if anybody would be staying in Fort McMurray.”

Even if clean energy jobs do replace oil and gas jobs, they are unlikely to be in the same location.

Sean Cadigan, a professor of history at Memorial University of Newfoundland, who has studied the impact of the collapse of Atlantic Canada‘s fishing industry in the 1990s, said oil and gas communities need new industries to develop alongside any shutdown of fossil fuels.

“(Otherwise) it will lead to a profound dislocation of people and that will always have grave impact on communities left behind,” he said.

($1 = 1.2822 Canadian dollars)

 

(Reporting by Nia Williams; Editing by Denny Thomas and David Gregorio)

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Canada election: several ridings still to close to call – CTV News

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TORONTO / OTTAWA —
While Canadians didn’t have to wait too long on election night to find out who will lead the next government, there are still several individual seats too close to call and it could take a few days to get clear results with mail-in ballots still to be counted.

As of Wednesday evening, nine seats had yet to be called, according to CTVNews.ca’s election tracker, with the Liberals leading in five of the races, the Conservatives leading in one, the Bloc Quebecois leading in one, and the NDP in two.

The number still to be decided won’t affect the overall election result, which saw the Liberals returned with a minority government, the Conservatives the Official Opposition, and both the Bloc and NDP holding enough seats to hold the balance of power when it comes to the Liberals passing key legislation.

But the outcomes of the individual races will have an impact on the people who live in those ridings, and could also end up affecting the outcome of free votes, where members don’t always vote along party lines, as well as the overall demographic breakdown of the House of Commons.

Seat counts can sometimes be seen as a referendum on party leaders, and any last-minute changes to the projected counts will be assessed by the parties as they take stock of their overall electoral showing.

Of course, there are some seats that may hold more symbolic or strategic value for certain parties.

For example, there’s little doubt the Liberals loved winning back the British Columbia seat of Vancouver Granville, which they lost after Jody Wilson-Raybould was expelled from the Liberal caucus over the SNC-Lavalin scandal. She went on to win the seat as an independent in the 2019 federal election, but chose not to run for re-election this year.

CTV News’ Decision Desk declared Liberal Taleeb Noormohamed the winner of the riding on Wednesday evening, beating out NDP candidate Anjali Appadurai by just 258 votes. In Vancouver Granville, 5,359 local mail-in ballot voting kits had been returned to Elections Canada by election day.

Former NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau was hoping to make a political comeback in her home riding of Berthier Maskinongé, and was in a close fight with incumbent Bloc Quebecois MP Yves Perron, but by Wednesday evening, CTV News’ Decision Desk had declared she’d been defeated, by 933 votes.

While it’s not uncommon for some tight races to stretch into the following day after an election, the wild card this year is the record number of mail-in ballots cast due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the latest numbers from Elections Canada, more than 1 million mail-in ballots were returned this year, about 83 per cent—851,213—of which were from people voting in their home ridings. It’s these local mail-in ballots that the agency is still working through.

It’s taking time to get these results because Elections Canada must verify that these voters have not also voted in person, as well as conduct other layers of ballot integrity assessments before these votes can be counted.

The scrutineering process began on Tuesday and the agency has begun to report the results with most expected on Wednesday, though in some ridings it could take until Friday.

The Liberals and NDP are also locking horns in the Toronto riding of Davenport, where incumbent Liberal Julie Dzerowicz leads the NDP’s Alejandra Bravo by 318 votes.

Also hanging on a razor’s edge is the race in Sault Ste. Marie, where Liberal incumbent Terry Sheehan leads Conservative Sonny Spina by just 55 votes, and where 1,660 local mail-in ballots having been returned.

There is still one seat in Edmonton too close to definitively call, which represents a potential defeat of a Conservative incumbent.

In Edmonton Griesbach, NDP candidate Blake Desjarais is leading Conservative Kerry Diotte by 1,006 votes, in a riding where 1,482 mail-in ballots have been received.

Next door, in Edmonton Centre, CTV News’ Decision Desk declared Liberal Randy Boissonnault the winner on Wednesday night, with 616 votes over Conservative James Cumming.

To stay on top of the results as they continue to be reported in real time from Elections Canada, bookmark our live results map.

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