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Campaign to ease pilot overload from antiquated safety warnings



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


B) 2105252130 C) 2105252329


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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AMC expects people to return to theaters as vaccine rollout gathers pace



(Reuters) -AMC Entertainment Holdings said on Thursday its business was expected to improve in the coming months as the mass rollout of COVID-19 vaccines draws moviegoers back to the cinema chain’s theaters.

A strong slate of big-budget movies, including “Fast & Furious” film “F9” and Marvel’s “Black Widow,” in the summer is expected to fuel a rebound in box-office sales after the pandemic-driven slump in 2020.

“We finally can now say that we are looking at an increasingly favorable environment for movie-going and for AMC as a company over the coming few months, Chief Executive Officer Adam Aron said in a statement.

However, the company’s revenue fell to $148.3 million in the quarter ended March 31, from $941.5 million a year earlier, missing a Refinitiv IBES estimate of $153.43 million.

Its net loss shrunk to $567.2 million, or $1.42 per share in the quarter, from a loss of $2.18 billion, or $20.88 per share, a year earlier.

(Reporting by Chavi Mehta in Bengaluru; Editing by Aditya Soni)

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Drugmakers say Biden misguided over vaccine patent waiver



By Stephanie Nebehay and Ludwig Burger

GENEVA/FRANKFURT (Reuters) -Drugmakers on Thursday said U.S. President Joe Biden’s support for waiving patents of COVID-19 vaccines could disrupt a fragile supply chain and that rich countries should instead share more generously with the developing world.

Biden on Wednesday threw his support behind waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, angering research-based pharmaceutical companies.

If adopted by the World Trade Organisation, the proposal would invite new manufacturers that lack essential know-how and oversight from the inventors to crowd out established contractors, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) said.

“I have heard many (vaccine makers) talking about ‘our resources are stretched, our technicians are stretched’,” IFPMA Director General Thomas Cueni told Reuters. He warned of a possible free for all if “sort of rogue companies” were allowed to become involved.

Vaccine developers echoed his comments that waiving intellectual property rights was not a solution.

“Patents are not the limiting factor for the production or supply of our vaccine. They would not increase the global production and supply of vaccine doses in the short and middle term,” said Germany’s BioNTech, which aims to supply up 3 billion doses together with Pfizer this year.

BioNTech said it took more than a decade to develop its vaccines manufacturing process and replicating it required experienced personnel and a meticulous technology transfer, among several other factors beyond patents.

Another German company CureVac, which hopes to release trial results on its messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) vaccine as early as this month, said patents were not to blame for supply bottlenecks.

“Since mRNA technology has emerged as the key technology in the fight against COVID-19, the world now needs the same raw materials in unfathomable amounts. The biggest problem is how to coordinate this,” a spokeswoman said.

IFPMA’s Cueni said the real bottlenecks were trade barriers, in particular the U.S. Defense Production Act (DPA).

The DPA is a decades-old U.S. law that prioritised procurement orders related to U.S. national defence, but it has been widely used in non-military crises, such as natural disasters.

Cueni said the way to kickstart low-income countries’ vaccination campaigns was for rich countries to donate vaccine, rather than widen eligibility to young and healthy people at home.

Moderna, which on Thursday reported quarterly results, said waiving intellectual property rights would not help to increase supply of its vaccines in 2021 and 2022.

The U.S. drugmaker said last year it would not enforce its vaccine patents. CureVac said on Thursday it would also not enforce its patents during the pandemic and that it knew of no other developer that would.

Italy’s ReiThera which is in late-stage tests on an experimental COVID-19 vaccine, was also critical of patent waivers.

“There is proprietary know-how that has to be transferred by the owner. And then there is the problem with process materials, which at the moment have delivery times of almost a year,” ReiThera’s chief of technology Stefano Colloca said.

In contrast to the industry reaction, the GAVI vaccine alliance, which co-leads the COVAX dose-sharing programme with the WHO and faces major supply constraints, welcomed Biden’s support for waiving intellectual property rights.

(Writing by Ludwig BurgerAdditional Reporting by Emilio Parodi in Milan; editing by Barbara Lewis and Jane Merriman)

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EU supports COVID vaccine patent waiver talks, but critics say won’t solve scarcity



By Philip Blenkinsop and Carl O’Donnell

BRUSSELS/NEW YORK (Reuters) -The European Union on Thursday backed a U.S. proposal to discuss waiving patent protections for COVID-19 vaccines, but drugmakers and some other governments opposed the idea, saying it would not solve global inoculation shortages.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen expressed willingness to explore a waiver after President Joe Biden on Wednesday promoted the plan, reversing the U.S. position.

“The main thing is, we have to speed this up,” U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on Thursday as India battled a devastating COVID-19 outbreak. “None of us are going to be fully safe until … we get as many people vaccinated as possible.”

A patent waiver is “one possible means of increasing manufacture, and access to vaccines,” he said, as the White House denied a split among officials over the waiver idea.

Biden’s administration endorsed negotiations at the World Trade Organization to gain global agreement.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told member states that she “warmly welcomed” the U.S. move. “We need to respond urgently to COVID-19 because the world is watching and people are dying,” she said.

World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reached for capital letters in a tweet calling Biden’s move a “MONUMENTAL MOMENT IN THE FIGHT AGAINST #COVID19,” and said it reflected “the wisdom and moral leadership of the United States.”

Despite that enthusiasm, drugmakers, who stand to lose revenue if they are stripped of patent rights to COVID-19 vaccines, and other critics found flaws in the proposal.

The complexities of manufacturing means free access to the intellectual property is not enough to immediately increase vaccine production, they said. Moderna waived its patent rights in October, and on Thursday noted the lack of companies able to rapidly manufacture a similar vaccine and secure approval for it.

Combined, Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc have forecast over $45 billion in sales this year for their COVID-19 vaccines.

In the long term, a waiver would discourage pharmaceutical companies from rapidly responding to future global health threats with large research investments, some said.

Germany, the EU’s biggest economic power and home to a large pharmaceutical sector, rejected the idea, saying vaccine shortages were due to limited production capacity and quality standards rather than patent protection issues.

Health Minister Jens Spahn said he shared Biden’s goal of providing the whole world with vaccines. But a government spokeswoman said in a statement that “the protection of intellectual property is a source of innovation and must remain so in the future.”

Moreover, a waiver would take months to negotiate and require unanimous agreement among the 164 countries in the WTO. Drug companies urged rich countries instead to share vaccines more generously with the developing world.


Stock prices for drugmakers largely recovered after initially falling sharply after Biden backed the waiver idea. Moderna was off 1.3% after earlier dropping 12%, and the U.S. shares of its German partner BioNTech SE shed 0.6% after falling as much as 15% earlier. “The bottleneck is neither access nor patents (or price) butsimply that there aren’t enough vials, raw materials, etc tomanufacture it regardless of patents,” Jefferies analyst Michael Yee said of expanding COVID-19 vaccine production.

The pharmaceutical industry’s main lobbying group, PhRMA, said: “This decision does nothing to address the real challenges to getting more shots in arms, including last-mile distribution and limited availability of raw materials.”

There have been more than 155 million confirmed coronavirus infections worldwide and almost 3.4 million peopled have died for COVID-19, according to a Reuters tally.

But the vast bulk of the 624 million people who have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Our World in Data website, live in wealthier countries.

The global COVAX vaccine distribution program, led by the WHO and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), that aims to supply vaccines to low-income countries, has so far handed out around 41 million doses.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he was “very much in favour” of opening up intellectual property. However, a French government official said vaccine shortages was the result of a lack of production capacity and ingredients, not of patents.

“I would remind you that it is the United States that has not exported a single dose to other countries, and is now talking about lifting the patents,” the official said.

The United States has shipped a few million vaccine doses it was not using to Mexico and Canada on loan.

South Africa and India made the initial waiver proposal at the WTO in October, gathering support from many developing countries, which say it will make vaccines more widely available.

Until now, the European Union has been aligned with a group of countries, including Britain and Switzerland – home to large pharmaceutical companies – that have opposed the waiver.

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop and Sabine Siebold in Brussels, additional reporting by Robin Emmott, Francesco Guarascio and John Chalmers in Brussels, Emilio Parodi in Milan, Gwenaelle Barzic in Paris, Emma Farge in Geneva; Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt aboard Air Force One, Andrea Shalal in Washington, Carl O’Donnell and Michelle Nichols in New York, and Ankur Banerjee in Bengaluru; Writing by Nick Macfie and Cynthia Osterman; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Mark Heinrich and Bill Berkrot)

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