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Author: Tom George (page 1 of 12)

FAA plans to decommission NDB’s at Glenallen, Mekoryuk and Noatak: User feedback requested

The FAA has issued Letters to Airmen outlining plans to decommission the Nondirectional Beacons (NDBs) at the Gulkana (GKN), Mekoryuk (MYU) and Noatak (WTK) airports.  In all three cases, the decommissioning’s are for navaids that have failed, and have been out of service for some time.  Even though they are non-functional, they serve as fixes that are part of the airway structure, or are components of instrument approaches.   If the removal of these navaids impacts your operation, please let the FAA know, using the contact information provided below.

Moving to Space Based IFR Infrastructure
While the FAA is moving to a space-based IFR system, NDBs in some locations are still serving not only as the basis for instrument approach procedures, but as anchor fixes for IFR airways.  Last year AOPA was part of an industry group that looked at the IFR Enroute infrastructure in Alaska.  Working with the Alaska Air Carriers Association, Alaska Airmen Association, National Business Aviation Association and other organizations, the group delivered formal recommendations to the FAA. The topics covered in the report were wide ranging including sections acknowledging the role NDBs play in the enroute environment, and expressed concern that some GPS based T-Routes have a much higher Minimum Enroute Altitude than the NDB-based colored airways. One of the recommendations called for the FAA to consider operator impacts before decommissioning any airway supported by NDBs.  Responding to a Letter to Airmen is one mechanism that the FAA uses to collect user feedback.

 

This specific working group was only tasked to look at the enroute infrastructure, but acknowledged that NDBs in some locations still serve an operational role in the terminal environment, which should also be considered before these stations are decommissioned.

User input needed
The FAA is struggling to move into the space-based, NextGen era, balancing the need to keep existing “legacy” systems in place, while obtaining funding to stand up new infrastructure.  AOPA and others are pushing FAA to expand the network of ADS-B ground stations in Alaska, to provide a “minimum operational network” across the state.  Decommissioning legacy navigation aids is one way to free up resources, but only after the operational needs of the users have been considered.  FAA is asking for our feedback on these three stations. If you fly to these areas, let the FAA know if removing these NDBs impacts your operations.  Please contact:

Mark Payne, NISC III contract support
Operations Support Group
Western Service Center

Phone:  425-203-4515

Email:    [email protected]

Please send copies to AOPA at: [email protected]

Links to the FAA Letters to Airmen:

Glenallen NDB OSGW-36 (003)

NANWAK NDB_DME OSGW-35 (003)

Noatak NDB Decommissioning OSGW-33

Correcting Sectionals: You Can Help

Sectional Aeronautical Charts are a primary flight tool that allows us hop in an airplane, take off and fly cross-country, literally by looking out the window.  No VOR, GPS or other fancy navigation device required.  But this only works if the landscape we see outside matches features on the chart.  When significant changes on the landscape take place, we need to let the chart makers know, so they can update the charts—which they are happy to do.

What is a chart anyway?
A flight chart is a complex compilation of data and information pulled from a variety of sources, arranged in a spatial pattern that creates a scale model of the earth’s surface.  We are often focused on aviation specific information, such as radio frequencies, airspace boundaries, airport runway lengths and the like, and take the underlying terrain features for granted.  Yet one of the charts more powerful uses is enabling us—with appropriate training—to look at this two-dimensional image to establish our current position, find the next terrain feature along the route, and fly to it. Repeating this process can take us hundreds of miles, over places we have never laid eyes on before. All with no GPS or other electronic navigation or ATC controller.

Today, many pilots are using a GPS for primary navigation (myself included) and using the terrain features as a secondary confirmation.  When the electrical system fails, or GPS quits, having an accurate chart—and knowing how to read it—is pretty important.  As we fly, we need to be on the lookout for details that are misplaced, or have changed.  Here is an example of how that can work.

Case Study
Last summer a pilot from San Diego flew his Grumman Tiger to Alaska and proceeded to tour the state.  His extensive trip, over 23 days, took him to many different areas.  When departing Valdez, he noted that a major terrain feature, the Columbia Glacier, looked considerably different than depicted on the Anchorage Sectional.  Over the past several decades, this glacier has undergone a massive retreat, leaving the terminus some 10 miles from its former location.  The difference was enough that when the pilot tried to confirm his position, which the chart still showed as the main body of the glacier, he was actually over open water–causing him temporarily to doubt his true location.

How to report an error
The FAA welcomes reports of chart errors.  Pilots are invited to communicate this information by phone, email, snail mail or web form.  Paper copies (yes, Sectionals are still available on that media), have a text box on the chart margin labeled “Reporting Chart Errors.”  Electronic chart users may have to work harder.  Some providers, such as SkyVector.com, give an option to display a selected chart (in this case the Anchorage Sectional) that shows the chart margin notes, legend and map symbols.  Others may not display the map “collar” so head to the FAA’s website http://faa.gov/go/ais. A link on that page is labeled “Chart Discrepancy” on the left margin, and describes multiple ways to report charting errors.

Text block found on printed, and some electronic versions of Sectionals telling how to report charting errors.

In this instance, after the trip, the pilot emailed the FAA a detailed description of the location and nature of the discrepancy. He received a reply the same day, with a follow-up confirmation a couple days later. In past years, the Charting folks might have asked for oblique photos to help “source” the change. Today they are often able to pull up satellite imagery to adequately document the change and revise the chart. The result in this case: the November 7, 2017 edition of the Anchorage Sectional was issued with a revised depiction of the Columbia Glacier.

Before (left) and after revision of the Anchorage Sectional, over Columbia Bay, showing the retreat of the Columbia Glacier in Southcentral Alaska.

You can help
Whether using printed or electronic charts, if you observe a problem on a flight chart, please take the few minutes to report the error.  The misplaced power line, changed river channel, or other feature you observe in good VFR weather, may only be a momentary source of confusion. But to the next pilot trying to get through under marginal conditions, it could be life threatening.  Do your part to help keep these almost magical flight tools up to date!

New Lake Hood Tiedown regulations out for public comment

A significant re-write of the Lake Hood Tiedown Regulations has been drafted, and is out for public comment.  Staff at Anchorage International Airport, working with a stakeholder advisory committee, have overhauled the tiedown regulations for Lake Hood Seaplane Base (LHD).  This effort, which started last April, resulted in a significant revision to the rules that dictate how to obtain a float slip or tie-down at this facility, which is home to the largest concentration of seaplanes in the state (if not the world).

Lake Hood Seaplane Base and the Lake Hood Strip on a mid-April day after snow has melted, but before ice has gone out allowing the start of float operations. (Google Earth image)

The re-write is intended to simplify and clean up these regulations, and has reduced their length by approximately 50%.  Gone is the requirement for a medical certificate. Flight activities required to keep a tiedown have been reduced. Documents provided to the airport will no longer need to be notarized.   But the devil is in the details–so current or prospective permit holders should go over these carefully.

To view the public notice see: https://aws.state.ak.us/OnlinePublicNotices/Notices/View.aspx?id=187873

Since this is a massive re-write, the airport has provided a list of Frequently Asked Questions to help point out changes.  This document will be updated as questions arise.

A public meeting is scheduled on:
Tuesday, December 12, 2018, 6 – 8 pm
Coast International Inn, 2450 Aviation Avenue, Anchorage

Comments may be provided by mail to:
Alex Moss, AIAS Planning Manager
PO Box 196960
Anchorage, AK 99519-6960
or emailed to:  [email protected]
Please share your comments with AOPA: [email protected]

In case you want to compare, here is a link to the current regulations.

The comment period runs until January 19, 2018 at 4 pm.

More GPS Interference Testing in Alaska

The military will again be conducting GPS testing out of Restricted Area 2205, east of Eielson Air Force Base, November 12-17, 2017.  This activity will be conducted at night, between the hours of 06Z and 16Z (Starting on November 11th, 9 pm Alaska Daylight Time, running till 7 am daily for five days).  A look at the chart accompanying this notice, issued by the FAA Joint Frequency Management Office Alaska, shows that effects could be widespread.

Map of potentially impacted area from upcoming GPS Testing.

If you experience any GPS anomalies, in addition to notifying ATC, please share that information with AOPA by sending an email to: [email protected].  Details including aircraft type, location, altitude, and the nature of the anomaly would help us track this issue.

While these hours of operation represent the maximum extent that “testing” may be conducted, we expect actual activities may be of shorter duration.  ATC will be notified by the military before testing on a given day is started, and when it has been concluded, so a call to Anchorage Center may provide a better idea of what to expect during these days.  As always, please check NOTAMS for any changes regarding this activity.

At the Alaska Civil Military Aviation Council meeting earlier this week, we were advised that each of the Red Flag Exercises being planned for the coming year will include GPS Interference activities.  AOPA will continue to monitor this activity and its impacts on civil aviation, as we continue to advance into the era of satellite based navigation.

Link to the notice:  JFAK 17-03 GPS Flight Advisory

Alaska Aircraft Registration Program Proposed

Update: Nov 27, 2017
The Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (DOT) has released draft regulations proposing an Aircraft Registration Program.  If adopted, this regulation requires aircraft owners to complete a registration application and pay an annual fee of $150 for non-commercial aircraft, or $250 for aircraft used in commerce.  Exemptions would exist for aircraft primarily operating in interstate commerce, or to foreign countries.  Aircraft transiting the state are also exempt, along with those owned by the federal government or unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds.  A waiver could be obtained for dismantled or not airworthy aircraft, or aircraft registered in other states, and not in Alaska for more than 180 days a year.  Details are available: https://aws.state.ak.us/OnlinePublicNotices/Notices/View.aspx?id=187638

Analysis of the proposal
While no one wants to see the cost to fly increase, the state’s financial situation is serious, with the decline of oil revenues that have funded about 90% of state services for several decades.  While reducing their operating budget 22% since 2015, there is still a huge deficit to operate the 240 airports owned by DOT.  The Governor’s Aviation Advisory Board looked at options to increase revenues, and supported increasing the aviation motor fuel tax, as the most efficient way to improve the situation, without expanding state government. See “Alaska Aviation Motor Fuel Tax Increase Under Discussion” for more details.

In a recent poll conducted by AOPA, the Alaska Airmens Association and the National Business Aviation Association, pilots across the state favored the motor fuel tax increase over either a registration fee or landing fees, although a significant number of people responding commented that they opposed any increased fees or taxes.

Please share your comments on this proposal with AOPA, as we navigate these challenging times to find the right balance to support aviation in Alaska.

To comment on this regulation
There are several ways to comment on this proposal.  DOT will hold three hearings to take comments on the proposed regulation:

  • November 9th   1st Floor Conference Room
    Alaska DOT&PF
    3132 Channel Drive, Juneau
  • November 14th  Airport Response Center
    Fairbanks International Airport
    5195 Brumbaugh Blvd, Fairbanks
  • November 20th Central Region Main Conference Room
    Alaska DOT&PF
    4111 Aviation Ave, Anchorage

UPDATE:  Additional hearing scheduled for December 9, 10 am to noon
              Coast International
              3450 Aviation Avenue, Anchorage

Comments may also be submitted by mail to:
Rich Sewell, Aviation Policy Planner
Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities
PO Box 196900
Anchorage, AK 99519

Or via email to:  [email protected]   Please send AOPA a copy of your comments by emailing them to: [email protected]

Comments must be received by 5:00 pm Alaska Standard Time on January 5, 2018.

Help bring new Aviation Icing Products to Alaska

New weather products have been developed to diagnose and forecast inflight icing for Alaska.  Staff from the FAA’s Aviation Weather Demonstration and Evaluation (AWDE) Services Program will be in Alaska, October 16-19, and would like to talk with pilots to help determine how these new products will work in the Alaskan environment.  The information they gather from pilots (General Aviation, Air Taxi and Commercial (Part 121/135), Air Ambulance/Helicopter Emergency Medical Services) will enable FAA to assess the utility and suitability in our operational setting.

Background
Forecasting icing has long been a challenge in Alaska, with our complex terrain, large size, and extremely limited network of surface observations.  Over the past few years research sponsored by the FAA Aviation Weather Program, and conducted by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), has led to development of an Icing Product Alaska-Diagnosis (IAP-D) and an IPA-Forecast (IAP-F) product. These are intended to improve diagnosis and forecasting of icing probability, severity, and probability of super-cooled large droplet (SLD) formation. These products, once validated, are expected to support decision making regarding the areas icing will occur, and the identification of optimum routes for air traffic.

How you can help
The FAA evaluation team will be in these communities on the following dates:

Anchorage, Oct 16-18
Fairbanks, October 18
Juneau, October 19

They would like to understand how these new icing products would be used operationally, learn about pilot strategies for making go-no-go decisions, user risk thresholds and generally assess the overall suitability of the new products.   Pilots should expect to spend about an hour in an interview with a team member.  If you are able to help with this program, you may “sign up” through an online survey.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ZT3ZPSD

For more information, contact Sonia Alvidrez [email protected] or 609-485-7613.

HAARP Project under new management: Watch for the TFR

The High-Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) is a research program that has been used to study the ionosphere since 1990. The facility, north east of the Gulkana Airport, is home to radio transmitters and an array of antennas that can transmit 3.6 megawatts of energy into the atmosphere, in support of research projects.  It doesn’t operate very often, a few times per year at present, but when it does, pilots don’t want to be in the path of this beam of radio energy.  Consequently, we should be on the lookout for a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) that will be activated during campaigns, to avoid flying over the facility.  The next campaign is from September 21-25, but there will be others to follow.  Make sure to check NOTAMs, in case this TFR is active when you are flying in the Copper River Basin, or transiting the area to or from the Alaska Highway route to Canada.

Social media notice of the September research campaign at the HAARP facility near Gakona. Watch for a TFR when the facility is in operations.

What is HAARP?
Located about 16 nautical miles northeast of the Gulkana Airport (GKN), the facility houses a 33-acre array of antennas, and when operating, can send pulses of energy into the upper reaches of the atmosphere to stimulate this zone, providing a means to study what happens there. Research has potential implications for understanding properties ranging from the aurora to long-range communications. Until recently, the Air Force operated the facility, in support of Department of Defense research interests, primarily dealing with communication and navigation interests.  In 2015, the facility was transferred to the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Geophysical Institute to operate.  For more information on the facility, see the frequently asked questions document at http://gi.alaska.edu/haarp/faq.

Why a TFR?
AOPA has followed the operation of the HAARP facility for many years, primarily out of concerns with possible disturbance to aircraft navigation and/or communications systems. While managed by the Air Force, operations were conducted as a Controlled Firing Area (CFA), meaning that the Air Force had to shut down their transmitter if an aircraft came within a prescribed distance.  They used a radar system to detect aircraft and shut down the transmitter if an aircraft got too close.  When the Geophysical Institute took over operations, FAA re-examined those procedures and decided that the CFA was not adequate, in part due to the high-altitude nature of the impacts. The TFR language is expected to define an area from the surface to FL250.

The HAARP Facility north east of the Gulkana Airport, will have a TFR protecting the airspace around the facility when in operations, similar to this graphic. Check NOTAMs for details and active times.  Map courtesy of SkyVector.com

The HAARP Project has re-established a phone number that pilots may call during times the facility is operating.  They have also temporarily re-established a VHF radio frequency, to allow pilots to contact the facility while airborne. These mechanisms should allow pilots operating in the area to have a direct line of communication to obtain more detailed information than the NOTAM is expected to contain, given the real-time nature of changes in the experimental world.  AOPA has also requested that the facility be charted on the Anchorage Sectional, to make it easier for pilots to become familiar with the location of the facility.  In addition to a NOTAM for a TFR, during operations pilots may call the HAARP site, near Gakona, at 907-822-5497, or on VHF radio frequency 122.25 MHz.  Information will also be available on Facebook and Twitter at @uafhaarp.

Stay tuned for more information as the transition from Air Force to university operations proceed. And make sure to check NOTAMs to find out when the TFR is activated.

Alaska Governor recognizes role of aviation

Governor Bill Walker has declared September to be Aviation Appreciation Month in Alaska.  In his proclamation, the Governor recognized some of the ways that aviation stands out here:

  • Providing access to 82 percent of the communities in the state—that are not connected to our sparse road system
  • As operating 242 airports across the Alaska, more than any other state in the nation
  • Supporting the economy, not only by providing basic transportation infrastructure, but by generating almost 17,000 jobs tied to the airports at Anchorage and Fairbanks alone.
  • Including backcountry airstrips among the components of the aviation infrastructure important to Alaska

Please join us in celebrating aviation during the month of September, with thanks to the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities staff who plan, design, build and operate airports; municipal governments that manage airports in their communities; maintenance facilities, parts suppliers, flight schools, aviation organizations and many other stakeholders that keep us flying!

 

Alaska Backcountry Airstrip Survey Results

Earlier this spring, Alaska pilots were invited to take part in a survey regarding backcountry airstrips. I am pleased to report that 245 of you took the time to respond – thank you to those of you that responded. This information helps provide some measure of the importance of these airstrips to Alaska’s transportation system. The people who participated also shed some light on their concerns regarding these assets, and many reported that they are willing to help maintain them. Before digging into the survey results, let’s define what a backcountry airstrip is and what it isn’t.

What is a backcountry airstrip?
Conventional public airports are typically developed with FAA funding, and operated either by the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (DOT&PF), a municipal government or the military. Alaska also has quite a few airparks and private use airports, developed and owned privately.  However, there is another type of aviation infrastructure that is important to many Alaskans. These are often just a runway, with no other facilities, defined as backcountry airstrips or landing areas, rather than airports. These may or may not be charted, or listed in the Alaska Supplement, but they were developed for use by aircraft, and represent an important component of our aviation transportation system.

Tolovana Hot Springs: A landing strip that has been improved for aircraft operations, and would be considered a backcountry airstrip for purposes of this survey.

To go one step further, we need to distinguish between backcountry airstrips and off-field operations that use landing areas that are not recognized as airstrips. Beyond the established backcountry airstrips, people often land on gravel bars, ridge tops, tundra benches or other locations which are not otherwise improved or modified specifically for purposes of landing or take off.  This survey did not cover true off-field operations.

A spike camp on a gravel bar on the North Slope. This would be considered an off-field landing location and NOT a backcountry airstrip.

Backcountry airstrips may be the destination themselves, especially in cases where people have cabins or camps nearby. In other cases, the backcountry airstrip is the gateway to off-field operations, and serves as a staging area, or an emergency refuge when weather moves in.

Backcountry working group
In 2006, the Governor’s Aviation Advisory Board passed a resolution that called attention to the value of backcountry airstrips, and called for DOT&PF to take action to recognize and protect this component of our aviation infrastructure. Late in 2014, as part of the FAA-funded Alaska Aviation System Plan, the department established a working group to explore this subject. The group created a definition for backcountry airstrips and conducted this survey. Other planned activities include creating a partial inventory of backcountry airstrips, and identifying potential future strategies to preserve and maintain them. Look for more on these topics in the future, but for now, back to the survey.

Survey Results
A survey was conducted online and by hard-copy from early April to mid-May 2017, and was publicized by DOT&PF, AOPA, the Alaska Airmen’s Association, the Recreational Aviation Foundation (RAF), and Alaska Air Carriers Association. Here are some of the results:

  • Of the 245 pilots responding, 91 percent said they used backcountry airstrips in Alaska.
  • The frequency of use was very evenly distributed among those that used them just a few times per year, on a seasonal basis, or regularly year-round.
  • When asked about concerns regarding backcountry airstrips, the leading issue was loss or closure (42%), followed by physical condition, maintenance and safety issues (35%).

Just over half of the respondents said that the airstrips they generally visit are in need of repairs or maintenance. Some of the comments included “Growth of brush and trees that hinder approaches and ground taxi operations” and “Lack of maintenance. Overgrown approach and departure.”  I was most encouraged to see that almost 80% of these pilots said they would be willing to volunteer to help maintain these facilities. One respondent summarized this issue as follows, “Backcountry airstrips are some of our only access point[s] in a state that sports a vast amount of land with no roads.”

Recreation, emergency use, hunting and general access were the most frequently cited uses of backcountry airstrips in this survey.

Word of mouth from other pilots was the most frequent method of collecting information on backcountry airstrips.

Where do we go from here?
There is clearly more to do regarding identifying, preserving and maintaining backcountry airstrips.  On June 3rd, RAF Alaska State Liaison Al Clayton organized a work party at Jake’s Bar, in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.  Nine volunteers flew from Clayton’s airstrip near McCarthy to the 1,000 foot airstrip along the Chitina River and trimmed or removed trees along the airstrip. This work was coordinated with the National Park Service in advance–working with the land-owners on efforts like this is one of the ways we can continue to protect and maintain these valuable facilities. Kudos to the RAF for undertaking this effort. I invite you to check them out and see how you can become involved http://theraf.org/.

Stay tuned for more on this topic in the months and years ahead as we promote and support pilots’ access to backcountry Alaska.

Note: This article was originally published in the July-September Issue #105 of The Transponder, the Alaska Airmens Association’s newsletter.

Alaska Weather: not just on TV anymore

The half-hour TV show, Alaska Weather, has helped pilots understand, and visualize, statewide weather patterns for over forty years.  Produced jointly by Alaska Public Media and the Nation Weather Service-Alaska Region, it airs nightly on public television channels starting at 5:30 pm on some stations, and later on others. More on this later, but pilots should take note that Alaska Weather is available any time you want to view it after 6 pm, on YouTube.  Rather than timing your day around the broadcast schedule of a local station, as long as you have reasonable internet access the program is sitting there, ready to watch at your convenience.

Value added
When the program first started in September, 1976 it was called Aviation Weather, and focused specifically on the aviation community.  Over the years the value of providing a statewide summary of weather conditions became apparent, and the scope of the program was expanded to include general public and marine forecasts.

As pilots, we have access to some excellent online aviation weather resources today, including the Alaska Aviation Weather Unit’s website (note their new address: weather.gov/aawu) but I still find it helpful to listen to a meteorologist explain what is going on, and provide the “big picture” before I look at individual observations, forecasts and weather camera sites.  The National Weather Service has gone to significant efforts to utilize satellite imagery and animation loops to help viewers see the flows of air and moisture that influence the atmospheric conditions we can expect the following day.

A mixture of satellite images and graphics used by Meteorologist Dave Snider, help visualize weather patterns.

The program also features seasonal information, which currently includes warnings about areas of high wildfire danger. In the spring, reports of flooding and break-up on the rivers are included in the broadcast.  Last night’s episode included mention of a new weather camera just added by the FAA at Honolulu.  I admit that until seeing the map showing the camera site location between McKinley Park and Talkeetna, I was thinking that the camera station was in Hawaii…

Hangar Flying segments
From the beginning, there has been a short break in the middle of the half hour weather program (on commercial stations, this would have been filled with advertisements). Often a safety or short educational feature is included.  To help provide content for this 10 minute break between aviation and marine forecasts, the Alaskan Aviation Safety Foundation (AASF) stepped up to the plate, and created a short segment, Hangar Flying, which aired twice a week.  This feature was also as a joint effort with Alaska Public Media, who provided the studio and staff to produce the program.  These short segments, regularly hosted by AASF Board Chair Harry Kieling and Board Secretary Mary O’Connor, featured interviews with a wide range of pilots, mechanics, educators, government officials and other “persons of interest.”  Unfortunately changes at KAKM resulted in suspension of production of the program last April, but I hope to see it back in the future.

Where to find Alaska Weather on TV
Realizing that not everyone has internet access capable of streaming video, it is important also to know where and when to find the program on public television channels across the state.  The following link takes you to a page about the show: http://www.weather.gov/afc/tv. The table below provides the time and networks that carry the program.  In most cases the Alaska Weather is aired in the early evening, arming you with weather information for the following two days.  Unfortunately, Alaska Public Media stations in Southcentral, Southeast and Southwest Alaska don’t broadcast the show until 5 am the following morning.  If those stations are your only broadcast TV access, it is another good reason to consider firing up your computer and watching on YouTube.

Table shows the networks and timing of Alaska Weather broadcasts across the state.

However you access it, Alaska Weather continues to be a great way to load the big picture in your head, helping plan the following day.  Weather is one of our biggest challenges in aviation.  We know there is a shortage of reporting stations in Alaska that sometimes makes it difficult to figure out what to expect along a flight route.  Being armed with the synoptic view of weather patterns, even before you start a weather briefing, gives you a leg up on safety planning your next flight.  Thanks to the National Weather Service for providing this tool for our flight kit!

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