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Europe lifts safety ban on Boeing 737 MAX jet

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Europe lifts safety ban on Boeing 737 MAX jet 1

By Tim Hepher and Rachit Vats

(Reuters) – European regulators on Wednesday lifted a 22-month ban on flights of the Boeing 737 MAX after a design and pilot training overhaul in the wake of crashes that killed 346 people.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) confirmed a provisional approval given in November, but dropped calls for an extra flight-angle sensor to back up a system implicated in crashes.

“Let me be quite clear that this journey does not end here,” Executive Director Patrick Ky said in a statement.

“We have every confidence that the aircraft is safe, which is the precondition for giving our approval. But we will continue to monitor 737 MAX operations closely as the aircraft resumes service.”

Regulators worldwide grounded the MAX in March 2019 after crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

The United States lifted its ban last November, followed by Brazil and Canada. Britain, which is no longer in EASA after leaving the EU, followed the agency’s lead on Wednesday.

Relatives of some victims have criticised the move to clear the 737 MAX, the latest version of the world’s most-flown jet.

Crash investigations show bad data from a single faulty sensor triggered a barely documented software system that ordered repeated dives and overwhelmed both accident crews.

Boeing has said data from both “Angle of Attack” sensors on the MAX will be tracked in the modified aircraft, instead of just one as in the past. But EASA has suggested a third sensor system to act as a jury in case one of the main sensors fails.

The proposal, opposed by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, triggered a regulatory tussle over whether existing modifications would allow pilots to cope with any sensor outage, or whether a further safety net was needed.

Ky said in September that Boeing had agreed to install the digital equivalent of a third sensor on the next version, the 737 MAX 10, followed by retrofits on other models.

SENSOR DEMAND DROPPED

However, in a document alongside the ungrounding order, EASA dropped the proposal for a third “synthetic” sensor on the grounds that Boeing had promised other ways of securing data.

It said Boeing had agreed to develop further changes “within two years” to improve fault-monitoring and allow pilots easily to select the right data.

An EASA spokeswoman said the solution now being considered by Boeing was different from a third sensor but “broadly aligned”. She declined further comment on proprietary details.

A Boeing spokesman said: “We will address all regulatory requirements, technical needs and testing requirements.”

In comments to EASA released on Wednesday, Virginie Fricaudet, who lost her sister on Ethiopian flight 302 and who heads a France-based relatives association, said the MAX was “aerodynamically unstable” and should have a third sensor.

Naoise Ryan, who lost her husband, the global deputy chief engineer of the U.N. World Food Programme, in the same crash, called the MAX a ‘bastard-type’ aircraft with modern modifications bolted onto a 1960s aircraft design.

EASA acknowledged the aircraft’s technical roots would hinder the addition of complex new systems.

“Due to the legacy … architecture of the Boeing 737, the installation of an additional AOA sensor would require a significant engineering effort,” it said, adding that Boeing had nonetheless demonstrated that its approach was viable and safe.

The challenges of developing upgrades, rather than the much bigger expense of a clean-sheet design, were further highlighted on Wednesday when Boeing took a $6.5 billion charge to redesign part of its upcoming 777X, including control electronics.

Boeing said the changes to the plane, a derivative of its 1990s mini-jumbo, would anticipate regulatory changes resulting from the MAX crisis.

(Reporting by Tim Hepher, Sudip Kar-Gupta, Rachit Vats; Editing by Jason Neely, Kirsten Donovan and Jan Harvey)

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Daimler truck unit to focus on CO2-neutral technology

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Daimler truck unit to focus on CO2-neutral technology 2

BERLIN (Reuters) – German luxury carmaker Daimler said on Wednesday that its plan to spin off Daimler Trucks will allow the world’s largest truck and bus maker to become more profitable and focus more on developing technologies to cut carbon emissions.

The spin-off plan, announced earlier this month, should make the unit more agile, profitable and able to develop CO2-neutral drive technologies for trucks and buses, Daimler said in a statement.

Daimler said the truck business had seen a recovery in the fourth quarter, especially in North America and Europe, selling 121,000 units, almost double that of the second quarter, when sales were hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

For 2021, Daimler Trucks forecasts revenue to be significantly above the prior-year level and is aiming for a significant increase in adjusted return on sales to 6-7%, up from 2% in 2020.

(Reporting by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Caroline Copley)

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Outsourcer Serco resumes dividend, raises 2021 outlook on NHS boost

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Outsourcer Serco resumes dividend, raises 2021 outlook on NHS boost 3

(Reuters) – Serco Group Plc reinstated a dividend and raised its 2021 forecasts on Thursday, after the British outsourcer posted a 20% jump in annual revenue, bolstered by its services to the country’s COVID-19 test and trace programme and U.S. acquisitions.

Revenue is now expected to be about 4.2 billion pounds ($5.95 billion) for this year, while underlying trading profit is forecast to be around 175 million pounds, the company said, roughly 10 million pounds higher than its forecast in December.

Serco announced a shareholder payout of 1.4 pence for last year, after suspending them in 2014 as part of a restructuring drive to overcome a string of contract failures and profit warnings that ramped up debt and hurt its reputation.

Chief Executive Officer Rupert Soames said that one of the key factors in deciding to restart paying a dividend was that “any concerns we had about liquidity have proved groundless,” adding that the company has re-entered the debt market and has been cash positive.

Sales in 2020 rose to 3.88 billion pounds from 3.25 billion pounds in the 12 months ended Dec. 31, while underlying trading profit rose 36% to 163.1 million pounds.

($1 = 0.7064 pounds)

(Reporting by Pushkala Aripaka in Bengaluru; Editing by Rashmi Aich)

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UK’s Primark owner warns of 1.1 billion pound lockdown hit to sales

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UK's Primark owner warns of 1.1 billion pound lockdown hit to sales 4

LONDON (Reuters) – Associated British Foods warned on Thursday it expected to lose sales worth 1.1 billion pounds ($1.6 billion) from the lockdown of its stores at fast-fashion chain Primark in the first half of its financial year.

The group said it expected Primark’s sales in the first half to Feb. 27 to be about 2.2 billion pounds and adjusted operating profit to be marginally above break-even.

Due to the restrictions placed on Primark in the United Kingdom and across Europe it forecast sales, adjusted operating profit and adjusted earnings per share for the group as a whole to be lower than last year.

But the group said it was looking forward to reopening Primark stores and as of Thursday had likely reopening dates for 233 stores in addition to the 77 stores already open. Some 83% of its retail space should be trading by April 26.

“We expect the period after reopening to be highly cash generative,” it said.

AB Foods also has a grocery division, whose brands include Kingsmill bread and Twinings tea, as well as major sugar, agriculture and ingredients businesses.

It forecast revenue and profit in all of these units to be ahead of both expectations and the first half of last year.

Shares in AB Foods closed Wednesday at 2,437 pence, valuing the business at 19.3 billion pounds.

($1 = 0.7064 pounds)

(Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Kate Holton)

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