The strategic issue is a company’s problem requiring actions or strategy adjustments. They used to have a significant impact on the business directions and market performance. The most prominent example is the American concern, The Boeing Co, which faced the most acute crisis in decades. The case with the 737 MAX aircraft scandal has revealed the company’s strategic issue – a shifted strategic focus to cost-effectiveness and market competition instead of safety.
The company’s economic performance has been affected by the crisis, experiencing the most adverse outcomes. The Boeing 737 MAX aircraft crisis brought significant changes within the internal and external levels, adjusting the whole industry. Engineering design was mainly focused on reducing expenses and a delivery plan. Thus, safety has become a secondary matter beginning a significant crisis for the company’s financial performance. The issue of reputational loss needs strategic implications as it seriously affects Boeing’s stakeholders.
Most strategic issues arise when there is a discrepancy between the strategic goals and the current state. These problems usually differ from the enterprise’s weaknesses since the latter are characterized by comparing the company with its competitors in the principal activity areas. Moreover, unlike operational issues, strategic ones do not attract the corporate leadership and senior leaders’ attention. Furthermore, if not explicitly identified, strategic issues can remain unnoticed amid operational matters.
Companies are prolonged to react to a changing situation, focusing on operational problems rather than managing strategic tasks. It is recommended to study and precisely define the domains that need to be focused on to achieve financial and competitive success in the long term (Elbanna and Naguib, 2009). This approach contributed to identifying problems promptly. The company’s strategy needs to be consistent with the external environment and the internal state (Elbanna and Naguib, 2009). If the current plan does not meet the future requirements, then the principal intention should be aimed at developing a new strategy.
The strategic issue is a crucial question demanding a decision or strategy changes. Such problems have a meaningful impact on the business direction and market performance. At present, the American concern The Boeing Co. is experiencing the most acute crisis in decades due to the prohibition of 737 MAX aircraft flights after two plane crashes with their participation (Johnson, 2021). Hundreds of aircraft remain on the ground, so airlines stopped ordering these models and began searching for competitors’ alternatives (Johnson, 2021). As a result, in January 2020, Boeing did not receive new aircraft supply orders for the first time since the 20th century (Johnson, 2021). Therefore, the crisis with 737 MAX aircraft has revealed the company’s strategic issue.
The strategic problem can be defined as a shifted focus to cost-effectiveness and market competition instead of safety. In recent years, the company’s concern has prioritized profits and dividends instead of its aircraft’s safety to satisfy shareholders’ interests. The latter could rely on high dividends and share repurchases and keep short-term earnings as high as possible (Johnson, 2021). It has pointed to the fact that Boeing’s operations in the financial market benefit only shareholders and managers, not the company itself.
The paper will include an overview of the strategic problem that results in the considerable redevelopment of the company’s strategy in terms of anti-crisis management. The report consists of several parts: Boeing operational activities, aircraft industry overview, a summary of the past three years’ revenue, strategic issue description, strategic decisions, impact on Stakeholders, and COVID-19 outcomes. The essay’s purpose is to demonstrate the direct link between particular strategic actions and economic performance. Moreover, it aims to evaluate the company’s goals regarding stakeholders’ expectations and primary objectives of the aircraft industry.
Reliable sources and current research were used to write the report due to this topic’s rapid development. A review of sources and literature reflects the relevance of the problem under study. The academic sources applied in the research cover the strategic decision-making process, economic performance, and Boeing 737 MAX aircraft crisis to build a comprehensive and critical solid analysis. It also includes financial data obtained from official Boeing’s annual reports and website.
Introduction to the Organisation and Sector
Boeing Operational Activities
Boeing is the world’s leading aerospace enterprise and the largest passenger aircraft manufacturer. The company develops and manufactures military helicopters, electronic and defense systems, missiles, satellites, and modern information and communication systems (Boeing in Brief, 2021). Boeing also operates in missile defense, human-crewed space flight and space launch services (Boeing in Brief, 2021). The company provides a range of various support and after-sales services for aircraft. Boeing has been a leader in the aerospace industry for several decades, offering customers the latest technology and innovative solutions (Boeing in Brief, 2021). The company continues to expand its range of products and services in response to stakeholders’ growing demands.
Aircraft Industry Overview
The industry is highly competitive, featured by Airbus and Boeing’s dominance in the aviation sector. This state appears after numerous mergers and acquisitions in the aerospace industry in the 1990s; only two market actors were left in the passenger airliner market (He, Hipel and Kilgour, 2017). Since the late 1990s, Airbus and Boeing have divided the global passenger aircraft market into three sectors: narrow-body, wide-body and VLA (very large aircraft); for instance, the Boeing 747 and Airbus A380 (He, Hipel and Kilgour, 2017). These days, considering the 2020 situation, the coronavirus pandemic caused most countries closure and a catastrophic decline in the air travel market.
The COVID-19 outbreak introduced an extensive impact on the business of civil aircraft manufacturers. In addition to the forced suspension of production during quarantine measures, both world aircraft manufacturing giants Boeing and Airbus faced a sharp decline in demand for new aircraft from airlines (Dube, Nhamo and Chikodzi, 2021). It is forced to restructure companies’ assets and revise their development strategies (Dube, Nhamo and Chikodzi, 2021). Air transportation recovery requires a significant amount of time and resources, taking more than one year.
Summary of the Past 3 Years’ Revenue
There is a significant difference in annual revenues and losses over the past three years. 2018 was a profitable year with the stable financial performance of the company. Boeing’s annual revenue for 2018 was $101.127B, a 7.58% increase from 2017 (The Boeing Company Annual Report, 2018). According to The Boeing Company Annual Report (2018), the net profit in 2018 increased by 24% in yearly terms, amounting to $ 10.46 billion. Diluted earnings were $ 17.85 compared to $ 13.85 in 2017 (The Boeing Company Annual Report, 2018). In the fourth quarter of 2018, Boeing’s profit gained 3%, estimated at $ 3.424 billion (The Boeing Company Annual Report, 2018).
Diluted earnings per share were $ 5.93, above $ 5.49 in the fourth quarter of 2017, while the figure was expected at $ 4.58 per share (The Boeing Company Annual Report, 2018). Thus, the economic performance in 2019 was supposed to be similar or more beneficial than in 2018.
However, The company Boeing experienced a record loss in 2019 due to problems with 737 MAX aircraft. The company’s revenue for 2019 amounted to $76.559B, less by 24.29% compared to 2018 (The Boeing Company Annual Report, 2019). According to The Boeing Company Annual Report (2019), it amounted to $ 636 million. The total amount of write-offs due to the Boeing 737 MAX crisis reached $ 9.2 billion (The Boeing Company Annual Report, 2019).
The fourth quarter of 2019 was $ 1.01 billion against a profit of $ 3.424 billion for the same period in 2018 (The Boeing Company Annual Report, 2019). The company’s revenue at the end of 2019 decreased by 37%, to $ 17.911 billion, compared to $ 28.341 billion in 2018 (The Boeing Company Annual Report, 2019). Consequently, the company was forced to suspend its share buyback program.
2020 is characterized by the COVID-19 pandemic outcomes and reputational issues. The company’s annual revenue was $58.158B, determining a 24.04% decline from 2019 (The Boeing Company Annual Report, 2020). Boeing’s losses at the end of last year increased 19 times and amounted to almost $ 12 billion (The Boeing Company Annual Report, 2020). By the end of 2020, the company’s revenue decreased by 24%, to $58.158 billion, with $ 15.3 billion in the fourth quarter (The Boeing Company Annual Report, 2020). The company explained this by the impact of the pandemic and the refusal to operate the 737 MAX.
Concerning operating profits, there is also a definite tendency. In 2018 the company’s annual operating income reached $11.987 billion, more by 15.88% than in 2017 (The Boeing Company Annual Report, 2018). In 2019, there was a 116.48% drop accompanied by a negative profit that amounts to $-1.975 billion (The Boeing Company Annual Report, 2019). The last year 2020, is marked by a negative income of $12.767 billion (The Boeing Company Annual Report, 2020). In the four-quarter of 2020, Boeing’s operating income was $-8.049B, a 265.2% increase year-over-year (The Boeing Company Annual Report, 2020). Therefore, the economic performance of the company is still being affected by the crisis.
4 Strategic Issue
These days, the company faces a severe reputation crisis which results in a profit decline. Two air disasters of the 737 Max in October 2018 and March 2019 forced regulators worldwide to ban this aircraft model (Imad, Elbuzidi and Chan, 2021). Boeing delivered 157 jets in 2020, which has become the worst result in 43 years (Imad, Elbuzidi and Chan, 2021). Boeing shipped 157 aircraft in 2020, down 60% from 2019 (Johnson, 2021).
This is the company’s lowest figure in 43 years; it delivered 43 jets to customers in 2020 (The Boeing Company Annual Report, 2020). According to Johnson (2021), 27 were 737 MAX jets; the corporation noted that the resumption of deliveries of the 737 MAX was an important milestone for the aircraft manufacturer. Hence, from a short-term perspective, the company faced the most adverse outcomes.
The situation also influenced the competition within the aircraft market. The main Boeing competitor, Airbus, delivered 566 airliners in 2020, retaining its status as the world’s largest aircraft manufacturer (Johnson, 2021). In January 2020, Boeing received no orders for aircraft for the first time in nearly 60 years. The American manufacturer has faced a deep crisis following two 737 MAX aircraft crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia, killing more than 300 people (Johnson, 2021). Due to disasters, these liners’ operation has been suspended worldwide since March 2019 (Johnson, 2021). In November 2020, the US authorities allowed the Boeing 737 MAX to return to flights (Johnson, 2021). In December, the Brazilian low-cost airline Gol was the first in the world to resume commercial flights on the Boeing 737 MAX (Johnson, 2021). Overall, the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft crisis brought significant changes within the internal and external levels, adjusting the whole industry.
Strategic inertia is typical for some companies with a particular market position. However, there is a downside when businesses are constantly adopting new technologies and developments, resulting in negative outgrowths. According to Denise, Filho and Eberle (2018), performance may show a negative tendency each financial year, while strategic decisions used remain the same. Consequently, it might lead to a continual decrease in figures (Denise, Filho and Eberle, 2018). On the contrary, Boeing has faced the opposite side of such phenomena. The company’s strategy focused on adopting technologies to aircraft in the high market competition (Herkert, Borenstein, and Miller, 2020). Such a direction overcame strategic inertia by supporting change actions.
Strategic decisions have affected the company’s operation, particularly worsening the situation. According to Elbanna and Naguib (2009), there is also the opposite side, which is the impact of performance on the strategic decision-making process. Elbanna and Naguib (2009) highlight six control variables: decision importance, decision uncertainty, decision motive, firm size, environmental uncertainty, and environmental hostility. Concerning Boeing’s case, it can be analyzed through leadership and organizational settings, crisis management mistakes and the concept of strategic inertia.
A reliable strategic plan should avert the crisis, but referring to Boeing’s case, the issue is followed by a lack of awareness of senior management’s vulnerabilities. The primary goal of Boeing’s strategy aimed to remain the lead actor in the industry, concentrating on technological advances and implementing a computer control system (Imad, Elbuzidi and Chan, 2021). It is called Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), supposed to be a special automatic assistant for pilots to mitigate some of the design defects of the newest Boeing 737 MAX airliner (Imad, Elbuzidi and Chan, 2021). This results in communication issues being fundamental points of failure in Boeing’s strategy.
The company did not hold a proper internal conversation about its functions. Pilots and regulators did not have sufficient data about the new MCAS system (Imad, Elbuzidi and Chan, 2021). The company could independently certify the aircraft and limit pilot retraining to a short computer course (Imad, Elbuzidi and Chan, 2021). It was a crucial point for competition with Airbus as Boeing’s leadership was afraid that their main client, American Airlines, would choose European products (Imad, Elbuzidi and Chan, 2021). Consequently, the system’s existence and its operation principles were announced only after the first disaster.
Lack of Communication
The strategic issue can be considered predictable due to a deficiency of communication. Elbanna and Naguib (2009) show that high performance leads to more rational and less intuitive decisions. With regard to 2019 and 2020, Boeing faced a deterioration in financial performance, which resulted in mismanagement and mistakes in anti-crisis measures. In the early stages, Muilenburg explained that foreign pilots and technicians were to blame for the 737 Max crash (Imad, Elbuzidi and Chan, 2021). He postponed meetings with the relatives of the victims for several months (Imad, Elbuzidi and Chan, 2021). Therefore, Muhlenburg’s explanations about the disasters’ causes did not satisfy either the officials or the general public.
Muhlenburg’s action negatively affected the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)’s position. It happened due to publicly announcing that the regulator is ready to allow the 737 Max to operate (Imad, Elbuzidi and Chan, 2021). Members of Congress began to adhere to the idea that engineers and pilots warned of problems with the aircraft software, but the company’s management pressed them to avoid any comments (Imad, Elbuzidi and Chan, 2021). Therefore, the wrong strategic plan contributed to the escalating of the conflict among stakeholders and the company.
Leadership and Organizational Settings
In Boeing’s case, a lack of communication accompanied by corporate leadership decisions and specific organizational settings has resulted in crisis escalation. According to Denise, Filho and Eberle (2018), strategic decisions can be recognized as an organizational discourse element that operates at the structural and the communicative levels. The strategic issue, particularly the lack of communication, has led to change in top management.
New CEO David L. Calhoun is promoted to the position at a challenging period for the company. Boeing agreed to additional simulator training for 737 Max pilots, although it had previously been opposed, insisting that computer-assisted training would suffice. Calhoun is not an engineer, but he is recognized as an effective leader. Concerning the crisis, Boeing is not facing a technical problem; there is a need to convince the authorities, the airlines, and the passengers that the plane is safe.
The reason for failure is considered the modified goals and wrong long-term goals. In relation to organizational settings, Boeing is organized into three business units: Commercial Airplanes; Defense, Space & Security; and Boeing Global Services (Boeing in Brief, 2021). These divisions are supported by the following organizations: Boeing Capital Corporation, which is occupied by fundraising. Shared Services Group’s responsibility is infrastructure support (Boeing in Brief, 2021). Boeing Engineering, Operations & Technology operates in developing, acquiring, and implementing innovative technologies and processes (Boeing in Brief, 2021).
Reliable to the reputational crisis and the company’s corporate leadership, former Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg is an engineer relying on technical data and legal advice that did not contribute to crisis management. The strategic issue presents essential points for engineers regarding the company’s ethical responsibilities. As Boeing’s values are controversial, engineering design was mainly focused on reducing expenses and a delivery plan (Herkert, Borenstein and Miller, 2020). Thus, safety has become a minor concern provoking a significant crisis for the company’s financial performance.
Impact on Stakeholders
The issue of reputational damage demands direct strategic implications as it has a severe impact on the company’s stakeholders. The new strategy should be adopted after the crisis. Producing Boeing 737 MAX aircraft for returning to pre-crisis levels might take up to two years (Rucinski, 2020). Boeing CFO Greg Smith announced that the company needs several years before the monthly production reaches 57 units, as planned before the plane crashes (Rucinski, 2020).
According to Herkert, Borenstein and Miller (2020), internal and external factors have conflicted with the company and FAA engineers’ realization of their professional responsibilities. For that reason, after notable disasters, the company’s strategy needs to change (Herkert, Borenstein and Miller, 2020). Meanwhile, such conclusions should be retaught and relearned by further developers (Herkert, Borenstein and Miller, 2020). Corporate culture should be reassessed from the perspective of crisis management.
Boeing’s Mistakes in Communication
Boeing has entrusted third parties to make decisions and discuss the safety of their aircraft. The public perception involves the image of companies that forgot to guarantee protection to stakeholders (Herkert, Borenstein and Miller, 2020). After society doubted that the 737 Max was a safe and reliable aircraft, Boeing could not prove that their concerns were groundless (Herkert, Borenstein and Miller, 2020). The proper solution is the airlines’ suggestion to abandon this model’s use until they can either confirm the serviceability of the 737 Max aircraft of this model or determine the defect and fix it as soon as possible.
Boeing’s response to the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 407 and Lion Air Flight 610 is an example of highly unsuccessful anti-crisis communication. The company’s level of trust dropped significantly; it appeared that Boeing was trying to evade responsibility rather than attesting to its involvement in the investigation (Herkert, Borenstein and Miller, 2020). In its press releases and emails to employees, the company insisted that its planes were utterly safe (Herkert, Borenstein and Miller, 2020). However, the problem has remained unsolved as more people refused to believe the company’s statements. Boeing needs to correct the flaws in the 737 MAX and return its most popular jet in the air. The company also should focus on the subsequent production of passenger aircraft.
Passengers and Pilots
The first stages are corporate restructuring and revitalization of the corporate culture. It should be followed by the redevelopment of the strategy. According to Welch (2020), Boeing has shifted from safety concerns to the cost efficiency focus. Consequently, it influenced the stakeholders’ perception as the flights’ main object remains a safety issue for passengers (Welch, 2020). According to Denise, Filho and Eberle (2018), strategic planning should guarantee organizational legitimacy for most stakeholders. The strategic implications are adopted due to its perception as an appropriate and desired mode of action (Denise, Filho and Eberle, 2018).
Many passengers indicated in surveys that they hesitate to board the 737 MAX (Welch, 2020). Therefore, all companies that use this aircraft model offer doubtful customers free rebooking of tickets for flights operated on other aircraft types (Welch, 2020). Nevertheless, in the US and Canada, this option has hardly been used since the return of the 737 MAX (Welch, 2020). Most people might forget about the liner’s problems as soon as it shows itself as a reliable vehicle.
Pilots’ confidence in Boeing’s safety standards dropped considerably. They imposed a condition that the company and regulators achieve transparency on all new systems that differ from those found in previous Boeing models (Herkert, Borenstein and Miller, 2020). Besides, to regain pilot confidence, Boeing should develop a comprehensive training plan instead of a three-hour online lecture course (Herkert, Borenstein and Miller, 2020). The pilots would like to build relationships with the company, but trust has regularly collapsed.
Boeing’s main competitor, the European aircraft manufacturer, Airbus, could not benefit from this crisis. According to Hollinger (2020), if orders were made in 2020, they would be available in 2024. Airbus cannot take advantage of the current situation. With the A320, the European aircraft maker has already surpassed Boeing in the short- to mid-range aircraft market and continues to lead the way (Hollinger, 2020). According to Hollinger (2020), at the end of February 2020, the volume of orders for narrow-body aircraft might have amounted to 6,000 units. More than 5.8 thousand of them were analogies of the Boeing 737 MAX – A320neo (Hollinger, 2020). The business has already announced its intentions to increase the production of this type of jet to 60 per month by the middle of 2020 and by 2021 – to 63 per month (Hollinger, 2020). Airbus does not have an opportunity to produce more aircraft than it currently delivers.
While Boeing is diminishing crisis outcomes, it also continues to sell its planes at discounted prices. Hence the European company is forced to offer the vehicles at the same price, negatively affecting Airbus’s profits (Hollinger, 2020). The situation is immensely complicated by problems with the supply of components (Hollinger, 2020). The European aircraft manufacturer is already using its capacity to the maximum, barely sufficient to manage the number of orders.
The Boeing 737 MAX aircraft crashes have led to severe disruptions in regulation processes previously being routine for decades. Until the scandal, most administrative authorities worldwide have almost automatically accepted FAA orders and approvals (Imad, Elbuzidi and Chan, 2021). According to Imad, Elbuzidi and Chan (2021), this practice no longer meets the requirements. For instance, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has concluded that thorough work is needed to determine the forms of cooperation with the FAA and the ways how both agencies’ responsibilities complement each other (Imad, Elbuzidi and Chan, 2021).
When the aircraft was readmitted, EASA worked with Boeing and the FAA in complete openness (Imad, Elbuzidi and Chan, 2021). The 737 MAX can be considered entirely safe after making the necessary changes and multiple testing.
The case had a significant effect on FAA regulation and control over aircraft safety. Boeing and the FAA tried to manipulate the Boeing 737 MAX’s re-certification tests to determine whether it was safe to return the plane to the skies (US Senate Committee, 2020). According to the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation (2020), this claim is based on conversations with 50 informants, FAA staff and an analysis of more than 15,000 pages of documents. In the report, senators argue that the FAA could have obstructed the plane crashes (US Senate Committee, 2020).
The administration did not punish the directors responsible for the incident in any way and allowed the American airline Southwest Airlines to operate dozens of incorrectly certified 737 MAX (US Senate Committee, 2020). However, in November 2020, the FAA overturned a decision to ban the 737 MAX. It advised Boeing to adopt the aircraft design’s necessary changes to resume flights and the pilot training process requirements.
COVID-19 Outcomes and Industry Analysis
Concerning the aviation sector, the coronavirus pandemic consequences have brought adverse outcomes for all air companies. In 2020 641 orders for the supply of the 737 MAX were canceled, and the company refused 523 preliminary orders since their implementation was questionable (The Boeing Company Annual Report, 2020). Thus, demands for 3333 aircraft of the 737 MAX have been confirmed, which are to be delivered in the coming years (The Boeing Company Annual Report, 2020). Boeing’s fourth-quarter net loss was $ 8.44 billion, or $ 14.65 per share, compared with a loss of $ 1.01 billion, or $ 1.79 per share, in the same period last year (The Boeing Company Annual Report, 2020). As an outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for air travel and, accordingly, aircraft has sharply decreased.
The current industry crisis due to the 2020 pandemic outbreak will have a negative impact on demand for passenger aircraft and services in the short term. According to Boeing’s forecast, the total market for products and services in the aerospace industry will be $ 8.5 trillion over the next decade (Commercial Market Outlook, 2020). Airlines worldwide start recovering from a more than 90% reduction in passenger travel and revenues, but full recovery might take several years (Commercial Market Outlook, 2020).
According to Commercial Market Outlook (2020), the industry will need 18,350 civil aircraft over the next decade, valued at $ 2.9 trillion; this is 11% below the same forecast for 2019. In the long-term perspective, the upward trend in the civilian aircraft fleet will resume (Commercial Market Outlook, 2020). According to Commercial Market Outlook (2020), there will be demand for more than 43,000 new aircraft within 20 years. Nevertheless, uncertainty related to the opening and closing of borders also still has an impact on the whole industry.
To sum up, current economic conditions demand a timely, adequate response to strategic instead of operational issues. This is due to the increasing influence of the external environment on the enterprise’s activities, the growth of its uncertainty and unpredictability. Technologies become out-of-date, demand is immersed, competition becomes more challenging, and global markets expand. The capitalization of Boeing has changed significantly within the past three years. After plane crashes, flights of 380 737 Max aircraft were banned, and in December 2019, the company’s board of directors decided to suspend its production.
The company acknowledged a malfunction of the maneuverability enhancement system onboard the aircraft in both cases before they crashed. Afterward, multiple countries stopped the operation of aircraft of this series for safety reasons. These events influenced the company profoundly but not dramatically.
Nevertheless, there is a positive trend since there is a level of trust and hope among the society that the corporation will overcome all adversities. In terms of the sector, aircraft manufacturing is subjected to substantial risks; for instance, unexpectedly manifested imperfection of technical solutions and strategic miscalculations, force majeure, disasters and the human factor. The development of world aviation cannot be frozen, while Boeing takes responsibility for its development.
The strategic issue of Boeing shifted focus and failed its commitment to protect the people. There are technical and ethical issues; the organization should have informed airlines and pilots of meaningful design innovations, such as MCAS. Since it is complicated to detect strategic problems, it is necessary to pay special attention to them. Otherwise, the enterprise’s employees’ efforts can increase the efficiency of operational operations when an adequate answer to strategic questions can lead to a radical improvement in the enterprise’s activities. Despite the importance and priority of solving strategic problems, most of the manager’s time is spent solving operational issues related to increasing production efficiency, reducing costs, improving advertising, and resolving conflicts.
If the technology remains stable, demand continues to grow, and customers’ requirements and preferences change slowly, the company continues to work efficiently, focusing on current business activities. Its products, markets and specific strategies evolve slowly and gradually. In such circumstances, most firms tend to focus on operational solutions. However, some strategic issues appear in unpredictable cases such as crises and, for example, the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.
Long-term decisions are rarely discussed; the company’s strategic development should include research and development, marketing departments, and production efficiency improvement. An immediate response to any change in industry structure is critical in the global and domestic competition. Ultimately, the global industry leaders should be the first to recognize a new strategy and apply it. Boeing is one of the central actors within the global aircraft market. Thus, strategy development requires constant work and evaluation in all operational settings to minimize risks and enhance the benefits of a quick response to change.
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