Commercial passenger aircraft business of Boeing and Airbus is a high-stakes “duopoly” game of competitive strategy, a sinning business approach that is examined inside. Without bankrupting each other, each player is aiming to solely dominate the other’s board strategy in business, as the world’s largest most profitable aircraft manufacturer.
Photo Credit: bloga350.blogspot.com
Borrowing language from the military, sports, or even politics, such observers would say both of these aircraft manufacturing business duopoly players are “in it to win it” at all costs.
With annual business economic profits in the billions of dollars, this duopoly game is neither about winning or losing, nor how well Boeing and Airbus play the game. Rather, each of these firms’ successes interdependently reside in their ability to ensure the competitive rivals are “playing the right John Nash game” to maximize business economic profits for each firm’s shareholders.
Successful business strategy is about actively shaping the game you play, not just playing the game you find.” – Adam M. Brandenburger and Barry J. Nalebuff, authors of “The Right Game: Use Game Theory to Shape Strategy,” Harvard Business Review, July-August 1995.
High-stakes competition took to the sky over Paris’ Le Bourget Exhibition Center, June 15-21, 2015, as Boeing and Airbus strategically maneuvered their Boeing 787-9 and Airbus A350 aircraft innovations through stunning near vertical takeoffs and flight maneuvers over the Le Bourget field to pull airline customers to the contract order table.
Here, the duopoly game was on, as a strategic bet was placed on innovation with US$107 billion in aircraft orders on the table. Eventually, this was narrowly parsed between Boeing (at US$50.2 billion) and Airbus (at US$57 billion).
Prior to publication of the 1944 classic, Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, by Nobel Laureate mathematician, John von Neumann, and Nobel Laureate economist, Oscar Morgenstern, corporate boards and executives did not have the tools to make proper analyses of the strategic interaction between firm rivals, characterized by the Boeing-Airbus duopoly. Neumann-Morgenstern game-theoretic contributions were primarily applicable to industries composed of either many rivals for which interactions do not matter (as in perfect competitors), or no rivals at all (as in monopolies).
Modern theories of games and economic profit equilibria has now expanded to industries, having low numbers of strategically-interdependent rivals (or oligopolies), such as the Boeing-Airbus duopoly.
Later in this piece, we touch upon the remarkable conceptualization of a Nash general equilibrium game of economic profits, as Boeing and Airbus boards and executives are rudimentary simulated in making their strategic economic choices simultaneously, as well as, fundamentally illustrated and explicated as choices made sequentially (given associated factors of rivalry assessment and judgment during the game, like strategic commitment and credibility).
Invented by the late Princeton professor and Nobel Laureate John F. Nash Jr. (1928-2015), his game-theoretic equilibrium contributions have been applied to fields as far-reaching as industrial business, litigation, evolutionary biology, and political science.
Below we also go deeper into specifically addressing the economics behind the competitive strategy of these huge global businesses. Together, we discuss how do Boeing and Airbus know they are playing the right game with competitive bets on technological innovation and “know-how” (in Boeing’s 787s vs Airbus’ A350s) alongside market strongholds (with Boeing’s 737sMax vs Airbus’ A320s), displayed to airline customers in Paris. This competitive game becomes especially critical as the rivals are strategically interdependent upon each other in the global marketplace.
Photo Credit: Airbus’ A350 Family rollout answer in 2014 to Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner Family in 2013.
Choosing a Competitive Strategy in the Boeing-Airbus Duopoly Challenge
The board must be willing and able to recognize whether or not the company has a winning strategy – and, if not, to urge corrective actions … depending on the particular circumstances of the company and the industry in which it is operating.” – National Association of Corporate Director’s Blue Ribbon Commission on The Role of the Board in Corporate Strategy.
America’s Boeing and France’s Airbus have duopolistic control of the international aviation industry with Airbus having a slight edge on market share over Boeing.
Tuesday, June 23, 2015 Boeing announced CEO Jim McNerney (shown left photo above) would be stepping down. Replacing McNerney would be current president and COO Dennis Muilenburg (shown right photo above), Forbes, CNBC, and Reuters confirmed.
McNerney, who the aircraft manufacturer said in a statement has held the CEO post for the past 10 years, will remain the chairman of the board. Muilenburg will assume his new role on July 1, and McNerney will continue as an employee until February “to ensure a smooth transition,” according to a Boeing statement.
“It’s a little bit of a generational shift,” McNerney told CNBC on the day of the announcement. “This is a very long cycle business, where living with your decisions is important.”
“The source of reassurance that they can draw on is that we have crafted that strategy together, and in many ways there’s not going to be a change except generationally, and it’s time for that,” he added.
For his part Muilenburg reiterated that the company is sticking to its plan crafted under McNerney. “We have a strong strategy in place, and we’re going to continue to execute that with pace and confidence,” he said.
“The transition comes amid a historic boom in the commercial jet market and as Boeing faces tough challenges to build its defense business amid shrinking defense spending. Boeing is preparing to celebrate its 100th anniversary next year,” CNBC reports.
“McNerney oversaw a near doubling of revenue to a record $90.8 billion in 2014, and focused on improving Boeing’s profit margins by pressing suppliers to cut prices. He also secured long-term contracts with unions.”
Boeing is also most noted for its longstanding family of “Triple Sevens,” deeply penetrated in the airline marketplace. Airbus is most known for its A320 and A380 families, and its most recent A350 released in 2014, as a response to Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner released in 2013.
Notably, Boeing introduced “virtual manufacturing” innovations in pulling together the 787 aircraft assemblage from around the world (including Japan (wing trailing edges, wing boxes, fuselage sections), Australia (wing flaps), Sweden (cargo doors), France (passenger doors), South Korea (wingtips, tail cone), China (wing-to-body panel, leading edge of tail-fin, rudder), Italy (horizontal stabilizers, fuselage sections), Canada (landing-gear doors, fairings), United Kingdom (engines, landing gear), and United States (wing leading edges, engine mounts, tail-fin, nose section), altogether as shown below). Component sources for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner draw from Japanese firms (35%), Boeing (35%), Vought/Alenia (26%), and other partner firms (4%).
Photo Credit: www.lunchoverip.com
Variants of these competitive Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 innovative airliners are differentiated by fuselage length and Breguet range of the aircraft (as determined by factors of lift-to-drag ratio, payload-to-weight ratio, and propulsive fuel-burn efficiency).
Photo Credit: Airbus, Boeing, AFP, chiongtheskies.blogspot.com
Among the various tools Boeing and Airbus corporate board and executives have in order to gauge their competitive rivalry and strategy, economic scenario analyses and decision games are most beneficial in obtaining insights into the way Boeing and Airbus interact in specific events, like the 2015 Paris Air Show. Conducting revenue and economic profit analyses and assessing “win-win” or “win-lose” decision games are required in anticipation to establishing each company’s annual earnings and shareholder value for the year.
A crucial aspect of executive decisions is anticipating how these two rivals may react this year and in the next few years, particularly in pricing, investments in advanced innovative technologies and “know-how” (in modern research and developments as composite commercial aircraft for airframe weight reduction, engine fan size expansion for increase engine thrust power, specific fuel consumption, fuel efficiencies and cost savings, emissions and noise reduction), sunk costs into new facilities, capital reserves, and so forth.
A penetrating way in which the Boeing and Airbus boards and executives decide and make strategic judgments in this high-stakes game is to “get inside the minds” of each other, figure out what is in their “self-interest.” And then, maximize economic profit for their company’s shareholders accordingly.
Boeing and Airbus boards and executives, nonetheless, are extremely smart at making choices in this multi-billion dollar matchup. Boeing’s optimal choices will oftentimes depend on their assessments of Airbus’ expectations of what Boeing intends to do, which, in turn, depend on Airbus’ assessment of Boeing’s reassessment about what Airbus intends to do next.
So, here’s a question:
How do Boeing and Airbus boards and executives rationally analyze economic decision-making without falling irrationally into observable judgments inside predictable groupthink?
Boardroom and C-suite games that map out Boeing-Airbus strategic interdependent scenarios is most valuable in precisely such situations of securing billions of dollars of commercial passenger aircraft orders. Such high-stakes economic choices among Boeing-Airbus rivals are concerned with examining optimum decisions, when all decision-makers are presumed to be rational, and each is attempting to anticipate the actions and reactions of its Boeing-Airbus rival counterparts.
In the next section, we discuss the remarkable conceptualization of a Nash general equilibrium game of economic profits, as Boeing and Airbus boards and executives make their strategic economic choices simultaneously.
We also discuss factors (such as strategic commitment and credibility, entry deterrence, and asymmetric information) of a sub-game “backward induction” of economic earnings, as Boeing and Airbus boards and executives make their choices sequentially.
Photo Credit: The Essential John Nash, edited by Harold W. Kuhn and Sylvia Nasar, author of “A Beautiful Mind.”
How Nobel Laureate John F. Nash Shaped the Boeing-Airbus Duopoly Game at Paris’ Le Bourget.
According to modern industrial game-theorists, Harvard Business School professor, Adam M. Brandenburger, and Yale School of Management professor, Barry J. Nalebuff, the Boeing-Airbus duopoly is a complex mix of two types of gaming – (1) “rules-based“, wherein the firm’s rules of engagement on how they interact are changed (such as technological innovation exhibitions, social media preemption, contracts, loan covenants, or trade agreements), and (2) “jazz-based“, wherein the firms interact in unstructured improvisational styles without any external constraints on creating value for their shareholders.
Photo Credit: Vietnam Airlines crew performing a “near vertical takeoff” of a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner at the 2015 Paris Air Show.
Last week, Boeing decided to pre-empt the 2015 Paris Air Show with a pre-release of its flagship 787-9 Dreamliner, performing a “near vertical takeoff”. But also, at Paris’ Le Bourget, Boeing needed to decide whether to go all out with focusing on its best-selling Next-Generation Boeing 737s as its promotion aircraft to its customers.
Boeing also took in 30 orders for 787-9 Dreamliners at the 2015 Paris Air Show. At an average list price of about US$257 million in 2014, Boeing raked in about US$7.7 billion (or nearly US$8 billion) for its 30 orders of 787-9 Dreamliners at Le Bourget Exhibition Centre with air carrier, Garuda Indonesia, based in Jakarta, amounting to all 30 of the Boeing 787-9 orders.
Correspondingly, in response to Boeing’s 787-9 “near vertical” takeoff preemptive performance gone viral on social media prior to Paris, Airbus decided to go with its Airbus A350-900 (reinforcing its leading position as the world’s most modern, advanced wide-body aircraft). Or better still, Airbus also decided to go with focusing on its market leading Airbus A320 Family, which garnered an impressive 366 endorsements (comprising 103 firm orders and 263 commitments) worth US$41.4 billion.
Airbus took in 31 orders for A350-900s at the 2015 Paris Air Show. At an average list price of about US$305 million in 2014, Airbus took in about US$9.5 billion (or nearly US$10 billion) for its 31 orders of A350-900s at Le Bourget Centre, again with Garuda Indonesia (in Jakarta) requesting 30 A350-900 orders and the other one going to Air Lease Corporation (NYSE:AL), based in Los Angeles.
Pulling all of this together differently, Boeing and Airbus needed to decide whether the aircraft manufacturers are going either with technical “know-how” (Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners vs. Airbus A350-900s) or market stronghold (Boeing 737MAXs vs. Airbus A320s), as their competitive promotional advantage at the 2015 Paris Air Show.
Naturally, both Boeing and Airbus prefer going with their market strongholds, since this strategic move has the greatest amount of potential customer orders for their aircraft.
However, Boeing and Airbus prefer not to go head-on against each other by both choosing to go with market stronghold or technical “know-how” only, since that strategy in the Boeing-Airbus duopoly game would then create really higher pricing pressures on each aircraft manufacturer to stay committed to the competitive game.
So, what is the solution of the game?
Imagine the competition at the 2015 Paris Air Show in which Boeing and Airbus move simultaneously in the sense that each rival firm reaches a decision of what new innovative technology to exhibit without knowing what the other is doing.
Below is a simulation matrix of estimated order sales, in billions of US dollars, Airbus and Boeing (A,B) obtained from each strategic choice and emphasis in the customer orders game at the 2015 Paris Air Show:
In the context of the technological innovation game, the Nash equilibrium is the pair of order sales strategies (one for Airbus, one for Boeing) such that:
- Airbus’s (A-series emphasis) strategy maximizes its order sales, given Boeing’s (B-series emphasis) strategy;
- Boeing’s (B-series emphasis) strategy maximizes its order sales, given Airbus’s (A-series emphasis) strategy.
The Nash equilibrium solution is (“Know-How”, “Know-How”), that is, Airbus and Boeing each invest in technological innovation and “know-how“. When Airbus invests in innovation and “know-how“, Boeing’s best choice is to similarly make such investments (finally yielding US$57 billion sales for Airbus and US$50.2 billion sales for Boeing).
The choice to invest in technological innovation and “know-how” maximizes order sales no matter what competitive strategy decision either Boeing or Airbus makes. In this case, we determine that investments in “know-how” was the dominate strategy at the 2015 Paris Air Show.
First, note that no strategic decision by Boeing or Airbus dominates another. If Boeing decides on technical “know-how“, Airbus would rather decide on market stronghold. Since above all, Boeing wants to avoid a head-to-head competition, because that would cause a price war seen by airline customers. However, if Boeing were to decide on market stronghold, Airbus would rather go with technical “know-how“.
In the language of game theorists, this Boeing-Airbus duopoly game is not “dominant solvable“, that is, the game is not solved through the elimination of dominated strategies.
When Boeing and Airbus each have a dominate strategy, that strategy held by each is not only reasonably good each for Boeing and Airbus acting alone, but also rationally good for the duopoly game too. This is the essence of a Nash equilibrium, named after its originator, the late Nobel Laureate mathematician John F. Nash Jr. (1928-2015).
Nash equilibrium is a pair of strategies such that Boeing and Airbus can do no better by unilaterally shifting strategies. Putting it another way, at Nash equilibrium, Boeing and Airbus each makes the best response to the other aircraft manufacturer’s strategy. Nash equilibrium is the most compelling solution of the Boeing-Airbus duopoly game, perhaps because it is the most self-interested and self-enforcing solution among the rival commercial aircraft manufacturers competing for the airline customer orders at the 2015 Paris Air Show. At Nash equilibrium, Boeing and Airbus expectations equals outcomes. In other words, expected market behavior and actual market outcomes converge.
In the Boeing-Airbus duopoly game, the Nash equilibrium does not necessarily maximizes the aggregate outcomes each aircraft manufacturers’ bottom-line. Boeing and Airbus would perhaps in some circumstances be better off refraining from pushing the technological innovation envelope out too far. However, their rational pursuits of shareholder value-maximizing self-interest, risk-aversion, and prudent uncertainty (innovation) management leads each firm to pursue a strategic action that may ultimate destroy joint value of the Boeing-Airbus duopoly.
This big business conflict between “collective-interest” and “self-interest” is known as the prisoners’ dilemma, perhaps but not generally, somewhat underlying somewhere underneath the Boeing-Airbus duopoly game. The prisoners’ dilemma (Appendix A) arises when Boeing and Airbus are pursuing their own self-interests, they each in turn, impose a cost onto the other that is not taken into account. In the technological innovation and “know-how” game, Airbus’ added investments hurt Boeing, and vice-versa, because such incremental investments drive down the market price. The prisoners’ dilemma is an essential characteristic to consider in equilibrium pricing and output decisions in the Boeing-Airbus duopoly game.
A notable big business game of an analogous structure to the “battle of the sexes” dilemma (Appendix B) is “standards setting“. This occurs when two oligopolistic firms, like Boeing and Airbus, aim to coordinate on one technological innovation or “know-how” standard, but each aircraft manufacturer prefers to adopt its own technology as the standard, as they have different preferences on where they want to coordinate to reach such a standard.
Photo Credit: Vietnam Airlines crew, landing a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner at Le Bourget field during the 2015 Paris Air Show.
How Commitments and Credibility Underpin the Sequential Moves in the Boeing-Airbus Duopoly Game at Paris’ Le Bourget.
Up to now, we have discussed how Boeing and Airbus won their US$107 billion high-stakes game by making their moves on technological innovation and “know-how” simultaneously in the sense that each aircraft manufacturer reached a decision “somewhat” without knowing what the other was doing.
The duopoly chess move of deciding if the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner or the Airbus A350-900 is going to be showcased at the 2015 Paris Air Show, brought out the fact that one rival (in this case Boeing) preempted the other rival (Airbus) by moving first on going viral on social media through Boeing’s collaboration with the Vietnam Airlines crew in performing a rehearsal of a “near vertical” takeoff last week prior to the 2015 Paris Air Show. Such preemptive moves are the essence of the sequential game being played in the Boeing-Airbus duopoly.
Backward Induction as a Sequential Response Move. To solve this style of sequential game, game theorists use “backwards induction”. Here, Airbus first observes what Boeing did in pre-releasing its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner “near vertical” takeoff last week. Then, Airbus decides what is best to do at Le Bourget, given what Boeing is doing in anticipation of the 2015 Paris Air Show. Airbus elected to focus most on its stronghold A320 Family, while exhibiting in all its grand style, jumbo size and scale, its British Airways A380 alongside its A350-900s.
The bottom-line takeaway here is: Boeing knows that when they moved first last week, which was their preemptive best choice in the “near vertical takeoff of a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, Boeing also made a strategic commitment with huge credibility by immediately showcasing with 10 million views across social media that the aircraft manufacturer is first in the world in technological innovation and “know-how”.
Strategic Commitment and Credibility. In response at the 2015 Paris Air Show, Airbus most certainly showcased their global stronghold through their A320 Family of airliners, while sequentially responding with their technical “know-how” in their A380s and A350-900s – Airbus’ technological innovation response to the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.
Looking at this through the lens of less-rational inefficient behavior economics, Princeton University professor, Avinash K. Dixit, and Yale University professor, Barry J. Nalebuff, suggests a number of non-technical game-theoretic approaches in which Boeing and Airbus can commit irrationally in advance to each others sequential actions after the rivals have made their preemptive moves. Dixit-Nalebuff outline such irrational moves as writing contracts, building a reputation for never backing down, or burning bridges and making decisions that make it impossible to back down.
Photo Credit: Steep takeoff from Le Bourget field of a Bombardier CS300 during the 2015 Paris Air Show. Montreal, Quebec Canadian Bombardier CS300 is a single-aisle 160-seater, which sold no planes at the 2015 Paris Air Show, is a direct competitor to single-aisle Boeing 737s and Airbus A320 Family of airliners.
Entry Deterrence into the Game. Still, another example of a sequential Boeing-Airbus duopoly game is entry deterrence, where an entrepreneurial aircraft manufacturer, like China or another southeast Asia deep pocket entrant, decides whether or not to crash the Boeing-Airbus duopoly game.
Four things are essential for success of any new entrant with Boeing and Airbus in the aircraft manufacturing industry, hyper-competitively speaking: (1) technical “know-how” (especially in aircraft virtual manufacturing, aviation maintenance, and advanced pilot engagement with digital glass cockpits), (2) sunk cost controls (including fixed costs controls of aircraft engine fuel efficiencies), (3) deep pockets and capital reserves, and (4) niche market strongholds (particularly in the southeast Asia region, where point-to-point air carriers flying across islands are expected to see an explosion is passenger loads in the coming decade).
Any new entrant knows that the Boeing-Airbus incumbents are most likely to accommodate the entrepreneurial aircraft manufacturer once it is widely seen in the market that the new entrant is committed and credible. Then, the problem facing the Boeing-Airbus incumbency is how to credibly commit to a strategy they know will not be optimal down the line (such as lowering prices into a deepest price war after the entrepreneurial aircraft manufacturer enters the industry). This would be designed to shift the entrepreneurial aircraft manufacturer’s strategy in the deteriorating value of the industry, and perhaps even under search threats, deter the entrant from entering the industry in the first place.
Think of the Boeing-Airbus duopoly game of entry deterrence analogous to that of the “nuclear deterrence game”, largely introduced in the late 20th century between the United States and the USSR. The United States needed to credibly commit to a strategy that was clearly irrational, such as blowing up the world within minutes for any minor invasion in Western Europe. If the United States could strategically commit itself in such a deep fashion, it could avoid a preemptive first-strike invasion in Western Europe by the USSR.
President Reagan went even further by strategically committing to a credible new entrant threat of developing a first-strike arsenal of nuclear weaponry from space in order to deter the USSR with national economic bankruptcy in any attempts to strategically respond. Remarkably, this US-USSR duopoly game of entry deterrence ended the Cold War.
The power to constrain an adversary may depend on the power to bind oneself.” – Thomas Shelling, “The Strategy of Conflict” (1960).
Asymmetric Information to Make the Market Inefficient. One deceptive sequential move is to raise the uncertainty and increase the inefficiency in the market regarding: (1) where are the Boeing and Airbus rivals at each quarter period of time in the marketplace, (2) will each rival back down, and (3) will Airbus believe Boeing’s preemptive release of a “near vertical takeoff” of a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner prior to the 2015 Paris Air Show.
Modern game-theoretic research is devoted to classical economist John Hicksian behavioral economic aspects of “asymmetric or incomplete information” about “win-lose” payoffs to rival oligopolistic firms, competing in inefficient markets, increasingly having enormous complexities of structured finance, derivatives, and Black-Scholes risk options in the sequential business game.
Photo Credit: British Airways crew landing at Le Bourget field in an Airbus A380 during the 2015 Paris Air Show.
Bottom-Line Business Takeaways.
The Boeing-Airbus duopoly game at the 2015 Paris Air Show has only one business solution: the rival firms won US$107 billion in aircraft orders for their top-line revenues.
If a business can’t make its top-line revenue targets, it’s hard for the firm to make its bottom-line earnings for its shareholders.
Nonetheless, the Nash equilibrium simultaneously moves and its sub-game sequential moves in the Boeing-Airbus duopoly game are not designed to produce exact numerical answers. This is because solutions of such high-stakes games are highly dependent on the assumptions made about the timing of the sequential moves in particular, along with the asymmetric information available to Boeing and Airbus that affect either the rationality and efficiency or the irrationality and inefficiency of the business decisions of their boards and executives.
The extent to which Boeing can be assumed to have information about Airbus’ irrevocable decisions before taking Boeing’s decision to Le Bourget, crucially affects the outcome of the Boeing-Airbus duopoly game at the 2015 Paris Air Show.
The bottom-line business takeaway from this piece in assessing the Boeing-Airbus duopoly is game theory’s greatest utility in obtaining a deeper understanding about the economic structure of the competitive strategic interactions between Boeing and Airbus. This is essential not only to learn what the right way to play the Boeing-Airbus duopoly game is, but also to understand existing possibilities and consequences of legitimately breaking the rules of the game to achieve breakthroughs in technological innovation and “know-how” in the aircraft manufacturing business.
Most of all, if Boeing understands that its price competition with Airbus is a prisoner’s dilemma game of simultaneous moves or even a “battle of the sexes” game of standardization in their moves, it can change the rules of the game to remove the motivations and incentives both Boeing and Airbus have to engage in such price wars.
For readers interested in further study into the strategic topics of this piece, Transforming The Ivory Tower, How Scenarios of Possible Futures Provide Real Growth for Academic Organizations, discusses how to combine modern game theory with scenario planning to (1) anticipate and adjust core strategies as society’s actual future unfolds, and (2) develop a decision-making tool for complex strategic interactions in oligopolistic industrial organizations, such as Boeing and Airbus, as well as, governmental and academic institutions alike.
Photo Credit: Steep takeoff from Le Bourget field of an Airbus A380 during the 2015 Paris Air Show.
Appendix A: Prisoners’ Dilemma
Commonly seen on the long-running NBC drama series, Law & Order, produced by lawyer Dick Wolf, this situation involves two criminals who are arrested for committing a serious crime. The police have no proof of their involvement, except for a minor infraction. The prosecutor offers them a deal, whereby the one who implicates the other escapes all punishment, and the other gets a heavy prison sentence. If both criminals implicate the other, both end up in prison for a long time. The dominant strategy (or Nash equilibrium) is for each criminal to implicate the other. Consequently, they both end up getting relatively heavy prison sentences.
Appendix B: The Battle of the Sexes
Perhaps nowadays a “politically-incorrect” manner to describe this Nash equilibria game, a husband and a wife want to coordinate their choice for an evening out having fun on the town. The husband prefers to go to a night football game, and the wife wants to go to the theater. But, they both prefer to do together any of the two activities than to do their preferred one alone. This is coordinating to set a standard of fun for each during their evening out on the town.
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