Max 8 training questioned

The warning and training requirements set for the now-grounded 737 Max 8 aircraft may not have been adequate, in light of the Ethiopian plane crash that killed 157 people, the chief of Ethiopian Airlines said Saturday.

After the Lion Air crash off Indonesia in October, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing "came up with contents that we incorporated in our working manuals and also briefed all our pilots. But today we believe that might not have been enough," Tewolde Gebremariam told The Associated Press in an interview in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

Ethiopian Airlines insists the carrier's pilots went through all the extra training required by Boeing and the FAA to fly the 737 Max 8 jet. The March 10 crash killed people from 35 countries.

FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford declined to comment, citing an open investigation. Boeing on Saturday detailed planned flight-control software fixes for the plane and said it will pay to train airline pilots.

Gebremariam said earlier in the week that the training was meant to help crews shift from an older model of the 737 to the Max 8, which entered airline service in 2017. In a statement, he said pilots were also made aware of an emergency directive issued by the FAA after the Lion Air crash, which killed 189 people.

Ethiopian Airlines has said there is a "clear similarity" between the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes, citing preliminary information from the flight data recorder.

Although the causes of the crashes haven't been determined, investigators in the Lion Air disaster have focused on an automated system designed to use information from two sensors to help prevent a dangerous aerodynamic stall.

It is not known whether the same flight-control system played a role in the crash of the Ethiopian Airlines jet shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa, but regulators say both planes had similar erratic flight paths, an important part of their decision to ground the roughly 370 Max planes around the world.

Both planes flew with erratic altitude changes that could indicate the pilots struggled to control the aircraft. Shortly after their takeoffs, both crews tried to return to the airports but crashed.

The New York Times reported on Wednesday that the pilots of the doomed Ethiopian plane never trained in a simulator for the Max. Gebremariam, the Ethiopian Airlines CEO, said Saturday that "it wouldn't have made any difference" as the 737 Max simulator isn't designed to imitate problems in the new jet's flight-control software.

He still didn't say whether the pilots had trained on the simulator.

Boeing's planned software update for the Max must "address the problem 100 per cent before we return the aircraft to air," he said, noting that the airline hasn't made a decision on whether or not to cancel orders for Max jets.

Ethiopian Airlines is widely seen as Africa's best-managed airline.

The carrier had been using five of the Max planes and was awaiting delivery of 25 more.


Develop film with beer

Kodak says a new beer hitting the market can be used to develop its Super 8 movie film.

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Delaware created its SuperEIGHT beer after a conversation with people at Kodak, the upstate New York technology company most famous for its photographic roots.

Dogfish learned from Kodak that heightened levels of acidity and vitamin C in certain beers could make them a processing agent for film. That inspired the brewery to design such a beer. Kodak helped by testing it.

Dogfish founder Sam Calagione says he'll document his summer travels on Super 8 film that will be developed in SuperEIGHT beer and turned into a short film.

The beer, made with pear, mango, berries, kiwi, quinoa and salt, is set for national distribution next month.

Smokes' creditor protection

Rothmans, Benson & Hedges has become the third tobacco company to receive a temporary reprieve from compensating 100,000 Quebec smokers after securing creditor protection in an Ontario court on Friday.

Imperial Tobacco Canada and JTI-Macdonald Corp. were both granted creditor protection earlier this month.

The three companies lost an appeal of a landmark $15-billion class-action lawsuit in the Quebec Court of Appeal on March 1.

Rothmans, Benson & Hedges said in a statement that the Ontario Superior Court has stayed legal proceedings against all three companies until April 4-5.

The Quebec Council on Tobacco and Health led two class actions against the companies and won in 2015, when Quebec Superior Court Justice Brian Riordan ordered the companies to make payments of more than $15 billion to smokers who either fell ill or were addicted.

At the time, the ruling was believed to be the biggest class action award in Canadian history.

The tobacco company's managing director said the creditor protection could provide an opportunity for the company to resolve all the pending Canadian litigation against it.

"While RBH disputes liability in the Canadian litigation given the widespread awareness of the health risks of smoking, we are optimistic about reaching an arrangement that could resolve all pending litigation and allow RBH to focus on the future," Managing Director Peter Luongo said in a statement.

A spokesman for the Canadian Cancer Society accused the companies of seeking a "sweetheart settlement" that would allow them to avoid paying the bulk of the damages.

"The tobacco industry has engaged in decades of wrongful behaviour that has caused disease and death on a massive scale," Rob Cunningham said in a statement.

"Court judgments in Quebec have been highly critical of the tobacco industry and have ordered the companies to pay billions of dollars. Now the companies are trying to avoid paying what they have been ordered to pay."


Just Energy cuts jobs

Just Energy Group Inc. says it is eliminating 200 jobs in a move that will save $40 million in annual costs in its upcoming financial year.

The company, which sells electricity and natural gas and provides other services to consumers in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, says it will incur about $9 million in severance costs in the fourth quarter of its 2019 financial year, which ends March 31.

In a regulatory filing in May last year, Just Energy reported employing a total of 1,576 people.

The company left in place its guidance for its 2019 financial year's base earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortization of between $200 million and $220 million.

In a report, CIBC World Markets analysts say the cost savings were likely overdue and shouldn't impact operations, adding they view the enterprise as a "show-me story" with above average investment risk.

Just Energy lost $35.8 million on sales of $2.8 billion in the nine months ended Dec. 31, compared with a profit of $252 million on $2.6 billion in the same period of 2017.

"Today we took actions that align with our ongoing commitment to transform our organization to a consumer company," said CEO Patrick McCullough in a news release after markets closed Thursday.

"These actions will serve to secure a bright future and support the best interests of all of our valued stakeholders."

Hot rides at the auto show

Fan favourites at the Vancouver International Auto Show range from the old to the cutting edge.

The 99th annual event continues until Sunday at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

From the latest models coming to dealer showrooms, to classics, modified supercars and more, automotive aficionados seem to be flocking to a few special vehicles.

Among them is Terry Fox's Van of Hope. The 1980 Ford Econoline supported the amputee cancer fundraiser on his epic Marathon of Hope.

For Darrell Fox, who accompanied Terry 39 years ago, the response has been overwhelming. “Whenever the van is displayed at a public event like this ... I continue to be astounded and appreciative that people of all generations continue to have such a strong personal and emotional attachment," he said.

Among the new vehicles, Jaguar's I-Pace was honoured with the Canadian Green Utility Vehicle of the Year Award this week by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada and is turning heads with its good looks as well as its pure battery-electric efficiency.

Off-road enthusiasts are swooning over the all-new Jeep Gladiator mid-size truck.

Racing and drifting fans, meanwhile, are drooling over Ken Block's 1,400-horsepower all-wheel drive Hoonicorn Mustang. The famous car is making its Canadian debut in Vancouver.

Want to save money on gas? More than 30 electric, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen-powered vehicles are available for show-goers to get behind the wheel of, through the Electric Vehicle Experience display.

WestJet sticking with Max

WestJet Airlines plans to stick with deliveries of Boeing 737 Max aircraft once regulators approve the plane for re-entry into service.

The Calgary-based airline says it won't follow the lead of Indonesia's flag carrier, which cancelled its multibillion-dollar order for 49 Max 8 jets, citing a loss of confidence after two deadly crashes in the past six months.

WestJet had expected to add two more of the planes this year to increase its fleet to 13, but Boeing has suspended all future deliveries.

Spokeswoman Lauren Stewart says the 37 remaining deliveries in its order won't take place until the grounding is lifted and it thoroughly evaluates any upgrades.

"If the grounding has been lifted and the aircraft is approved for re-entry into service by all relevant regulatory bodies, we will take all deliveries as intended," she wrote in an email.

Stewart said the narrow-body planes remain "a vital part of the fleet," having performed "safely, reliably and efficiently" since 2017.

"WestJet remains unrelenting in putting safety at the forefront and will thoroughly evaluate processes, procedures and any further required training before these aircraft once again take to the skies."

Air Canada and Sunwing didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

Garuda Indonesia is the first airline to cancel an order for the troubled planes.

J.P. Morgan transportation analyst Seth Seifman believes that most major players in global air travel would like to see the plane flying again soon.

But he said it can't take off again until investigators have reached preliminary conclusions about the March 10 Ethiopian Air crash and similarities with the Lion Air crash last October, which he said could come as early as next week.

"If the conclusion is that from an aircraft point of view, MCAS (computer system) was the main contributing factor, then the fix Boeing has developed post-Lion, combined with enhanced training, would be appropriate in this case as well," he wrote in a report.

However, if the investigation points to a different explanation then Boeing would have to address another cause.

"The worst case for ending the grounding is an inconclusive result," he added.

Regulatory approval could be delayed because foreign regulators, including the Canadians and Europeans, have already discussed conducting their own assessments of Boeing's MCAS fix separate from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.

GM responds to Trump?

Less than a week after a series of critical tweets from President Donald Trump over an Ohio plant closure, General Motors is announcing plans to add 400 jobs and build a new electric vehicle at a Michigan factory.

The company said Friday it will spend $300 million in Orion Township to build a Chevrolet vehicle based on the battery-powered Bolt.

GM wouldn't say when the workers will start or the vehicle will go on sale. Nor would it say if workers will be new hires or come from a pool of laid-off employees.

GM also announced plans to spend another $1.4 billion at U.S. factories with 300 more jobs but didn't offer details.

The company wouldn't comment on Trump but said the announcement has been in the works for weeks.

Inflation ticks higher

The annual pace of inflation edged higher in February as gains in most spending categories offset lower gasoline prices, Statistics Canada said Friday.

Statistics Canada reported the consumer price index in February climbed 1.5 per cent compared with a year ago. The move compared with a year-over-over increase of 1.4 per cent in January.

Helping push costs higher was a 8.1 per cent increase in mortgage interest costs and a 14.3 per cent rise compared with a year ago in the cost of fresh vegetables. The cost of passenger vehicle insurance premiums also rose 6.3 per cent.

The cost of gasoline was down 11.9 per cent compared with the same month last year as overall energy prices slipped 5.7 per cent.

However, Statistics Canada said tighter oil supplies and the temporary closure of several refineries for seasonal maintenance helped boost gasoline prices 1.9 per cent compared with January, the first month-over-month increase in gasoline since July 2018.

Excluding gasoline, the annual pace of inflation held steady at 2.1 per cent, the same as January.

The report also said the average of the Bank of Canada's three core inflation readings, which omit more-volatile items like gas, edged down to 1.8 per cent compared with a reading of 1.9 per cent in January.

That was in line with estimates compiled by Thomson Reuters Eikon.

The central bank, which aims to keep inflation between one and three per cent, sets its benchmark interest rate target as a way to manage the pace of inflation. The Bank of Canada held its key rate target at 1.75 per cent at its rate announcement earlier this month when it also raised concerns about the strength of economic growth to start the year.

In a separate report, Statistics Canada reported Friday that retail sales fell 0.3 per cent to $50.1 billion in January, the third consecutive move lower as falling sales at motor vehicle and parts dealers weighed on the results.

Analysts had estimated a month-over-month increase of 0.4 per cent, according to Thomson Reuters Eikon.

Sales at motor vehicle and parts dealers fell 1.5 per cent in January due to a 2.4 per cent drop in sales at new car dealers and a 2.7 per cent drop at used car dealers. Excluding the subsector, retail sales increased 0.1 per cent.

Retail sales in volume terms were essentially unchanged in January.

Google's first AI Doodle

Google is celebrating composer Johann Sebastian Bach with its first artificial intelligence-powered Doodle.

Thursday's animated Google Doodle shows the composer playing an organ in celebration of his March 21, 1685, birthday under the old Julian calendar. It encourages users to compose their own two-measure melody.

Google says the Doodle uses machine learning to "harmonize the custom melody into Bach's signature music style." Bach's chorales were known for having four voices carrying their own melodic line.

To develop the AI Doodle, Google teams created a machine-learning model that was trained on 306 of Bach's chorale harmonizations. Another team worked to allow machine learning to occur within the web browser instead of on its servers.

The Doodle will prompt users who are unsure of how to interact with the animated graphic.

Robot servers, 3D menus

Patrons enter a cafe and pass by a hologram of coffee pouring from a carafe into a cup. They scroll through a three-dimensional menu and see exactly what each dish will look like to help them decide what to order. A small robot, arms fixed to a tray, delivers the meal to the table and says "Your food is here."

That is what the restaurant of the not-too-distant future looks like, say those developing the technology, which they argue can boost company profits and lower labour costs.

But so far, only a few eateries in Canada have embraced robotics and other high-tech offerings, and more owners may be hesitant to do so due to high costs in a low-margin industry.

"I think the robot will be the future in our life," said Fiona Jiang, a manager at Robo Sushi in Toronto that is staffed partly by robots.

At the restaurant, waist-high robots with two eyes and a smile permanently fixed on their faces guide patrons to empty seats. Guests order food using an iPad and a different style of robot zooms between the kitchen and tables, bringing guests rolls, nigiri and other items. It might utter "excuse me" when it slips past a human body or "enjoy your meal" to diners about to eat.

The restaurant opened last year and claims to be the first of its kind in North America. So far, guests seem excited by the artificial intelligence servers, sharing videos and photos of the robots on social media.

"Everyone loves the robots... They're so cute," Jiang said.

Autonetics Universe sells a number of machines that can greet customers, take orders, display prices and promotions, and carry food and drinks, among other tasks.

Based in Aurora, Ont., the company distributes robots purchased from one Chinese firm and another in Japan, but is also working to develop robots in-house.

"Why not jump on the cutting, the leading edge of what's to come?" asked founder Ian McGowan when explaining why he decided to launch the company about two years ago.

So far, a restaurant is yet to purchase a service robot from Autonetics, he said. But he believes it won't be long before one of his robots is greeting customers, taking orders or serving guests in a Canadian restaurant — though he said he can't put a date on it.

He noted Canada is fairly new to incorporating robotics into retail, whereas he finds it's more common in other countries. Part of the hesitation could come from sticker shock as money is the first factor Jiang points to as a reason more restaurants don't deploy robots.

McGowan said the service robots Autonetics sells run from about $7,000 to $25,000 or higher, depending on what additional parts a buyer wants. 

At this year's RC Show, an annual trade and conference show put on by the industry association Restaurants Canada held in Toronto in late February, industry insiders marvelled at the robots McGowan displayed at his booth.

"No shortage of: 'You guys are the coolest thing in the show,'" he said.

The restaurant of the future was a big theme at the annual show where Toronto-based 3D Food and Drink launched its new technology which allows customers to use their phones to see realistic, three-dimensional representations of menu items.

"It brings the menus to life," said Alan Smithson, founder of Mississauga, Ont.-based Metavrse, which invested in the 3D-menu company.

McGowan also expects holograms — three-dimensional videos that don't require any special glasses or technology to view — will soon be in more eateries as the technology sells itself and lures customers in. He recently sold one to a coffee shop, which might use it to display coffee being poured into a cup, for example.

"I think a lot of people are just going to come to the coffee shop just to see that thing."

Canopy acquires AgriNext

Canopy Growth Corp. has acquired AgriNextUSA, in a move to boost its hemp business in the United States.

Financial terms of the deal were not immediately available.

Canopy, distributor of Tweed cannabis products, says AgriNextUSA chief executive Geoff Whaling will join Canopy Growth USA as a strategic adviser. It says Whaling is considered a hemp pioneer and a leading advocate for the sector in the United States.

Earlier this year, Canopy was granted a licence by the state of New York to process and produce hemp, a member of the cannabis plant family.

The Ontario-based company has announced plans to invest between US$100 million and US$150 million at its proposed New York hemp operations.

The U.S. legalized the cultivation of hemp late last year as a source of cannabidiol (CBD), one of the compounds also found in cannabis.

Levi Strauss public again

Levi Strauss & Co., which gave America its first pair of blue jeans, is public for the second time.

The stock, which is listed under the ticker "LEVI," opened for trading on Thursday up 31 per cent on very strong demand and recently changed hands at $22.90, up $5.90. The offering priced at $17, above an originally expected range of $14 to $16.

As of noon, shares were up nearly 34 per cent.

For the first time, the New York Stock Exchange suspended its "no jeans" policy on Thursday to commemorate the event, transforming the floor from suits and ties into a sea of blue denim, with its traders sporting jeans and denim jackets.

More than 120 employees from Levi's global offices, including its CEO Chip Bergh outfitted in denim, were on the trading floor. On Wednesday, the NYSE even Tweeted, "Tomorrow we'll be in our 501s."

The 166-year-old company, which owns the Dockers and Denizen brands, previously went public in 1971, but the namesake founder's descendants, the Haas family, took it private again in 1985.

The IPO comes as the iconic brand is staging a comeback under Bergh even as it faces increasing competition and a changing retail landscape. Women are opting for yoga pants or other comfortable athletic sportswear that can be worn every day. And the brand is also contending with a shrinking number of department stores, once its traditional venue of distribution.

But since assuming the helm in 2011, Bergh has refashioned the brand and image. It didn't chase after the yoga trend but rather focused on enhancing the fit of its women's jeans with stretchier fabrics. Bergh also has created buzz with partnerships with celebrities like Justin Timberlake while increasing Levi's marketing at events like Coachella, where Beyonce performed in the brand's cut-off shorts.

At the same time, Levi's has been expanding online and juggling between selling to low-end and high-end stores. It's also been opening its own stores.

All of that has helped Levi Strauss turn in a 14 per cent increase in sales to $5.6 billion for the year ended Nov. 25, 2018.

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