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One Of Our Guidance Systems Is Missing


Up Front: WILD BLUE YONDER

ONE OF OUR GUIDANCE SYSTEMS IS MISSING

THE LONG-PLANNED Federal Aviation Administration design for a new navigation system got a reality check recently when a Continental Airlines jet lost its navigational signal over Europe.

The aircraft was never in danger because it had a backup land-based radio beacon when a French military exercise jammed the signal from part of the global positioning system (GPS)--24 U.S. satellites serving as guides.

Although it happened a month ago, the incident still has aviation circles abuzz. It's not the first time GPS signals have been interrupted. U.S. aircraft are depending on GPS more and more, and land-based signals are to be retired in 2010. An incident like this one with no backup could be disastrous.

So some manufacturers of satellite-navigation systems want the FAA to approve receivers that can pick up signals from both the usually reliable GPS and Glonass, the Russian equivalent that works on a different frequency. "Augmenting the system with other satellites is good," says Chuck Boesenberg, CEO of Ashtec, a U.S. manufacturer of global positioning equipment. The FAA, however, says that private industry is supposed to come up with standards to test Glonass receivers but has not done so.EDITED BY LARRY LIGHT & ROBERT McNATTReturn to top

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ACORN: WILL ITS FEE HIKE GET SQUASHED?

THE INVESTORS IN THE $3.7 billion Acorn Fund, which performs like a charm while keeping management fees razor-thin, are generally a thrifty lot. So the industry trend toward rising fees has run into a bunch of feisty investors who just might block Acorn's proposed fee hike. Even fund manager Ralph Wanger concedes that approval is no sure thing when the votes are tallied Dec. 9.

Acorn says that the fee increase, which would lift the fund's expense ratio to 0.87% from 0.57% of assets, reflects higher costs. "There was a time when you paid an analyst $50,000 and you got a pretty good one," said Wanger. "Now, we pay pretty raw help, people who don't know very much at all, close to $100,000, plus fringes and bonuses. We have to bid against Fidelity and T. Rowe Price for people, and we can get them, but we have to pay a market price."

Even after a hike, Acorn's expenses would fall below the 1.5% small-stock average. That's small consolation to Ben Liss, a Boston entrepreneur. He's pleased that his money in Acorn has multiplied nearly twelvefold in 15 years, but he opposes the hike. "I don't think it's justified," Liss says. "Just because everyone's doing it doesn't mean it's right."Robert BarkerReturn to top

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FOR ONCE, THE FUR DIDN'T FLY

AT THE LAST MINUTE, THE U.S. and the European Union have settled a nasty squabble that might have limited American fur exports and snared Washington in a hypocritical trade policy.

The EU, pushed by animal-rights advocates, was set to ban imports of fur from fox, ermine, muskrat, and nine other species starting on Dec. 1 unless the U.S. agreed to ban the use of steel-jaw, leg-hold traps. The U.S. called the proposed ban unfair, saying that world-trade rules don't allow import bans based on the method of production.

Trouble is, the Administration took the opposite stance to placate animal-rights groups here. It defended the U.S. ban on importing tuna caught with nets that also kill porpoises.

The U.S. saved face when the parties reached a deal that commits Washington merely to supporting research into humane trapping, while noting that states, not the feds, regulate trappers. Meanwhile, fur rivals Russia and Canada have already agreed to restrictions that the EU says will form "a basis for further cooperation" between the EU and the U.S.

In other words, despite all the sable rattling, both sides will keep talking.Paul MagnussonReturn to top


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