The Carrier Strike programme was entering a "critical" phase with the first of the ships - HMS Queen Elizabeth - nearing completion and due to make its inaugural sailing this summer,the National Audit Office (NAO) said. It will mark the start of a "high risk" period of trials, testing and training to bring together the carrier with its Lightning II fighter jets and helicopter-borne Crowsnest radar in an integrated force. Already the first sailing has been put back three months and the NAO warns further "technical issues" could mean the Ministry of Defence's plan for it to be operational by the end of 2020 is delayed. Among the problems it highlighted was the shortage of engineers, intelligence personneland warfighting specialists in the Navy and RAF air crew. While the MoD has begun a recruitment programme to address the gaps, the NAO said the number of pilots was expected to be "just sufficient" to 2026, with "limited resilience" if personnel left the forces "The department still has a lot to do as it brings together equipment, trained crews, infrastructure and support. Problems in any of these areas could mean that use of the carriers is delayed or reduced," the NAO said. "The next three years are critical as the programme moves into a high-risk period of trials, testing and training. The technology is innovative and operational unknowns, which will only become clear during testing, may affect plans and increase costs. "To recover earlier delays, the department has already compressed the timetable and is running some testing in parallel with other tasks. "The closely timed sequence of tasks offers no further room for slippage and there remain significant risks to value for money." The NAO said the MoD was already facing a 1% to 2% cost overrun on the 6.2 billion budget for building the ships, while the forecast 5.8 billion earmarked for the US-built Lightning II fighters could be affected by fluctuations in the value of sterling. In the longer term, the NAO said the deployment of the carriers would have far-reaching implications for the way the Navy operates with a "significant proportion" of the fleet required to support and protect them. The formation of a carrier task group is likely to account for about 27% of the Navy's fleet by tonnage and 20% of the personnel needed to crew the fleet. "Currently, the Navy carries out multiple operations concurrently using single ships.
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Like many commodities, the price of Mexican avocados fluctuates seasonally. This year, though, the price of Mexican avocados has hita 19-year high, according to data compiled byBloomberg. A 10-kilogram box of avocados from Mexico's Michoacan state, the centre of the country's avocado business, sold for 550 Mexican pesos (about $40Cdn)in Mexico City as of May 3. Why pricier? This is "a particular year" for the supply of Mexican avocados, said an industry representative. Avocados are an "alternate bearing" tree, yielding bigger crops in one year and smaller crops the next year, said Ramon Paz Vega, a strategic adviser with the Avocado Producers and Exporting Packers Association of Mexico, in an email. Thisis a low-production year, Paz Vega wrote, and Mexican avocado trees naturally produce less during the season from April to June. At the same time, he wrote, global demand for avocados is increasing. "An increasing demand facing a temporary reduction in supply is creating price tension and price increases," wrote Paz Vega. Compoundingthe problem for avocado-importing countries like Canada, high domestic prices in Mexico mean local avocado farmers have more incentive to sell their crops domestically instead of exporting, said avocado analyst Avi Crane. 'Wild' demand in Canada Canadians spent almost $254 million on avocados in the year leading up to April 1, according to data provided by Nielsen,an increase of nearly 17 per cent over the previous year.
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