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Ottawa OKs return of Boeing MAX aircraft to Canadian skies

The announcement on Jan. 18 caps a recertification process without precedent in the history of modern aviation.

January 19, 2021  The Canadian Press

The Boeing 737 MAX can return to Canadian airspace beginning Jan. 20, Transport Canada says, concluding nearly two years of government review after the aircraft was involved in two deadly crashes that saw the planes grounded worldwide.

The planes will be permitted to fly as long as they meet conditions specified by Transport Canada in December, including allowing pilots to disable a faulty warning system that was found to be central to two deadly crashes in 2018 and 2019.

“Canadians and the airline industry can rest assured that Transport Canada has diligently addressed all safety issues prior to permitting this aircraft to return to service in Canadian airspace,” Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said.

The measures go beyond those announced by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration in November, which required Boeing to make changes to the computer systems inside the plane and required pilots to undergo training in flight simulators.

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The announcement on Jan. 18 caps a recertification process without precedent in the history of modern aviation.

The planes have been grounded since March 2019 following the crashes of a Lion Air flight near Jakarta on Oct. 29, 2018, and an Ethiopian Airlines flight on March 10, 2019, killing a total of 346 people. Investigators determined that the cause of the crashes was a faulty computer system that pushed the plane’s nose downward in flight and couldn’t be overridden by pilots.

Canada had been one of the last countries to ground the MAX, banning it only after the European Union, U.K. and Australia had already done so.

An inquiry by the U.S. Congress found that missteps at Boeing and the FAA led to the computer malfunction going undetected. The investigation found shortcomings within both Boeing, which it said compromised safety to maximize profits, and the FAA, which it said exercised inadequate oversight over the aircraft’s approval.

Other planes have been grounded after crashes, but flight suspensions have never lasted as long as for the MAX, which was being independently recertified by aviation authorities such as the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and the Civil Aviation Administration of China.

WestJet spokeswoman Lauren Stewart said the carrier’s MAX aircraft have been updated with the required modifications, which have been approved by Transport Canada. She added that all pilot training will be completed prior to flight and that each aircraft will be flown on a validation flight before returning to service.

Surveys have shown that people are still skittish about the MAX. A survey of 1,757 flyers conducted by Barclays in May found that 21 per cent would never fly on a MAX and 23 per cent planned to wait a year or more before doing so.

Restoring public confidence in the MAX will be key as airlines look to capitalize on an anticipated recovery in demand this summer, when a COVID-19 vaccine is expected to become available for many Canadians. Air Canada, the country’s largest carrier, has 24 MAX aircraft in its fleet, while WestJet and Sunwing have 13 and four, respectively.


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