Boeing’s 737 Max has been approved to fly again in Canadian skies starting Wednesday, ending a 22-month grounding following a pair of fatal overseas crashes that cost 346 people their lives and did serious damage to the company’s reputation.
Transport Canada announced today it has completed its nearly two-year review of the aircraft and issued an “airworthiness directive” detailing a series of mandatory changes that must be made before it can return to Canadian airspace.
The department said it will complete the final step of the process to clear the plane on Wednesday and lift a notice to airmen (NOTAM) banning commercial flights of the Max in Canadian skies.
WestJet is expected to be the first airline to fly the Max again on Thursday with a flight between Calgary and Toronto. It plans to operate three weekly round-trip flights on that route for the next month while it evaluates adding more routes.
Air Canada is planning to return its fleet of the Max to service on Feb. 1 since it has more pilots and aircraft to prepare. Sunwing has not announced when it plans to resume commercial flights on the aircraft.
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On top of the design and maintenance requirements, Transport Canada said it’s requiring additional training for Canadian airlines’ flight crew.
After the two crashes, Canada faced criticism for relying too heavily on its counterpart in the U.S. when certifying aircraft. In response, the government said it spent 15,000 hours independently reviewing the proposed changes to the Max and conducting its own test flights.
“Over the last 20 months, Transport Canada’s civil aviation safety experts, by their rigour and thoroughness, have ensured the safety concerns the department had identified have been addressed,” said the new transport minister, Omar Alghabra, in a press release today.
“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.”
WestJet survey suggests travellers hesitant to fly on Max
A year ago, restoring confidence after two fatal crashes would have been a big challenge by itself. Now, Air Canada and WestJet are doing that during a pandemic, when WestJet’s internal research shows travellers are more apprehensive about flying in general — and even more uncomfortable with flying on a Max than before.
The majority surveyed — 64 per cent — said they would avoid flying on the Max altogether, according to the latest data the airline shared with CBC News from the fall.
Countries worldwide grounded the Max in March 2019 after two crashes just months apart, in Indonesia and Ethiopia, that killed 346 people, including 18 Canadian citizens and permanent residents.
The two crashes exposed serious flaws with the plane’s flight-control system and the jet’s certification process.
Boeing agreed to pay $2.5 billion US after admitting to defrauding and obstructing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in connection with evaluating the flight-control system, called MCAS, which was found to have pushed the plane’s nose down as pilots struggled to right it in the two crashes.
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