After a nearly two-year ban, Transport Canada has taken the first step in clearing the Boeing 737 Max to fly again by approving design changes to the aircraft after two deadly crashes.
In a letter obtained by CBC News, Transport Canada said it informed its U.S. counterpart on Wednesday that it has validated a number of changes to the aircraft with “some unique Canadian differences.”
Transport Canada confirmed this morning that the now validated changes include additional training that gives pilots the option to disable a “stick shaker” — that is, “a loud and intrusive warning system when the system has been erroneously activated by a failure in the angle of attack sensor system,” according to a press release.
“This feature will help to reduce pilot workload given what has been learned from the two tragic accidents, and has been fully evaluated by Transport Canada’s flight test pilots,” wrote Transport Canada. “There will also be differences in training, including training on the enhanced flight deck procedure.”
In October 2018, a 737 Max owned by Lion Air plunged into the Java Sea shortly after takeoff, killing all 189 passengers. In March 2019, an Ethiopian Airlines flight plunged from the air southeast of the capital, Addis Ababa, minutes after takeoff, killing everyone onboard — including 18 Canadians and a family of permanent residents to Canada. Countries around the world grounded the aircraft after the second crash. Canada came under criticism for being one of the last countries to do so.
Ethiopia’s investigation report pointed the finger at Boeing, saying flaws in the aircraft’s design caused the crash. Inaccurate sensor readings activated the MCAS anti-stall system, which pointed the plane’s nose down as pilots struggled to right it, the report said.
There are a number of steps that still need to be taken before the department approves Canada’s fleet to take off again with passengers on board, including issuing a directive that outlines the design changes and mandating additional training in a simulator for air crew. These steps and others are expected to happen in January 2021, the department wrote.
Problems with anti-stall system
Transport Canada has been working with other regulators around the world, but said it conducted its own independent review of the changes to the aircraft to determine if it’s safe to fly again. The U.S. has already cleared the plane safe to fly again and Boeing conducted its first flight again with media on board on Dec. 2.
This past summer, the department’s pilots did a series of flight tests on the updated version of the Boeing 737 Max and tested out the change in procedures that it deemed necessary, Transport Canada’s Robinson testified in front of MPs last month.
Some victims families of the Ethiopian Airlines crash have been calling on Canada to launch an independent inquiry before clearing the plane safe to fly again. But families were devastated when the Liberals and Conservatives blocked the NDP’s motion to hold a public inquiry last month during the House of Common’s Transport Committee studying Canada’s certification process of the Max.
“I believe the plane is still unsafe to fly,” said Paul Njoroge on Nov. 24. Njoroge lost his entire family last year on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302.
“I still have nightmares about how my wife must have felt helpless, seeing the fear in our children’s eyes, knowing they were about to die.”
Chris Moore, who lost his 24-year-old daughter Danielle in the crash, told CBC earlier this month he still has too many unanswered questions and safety concerns for Transport Canada to allow the plane to fly again.
He said the tragedy has “grounded” victims’ families.
“For [our] whole world to crash like this, you can never get back up and running again,” Moore said. “You wake up in the middle of the night sweating, with your heart racing and pumping with nightmares.”
The committee found that Transport Canada had questions about the 737 Max as early as 2016, but Canada didn’t get answers from Boeing, the manufacturer, or the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration before it approved the plane as safe to fly, according to government documents.
The concern paper, which is part of the certification process, is a chance for the government to raise questions to its U.S. counterpart. It’s not used to flag safety issues but instead is a way to understand the work the U.S. is doing to certify the plane to clear it to fly, according to Transport Canada.
The documents show Transport Canada’s test pilots asked for more information about the plane’s automated anti-stall system, but did not get a response before the aircraft was cleared to fly.