An Air Canada Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft is shown next to a gate at Trudeau Airport in Montreal on March 13, 2019. Transport Canada has announced that it will allow the return of Boeing Max aircraft to service in Canadian airspace on Jan. 20, concluding the government’s review process.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

An Air Canada Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft is shown next to a gate at Trudeau Airport in Montreal on March 13, 2019. Transport Canada has announced that it will allow the return of Boeing Max aircraft to service in Canadian airspace on Jan. 20, concluding the government’s review process.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Ottawa OKs return of Boeing Max aircraft to Canadian skies

The planes had been grounded since March 2019 following two crashes that killed a total of 346 people

The Boeing 737 MAX can return to Canadian airspace beginning Wednesday, 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.

The announcement Monday 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.

Prior to the MAX crashes, civil aviation authorities had typically gone along with the approvals of other countries, with limited independent oversight into the safety of the aircraft. But the scrutiny of the MAX, including the role of the U.S. regulator, could usher in an era of more intensive reviews by regulators looking to avoid repeating their mistakes.

“Regulators such as Transport Canada have learned that they have to be much more careful, much more cautious and much less trusting,” said Joel Morin, an aviation consultant for To70.

The U.S. approved the MAX’s return to service in November, and the first commercial flights in the U.S. took off in December. European regulators have said they could formally approve the aircraft for flight as soon as this month.

The Chinese government, which was the first to ground the MAX after the crashes, said in November that it had no set timetable for approving the jet, citing lingering safety concerns.

“The industry has full confidence in the aircraft as it returns to service,” said Mike McNaney, president and CEO of the National Airlines Council of Canada. “This is the most thoroughly reviewed aircraft in the history of commercial aviation, and I am looking forward to the opportunity to fly on the 737 MAX in the near future.”

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.

Air Canada and Sunwing, which also operate the MAX, didn’t immediately comment on their plans for returning the aircraft to service.

The president of the Canadian arm of the Air Line Pilots Association said that while his group believes that engineering and systems modifications to the MAX are “sound and effective,” the details of Transport Canada’s announcement weren’t provided in advance and the association wants time to examine them.

Tim Perry noted, however, that the association has been receiving detailed briefings on the validation and proposed training requirements along the way. He also said the return-to-service guidelines illustrate the need for pilots to be involved in certifying any new or derivative planes.

The aircraft’s approval in Canada will help struggling airlines, which rely on the smaller, fuel-efficient MAX for long flights. But Canada’s carriers now face a new challenge: convincing consumers to actually fly on the aircraft, a task made even more daunting by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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.

READ MORE: Families of 737 Max crash victims say plane is still unsafe, demand public inquiry

“That airplane is going to have to prove itself once again to the marketplace,” said John Gradek, a lecturer at McGill University and the head of its Global Aviation Leadership Program. “There’s going to have to be a very concerted effort on the part of the aviation industry, both Boeing as well as the operators, to try to get people to feel confident that it’s OK to fly on the 737 MAX.”

That effort could involve testimonials from passengers or flights that demonstrate the capabilities of the MAX, showing the improvements that have been made to the plane, Gradek said. In the U.S., the battle to sway public opinion has already begun, with American Airlines conducting a public flight on Dec. 2 with members of the media aboard.

American Airlines also said in December that it has begun announcing aircraft types during boarding so that passengers are aware if they are flying on a MAX, and will alert passengers if they are set to fly on one due to a schedule change.

Morin said transparency from airlines, regulators and Boeing will be key to rebuilding consumer confidence in the aircraft, which would involve communicating what originally went wrong with the MAX and what steps the industry had taken to ensure it won’t happen again.

Morin added that the efforts to restore trust in the MAX will be part of a broader effort by the aviation industry to show that flying is safe, even with fear of catching COVID making people reluctant to board aircraft.

The industry “won’t be able to go back, flip a switch and time travel us back a year,” Morin said. “It’ll have to be a hand-holding exercise.”

Jon Victor, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

BoeingBoeing Max

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

PIctured here is a stunning sunset near the village of Halkirk on April 14th. Kevin J. Sabo photo
Village of Halkirk receives new RCMP Sergeant as delegation

Some unknown culprits have made off with a Village of Halkirk stop sign, council heard during its last meeting

Dr. Wayne John Edwards, 66, died Tuesday at Chinook Regional Hospital. (Cornerstone Funeral Home)
Lethbridge doctor becomes 7th Alberta health-care worker to die from COVID-19

Dr. Wayne John Edwards, who was 66, died Tuesday at the Chinook Regional Hospital in the southern Alberta city

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
O’Toole to vote against Conservative MP’s private bill on ‘sex-selective abortion’

Erin O’Toole said he supports a woman’s right to choose and will personally vote against the private member’s bill

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Expectations high as Trudeau Liberals get ready to unveil first pandemic budget

The Liberals will look to thread an economic needle with Monday’s budget

Doses of the Moderna COVID‑19 vaccine in a freezer trailer, to be transported to Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Pfizer to increase vaccine deliveries in Canada as Moderna supply slashed

Moderna plans to ship 650,000 doses of its vaccine to Canada by the end of the month, instead of the expected 1.2 million

A empty classroom is pictured at Eric Hamber Secondary school in Vancouver, B.C. Monday, March 23, 2020. The Alberta government says schools in Calgary will move to at-home learning starting Monday for students in grades 7 to 12.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Calgary schools to shift to at-home learning for grades 7 to 12 due to COVID-19

The change, due to COVID-19, is to last for two weeks

A man wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as he walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
COVID-19 spike in B.C. could overwhelm B.C. hospitals: modelling group

There are 397 people are in hospital due to the virus, surpassing a previous high of 374 seen in December

Ron Rauch and his wife Audrey are photographed at their home in Victoria, Friday, March 5, 2021. Their daughter Lisa Rauch died on Christmas Day 2019 when a tactical officer with the Victoria Police Department shot her in the back of the head with plastic bullets after barricading herself in a room that was on fire. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. families push for changes as special committee examines provincial Police Act

Solicitor General Mike Farnworth acknowledged the need to update the legislation last year

Major-General Dany Fortin, left, looks on as Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. The Public Health Agency of Canada has set aside up to $5 billion to pay for COVID-19 vaccines. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada negotiating contracts to secure COVID-19 booster shots for next year: Anand

Most of Canada’s current vaccine suppliers are already testing new versions against variants

(Government of Canada)
Liberal MP caught stark naked during House of Commons video conference

William Amos, in Quebec, appeared on the screens of his fellow members of Parliament completely naked

Health Canada headquarters in Ottawa. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Health Canada releases guidelines for reducing COVID-19 transmission at home

Improve indoor air quality by opening up your windows and doors, among other encouraged ventilation measures

Most Read