Air Canada grounds Boeing Max 8s until at least July 1
Some routes out of St. John's, Halifax, Calgary, Vancouver have been suspended
Air Canada has grounded its Boeing 737 Max 8 jets until at least July 1.
The airline says the move is intended to provide customers with certainty as they book flights and travel in the coming months.
Some routes are being suspended entirely, including some flights out of St. John's, Halifax, Calgary and Vancouver, as the airline substitutes other aircraft on routes that normally use Max 8s.
The changes come on the heels of Transport Canada's decision to close Canadian airspace to the aircraft after a Max 8 jet operated by Ethiopian Airlines crashed on March 10, killing all 157 people on board, including 18 Canadians. Previously, a Max 8 plane crashed off Indonesia in October, killing 189 people.
Air Canada announced Tuesday it has adjusted its schedule through to April 30 and is working on updating its May schedules to accommodate affected customers.
Hiring Air Transat for some routes
Some routes have been suspended until further notice, including flights from Halifax and St. John's to London's Heathrow airport and seasonal flights from Vancouver to Kona, Hawaii, and Lihue, Hawaii, as well as Calgary to Palm Springs, Calif. Customers booked to fly on those routes will now be scheduled to fly through other hubs.
Air Canada has been substituting other planes for its Max 8s, including extending leases for some aircraft it had planned to stop using. The company is also speeding up acquisition of new planes and has hired other carriers such as Air Transat to operate some flights between Vancouver and Montreal and from Montreal to Cancun, Mexico.
The grounding of the Max 8 jets has also meant some route frequencies have been reduced, as larger aircraft are called in to replace smaller planes.
Air Canada has suspended its acquisition of six new Max airplanes, which it had expected to receive in March and April.
Fee waivers, refunds available
The airline says customers whose flight times or numbers have changed will receive an email with an updated itinerary. The company has also implemented a flexible rebooking policy that offers fee waivers or refunds for affected customers.
Ann de Ste Croix of Dartmouth, N.S., said her April 29 direct flight from Halifax to London was originally scheduled to be on a Max 8.
A nervous flyer, de Ste Croix called Air Canada as soon as she heard the concerns about the aircraft. Originally, she was told she'd have to pay a fee to change her flight, but after the planes were grounded, she was offered the change for free, though her flight will now include a stopover in Toronto.
She said Air Canada has not been forthcoming with information or available options.
"It's on me to get in contact with them," de Ste Croix said. "So if I hadn't been looking into my flights and paying attention to what was going on in the news, I wouldn't have known. They didn't notify us in any way."
WestJet to update schedule next week
WestJet said that as of March 25, its flight schedules will reflect the removal of Max 8 aircraft from its fleet through to the end of April.
The airline has seasonal flights from Halifax to London and Paris that are scheduled to begin in late April. A WestJet spokesperson said the company currently has no scheduled changes to its transatlantic flights.
So far, WestJet has accommodated the groundings by replacing Max planes with its other aircraft.
Canada to help evaluate Max 8 changes
On Tuesday, Transport Canada said it would send a team to assist the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration in evaluating proposed design changes to update the software on the grounded Max jets.
The software has been suspected as a contributing factor in the crashes in both Ethiopia and Indonesia.
The team would also help determine if any "changes to the design or procedures are necessary," a spokeswoman for Transport Canada said by email.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau said on Monday the agency is re-examining the validation it gave the 737 Max 8 following reports of a U.S. probe into the aircraft's certification by the FAA.
Canada accepted the FAA's March 2017 certification of the Max under a deal where such approvals by the U.S. are accepted by Canada and vice versa.
"We may not change anything, but we've decided it's a good idea for us to review the validation of the type certificate that was given for the Max 8," Garneau said.
Garneau added that Transport Canada would do its own certification of a software change being prepared by Boeing within the next few weeks "even if it's certified by the FAA."
The FAA declined to comment.
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With files from Reuters