Canada clears Boeing 737 Max for flight nearly 2 years after global grounding
WestJet is expected to be the first airline to fly the Max again on Thursday
Boeing's 737 Max has been approved to fly again in Canada starting Wednesday, ending a 22-month grounding that followed a pair of overseas crashes that took 346 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 has issued an "airworthiness directive" detailing a series of changes that must be made before the Max can return to Canadian airspace.
The department said it will complete the final step of the process to clear the plane on Wednesday by lifting a notice to airmen (NOTAM) banning commercial flights of the Max in Canada.
On Thursday, WestJet is expected to become the first Canadian airline to fly the Max again, with a flight between Calgary and Vancouver. Starting Sunday, WestJet plans to operate three weekly round-trip flights between Calgary and Toronto for the next month while it considers adding more routes.
WATCH | How WestJet and Air Canada are preparing for the Boeing 737 Max 8's return
Air Canada, which has more pilots and aircraft to prepare, is planning to return its Max fleet to service on Feb. 1. The airline says it will begin operating the Max on select flights between Toronto and five Canadian destinations: Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Edmonton and Winnipeg.
Sunwing has not announced when it plans to return the Max to commercial service.
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.
Some families of Canadians who died in the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max in March 2019 say they still don't trust the aircraft.
For the past year, victims' families have been calling on the federal government to launch an independent inquiry to determine why Canada didn't ground the 737 Max after the first crash — and what it knew after the second disaster.
But the Liberals and Conservatives blocked the NDP's motion for an inquiry during a transport committee hearing in November on the plane's recertification process in Canada.
"The Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing, they keep telling us, 'Trust us,'" said Clariss Moore, who lost her daughter Danielle in the crash. "The public trusted this plane, and they failed us repeatedly. How could you trust when all the promises they've given have been repeatedly broken?
"I don't trust this plane and I will never will."
WATCH | Parents of Ethiopia crash victim still wary of the 737 Max
After the Ethiopian Airlines crash and an earlier one in October 2018 that killed 189 people, Canada was accused of relying too heavily on aviation authorities 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.
On top of the design and maintenance requirements, Transport Canada said it's requiring additional training for Canadian airlines' flight crew.
"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 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 on its own. Now, Air Canada and WestJet are trying to do that during a pandemic when, according to WestJet's internal research, travellers are more apprehensive about flying in general — and even more uncomfortable with the idea of flying on a Max.
The majority surveyed — 64 per cent — said they would avoid flying on the Max altogether, according to the latest data WestJet shared with CBC News from the fall.
Earlier this month, Boeing agreed to pay $2.5 billion US in fines and compensation after admitting to defrauding and obstructing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in connection with evaluating the MCAS flight-control system. MCAS was found to have pushed the plane's nose down in the two crashes.
Prosecutors said two Boeing employees concealed important information about the MCAS software from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, then covered up their actions.
"The misleading statements, half-truths and omissions communicated by Boeing employees to the FAA impeded the government's ability to ensure the safety of the flying public," said U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox.
The U.S. Justice Department said on Jan 7. that Boeing agreed to the settlement, which includes money for the crash victims' families.
Families called deal a 'slap in the face'
Paul Njoroge's three children, wife and mother-in-law also died in the 2019 crash in Ethiopia. He said that Washington's decision not to pursue criminal charges against Boeing robbed the victims' families of the justice they deserve.
"It haunts me that decision that was made," said Njoroge. "I'm upset. The [U.S.] Department of Justice should have bought the company executives and key employees at Boeing and try them and charged them criminally … [they] knew and they still allowed the planes to fly."
Clariss Moore and her husband Chris also called that decision "disgraceful."
"We expected people to go to jail for this," he said. "A crime has been committed. We think Boeing and the FAA should go through the proper channels of this criminal action."
Clariss Moore said she feels those responsible at Boeing are hiding behind the company.
"It's just like a slap in the face," she said. "There's no amount of money that could bring back the lives of Danielle and all 246 people. It doesn't sit well for me and my family. They should go to jail."
In a statement, Boeing told CBC News it will "never forget the lives of those lost in the two tragic accidents."
"These events and the lessons we have learned as a result have reshaped our company and further focused our attention on our core values of safety, quality and integrity. We continue to work with Transport Canada, other global regulators and our customers to safely return the 737-8 and 737-9 to service worldwide," the U.S. jet builder said in a statement to CBC News.
With files from the Associated Press