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

Butter and sourdough bread is shown at a house in Vernon, B.C. on Wednesday, February 24, 2021. A Quebec dairy farmers’ group is calling on milk producers to stop feeding palm oil or its derivatives to livestock as controversy churns over how these supplements affect the consistency of butter. (THE CANADIAN PRESS - Jesse Johnston)
Poll: Care to spread your feelings on butter?

Reports of hard butter have rattled the Canadian dairy industry

A dose of COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at a vaccination clinic in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
39 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health region

The total number of cases in the region since the pandemic began is now at 7,334

Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons. File photo.
Kootenay-Columbia MP supports motion condemning Uighur genocide

Rob Morrison says labelling Uighur persecution as a genocide sends a message to Chinese government

Decorative snowboards provided by Off The Wall. (Claire Palmer photo)
Wildsight Golden contest wraps up

Two decorative snowboards were awarded

Youth from Vernon, Kelowna, Penticton and the Kootenays were able to dig into two evenings of online learning and connection through United Way Southern Interior B.C.’s <CODE>anagan program. (Submitted)<code> </code>
CODEanagan gives youth a chance to learn about technology

The youth, aged 12 to 21, built their own WordPress sites and developed blogging ideas

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, start with the vaccination of police officers in internal police vaccination centers. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
B.C. officials to unveil new details of COVID vaccination plan Monday

Seniors and health-care workers who haven’t gotten their shot are next on the list

(Contributed)
Kelowna flight potentially exposed to COVID-19

Third case on a local flight this month, compared to 14 through January

Vernon Search and Rescue, with help from the Air Rescue One helicopter out of Wildcat Helicopters in Kelowna, and Central Okanagan Search and Rescue, were able to transport an injured snowmobiler to Vernon Regional Airport, where he was loaded into an ambulance and taken to Vernon Jubilee Hospital with a serious, painful back injury. (Facebook photo)
Okanagan helicopter rescue teams called to retrieve injured sledder at Greystokes

Vernon and Central Okanagan Search and Rescue help load injured man into waiting helicopter

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man shot and killed by RCMP near Tofino, police watchdog investigating

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday December 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s compromise on in-person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Would allow outdoor services of 25 or less by Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack churches

Wills Hodgkinson, 10, and his mom Neeley Brimer get ready to battle round three of cancer. The community of Penticton has his back. (Submitted)
Community raises $21K to help Penticton boy battle third round of cancer

Okanoggin Barbers held the fundraiser on Saturday for 10-year-old Wills Hodgkinson

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)
UPDATE: 70-year-old man killed in workplace accident at Baldy Mountain

The mountain closed on Saturday but has partially re-opened today (Sunday)

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)

Most Read