Canadian, U.S. airlines keep flying Boeing 737 Max 8 — for now — as authorities around the world ground jets
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Canadian and American airlines are among the few carriers still flying the Boeing 737 Max 8 jet involved in the Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed 157 people on Sunday, with aviation authorities around the world grounding the majority of the fleet after its second mass-fatality crash in less than five months.

Regulators and airlines in the , India, United Arab Emirates and Australia grounded and/or banned the two-year-old model from their skies on Tuesday, a day after , Ethiopia and Indonesian parked the planes as a precautionary measure.

Transport Canada and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration have thus far declined to ground Boeing’s -state manufactured planes until they receive more information from the ’s investigation into the crash. Canada’s transport minister Marc Garneau said he is evaluating evidence in “real time,” but Ottawa’s stance had not changed by 5 p.m. on Tuesday.

Still, Air Canada, which operates 24 of the jets, had to cancel flights from Halifax and St. John’s to London on Tuesday and Wednesday to obey the suspension by the United Kingdom’s Civil Aviation Authority.

In response to the growing number of countries grounding the plane, a reaction that will cost millions of dollars, Boeing issued a statement reiterating its “full confidence” in the 737 Max 8 fleet, even though it announced overnight that it plans to upgrade its .

While the majority of the 50-some carriers operating roughly 350 of the aircraft suspended the model from operations, its largest customers — Air Canada, and American Airlines — kept flying the plane. So did Canada’s WestJet Airlines Ltd. and , which operate 13 and four of the jets respectively.

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In statements, Air Canada and WestJet stood behind the safety of the aircraft.

“WestJet remains actively involved in discussions with Transport Canada, Boeing and fellow Canadian operators of the Boeing MAX 737 aircraft and reassures our guests and employees that we will continue to fly with their safety and best interests at the forefront,” spokeswoman Lauren Stewart said.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner

An Air Canada Boeing 737 Max aircraft prepares to land at Vancouver International Airport on March 12, 2019.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

But some passengers are still concerned, with many expressing their reservations about the jet on social media. Flight Centre travel agency told The Canadian Press that the airlines aren’t waiving change fees for customers seeking to rebook their flights on other aircraft.

Financial markets also appeared spooked about the safety of the jet involved in two crashes. Both planes crashed within minutes of take off. While the cause of the Ethiopia crash remains unknown, investigators have retrieved the black box.

Air Canada’s stock price dropped nearly 4 per cent and WestJet’s fell more than 3 per cent on Tuesday.

Shares of Boeing Co., the world’s largest and best-performing Dow Jones component this year by a wide margin, dropped 6.2 per cent, following loses of 5.3 per cent on Monday.

The 737 MAX jets are Boeing’s most popular aircraft. Orders for the MAX planes surpassed 5,000 last year, according to Boeing’s most recent financial reports.

The mass groundings could cost the company millions per day.

Federal Aviation Administration

According to research from AirTrav Inc., if the entire 737 MAX fleet is grounded, it could cost more than US$17 million per day. The estimates are based on costs from 2013 when the was grounded for about 120 days.

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If the fleet remains grounded for 30 days, revenue losses could hit $534 million and operating profit could take a $278-million hit. In the scenario of a 120-day grounding, revenue losses could reach $2.1 billion, with operating profit down by $1.1 billion.

For its part, Boeing said it understands that authorities have made grounding decisions that they believe are appropriate for their markets.

“The is not mandating any further action at this time, and based on the information currently available, we do not have any basis to issue new guidance to operators,” Boeing posted on Twitter on Tuesday.

That statement followed a late Monday software update announcement. That change was in response to the Lion Air crash in Indonesia that killed 189 people in October.

“For the past several months and in the aftermath of Lion Air Flight 610, Boeing has been developing a flight control software enhancement for the 737 MAX, designed to make an already safe aircraft even safer,” Boeing stated.

The software update will be deployed across the 737 MAX fleet in the coming weeks and will be mandated by the FAA no later than April. It includes updates to the flight control law, which includes angle of attack inputs and stabilizer commands.

Boeing also issued a directive immediately after the Lion Air crash that resulted in additional pilot training on the model after the incident revealed difficulties with an angle of attack sensor.

Canada’s transport minister noted that Canadian pilots have received this training. Garneau, who previously told reporters he would board a 737 MAX 8 “without any hesitation,” cleared his schedule to meet with aviation experts to evaluate the situation.

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“I’ve canceled all my meetings and public events today in order to meet with my Civil Aviation Expert Panel. All evidence is being evaluated in real time and we’re considering all potential actions,” Garneau posted on Twitter mid-Tuesday.

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