Canadian authorities will not require national airlines to ground their Boeing 737 Max 8 jets in the aftermath of the Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed 157 people, the second mass fatality involving this plane in five months.
“When we actually get to the bottom of the cause, if we feel it’s necessary to take steps, we won’t hesitate to do so,” Transport Minister Marc Garneau told reporters in Montreal on Monday, noting the black box has been found.
“I would without any hesitation board an aircraft of that type at this particular moment in time,” he said. “Flying is extremely safe in this country.”
Garneau said his team is in “constant contact” with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board, the agencies responsible for regulating the plane built in Washington State. Canada’s Transportation Safety Board is only involved in investigations on Canadian soil or involving a Canadian manufacturer.
He reassured Canadians worried about flying on the model, noting that pilots received additional training on the model after the Lion Air crash revealed difficulties with an angle of attack sensor.
The same model plane was involved in the Lion Air crash that killed 189 people in Indonesia in October. That has raised questions about the safety of the jet used by Air Canada, WestJet Ltd. and Sunwing Airlines Inc. Both planes crashed within minutes of taking off.
Authorities in Ethiopia, China, Indonesia and the Cayman Islands grounded the model as a precaution, but Garneau said Canada will wait to take action until the cause of the crash is determined.
Transport Canada officials are also working with Canadian air operators on existing safety measures.
Air Canada and WestJet both continue to operate the model. When asked if the crash will affect their future procurement plans, both touted the safety of the aircraft.
Air Canada has operated the Boeing 737 Max 8 since 2017 and has 24 in its fleet. It has a firm order for 26 more, 18 of which it plans to add in 2019.
“We have extensive analytical data supporting the safety of these aircraft, which have also performed excellently from reliability and customer satisfaction perspective,” spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said in an email.
WestJet operates 13 of the aircraft, and has ordered 37 more. It has a fleet of 121 Boeing 737s.
“WestJet remains confident in the safety of our Boeing 737 fleet including our 13 MAX-8 aircraft first introduced in 2017. We have flown five different variants of the Boeing 737 since 1996, and the fleet currently operates around 450 safe daily B737 departures,” spokeswoman Morgan Bell said in a statement.
Sunwing operates three of the jets, and has ordered three more.
Both WestJet and Air Canada said they continue to monitor the situation. Both stock prices were up slightly on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Monday.
Shares of Boeing Co., the world’s largest planemaker and best-performing Dow Jones component this year by a wide margin, dropped 5.3 per cent, paring losses of about 13.5 per cent shortly after the open in New York. 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.
While it’s too soon to say what the financial impact could be if the planes are grounded by more countries for an extended period of time, aviation research firm AirTrav Inc. compared the situation to 2013 when Boeing grounded its 787 Dreamliner for about 120 days due to problems with its lithium ion batteries.
That only involved 50 787 planes with a capacity of about 11,000 seats. Currently, there are 350 737 MAX planes in service with more than 61,000 seats, according to the report by AirTrav staff and president Robert Kokonis. The daily impact of grounding the entire 737 MAX fleet would be US $17.8 million compared with US $3.3 million for the 787s, AirTrav estimated.
But not all countries grounded the planes immediately. Boeing has historically made very safe planes, said Mark Laurence, national chairperson of the Canadian Federal Pilots Association.
I would without any hesitation board an aircraft of that type at this particular moment in time
When manufacturers upgrade their jets, pilots are required to take additional training to learn about the differences between the old and new models.
Unlike training for a plane a pilot has never flown, a process that requires 12 half-day sessions in the plan and 10 to 12 four-hour sessions in a flight simulator, pilots aren’t necessarily required to do flight simulations for upgraded models, Laurence said. That’s up to government agencies to decide.
Laurence, who has flown previous versions of the 737 but not the MAX 8, said the latest version is equipped with more technology, a change that can potentially cause issues.
“It is really odd to have two airplanes brand new like that crash in a short period of time,” Laurence said.
“Until they really come to a conclusion what happened, it’s a bit early to get too worried. The Canadian crews are really well trained.”
Paul Walsh, associate professor in the aerospace engineering department at Ryerson University, also discussed the importance of training.
He noted that Boeing issued an operations manual bulletin about erroneous input from the angle of attack sensors, which can automatically adjust the pitch of an aircraft if it slows down.
“In Canada, we’re very good at following regulations,” Walsh said. “With the right training, the crews can deal with it.”