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

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. (Graeme Roy/The Canadian Press)
CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of Feb. 28

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

The Alzheimer Society of BC is hosting a number of webinars next month to help people prepare for financial and healthcare needs. (Contributed photo)
Alzheimer Society invites White Rock residents to series of educational webinars

Planning Ahead: Do it Now! webinar to be held March 10

South Surrey’s Elizabeth and Marcel Bergmann – the Bergmann Piano Duo – will present another colorful Surrey Civic Theatres Digital Stage concert., premiering online March 11. Contributed photo
South Surrey pianists Bergmann Duo blend musical colours

Rhapsody In Blue meets The Red Violin in online concert

St. John Ambulance is looking for financial support in its bid to install 1,000 publicly accessible AED devices throughout British Columbia. The stands which hold the defibrillator also contain naloxone and first aid kits. Cost to equip and install each stand is around $8,000. (stock photo)
St. John Ambulance aims to install 1,000 publicly accessible AEDs across B.C.

First of two defibrillators planned for Crescent Beach already in place

(Black Press - file photo)
WEATHER: Enjoy the sun today, prepare for a week of rain

Clouds and rain to arrive by evening, Environment Canada forecasts

An animated Gordie Hogg introduces his 'Community Connections' videos. (YouTube screenshot)
Community Connections: Gordie Hogg speaks with Lorne Ginther

Former mayor, MP began posting conversations on YouTube in June

Alina Durham, mother of Shaelene Bell, lights candles on behalf of Bell’s two sons during a vigil on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO and PHOTOS: Candlelight vigil for missing Chilliwack woman sends message of hope

Small group of family, friends gathered to shine light for 23-year-old mother Shaelene Bell

Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. addict says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Approximate location of the vehicle incident. (Google Maps)
Vehicle incident blocking Coquihalla traffic in both directions

Both directions of traffic stopped due to vehicle incident

Judith Uwamahoro is Black, approximately 4’7″ tall, 80 pounds and has short black hair and brown eyes. (Surrey RCMP handout)
UPDATED: Lower Mainland 9-year-old located after police make public plea

Judith Uwamahoro went missing Friday at around 4 p.m. in Surrey

Five-year-old Nancy Murphy wears a full mask and face shield as she waits in line for her kindergarten class to enter school during the COVID-19 pandemic on Tuesday, September 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Variant of concern linked to COVID-19 outbreak at three Surrey schools

Cases appear to be linked to community transmissions, but schools will remain open

BC Ferries experienced heavy traffic on Feb. 27 following cancellations the day before due to strong winds and adverse weather. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries sailings fill up quickly after Friday cancellations due to high winds

Waits expected on Swartz Bay-Tsawwassen route, Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay route

Most Read