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Canada and the United States joined authorities around the world on Wednesday and grounded the Boeing Max 8 and Max 9 aircraft, days after the Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed 157.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced the decision to issue a safety notice restricting commercial use of the aircraft during a press conference on Wednesday, citing new information from satellite tracking data that suggested “a possible, although unproven” similarity to the deadly Lion Air crash involving the same aircraft in October 2018.
Transport Canada’s safety notice, which goes into effect immediately, restricts all commercial passenger flights of the Boeing Max 8 and Max 9 aircraft from arriving, departing or overflying Canadian airspace.
Until Wednesday, Canada and the United States were among the key holdouts that were not grounding the Boeing aircraft. Garneau said that there was “absolutely no political pressure” being put on Canada to keep the aircraft, which is manufactured and certified in the U.S., flying.
A few hours after Canada announced the safety order, U.S. president Donald Trump said the Federal Aviation Administration will be issuing an emergency order to ground the Boeing 737 Max 8 and 9 aircraft in the U.S. effective immediately. The FAA had issued statements as recently as Tuesday saying that there was no evidence that would warrant a grounding of the jet.
Boeing said in a statement Wednesday it supports the FAA’s decision to temporarily suspend operations of the entire global fleet – 371 planes – of 737 Max 8 aircraft.
While Garneau cautioned that the satellite information obtained on Wednesday is “not conclusive” and further evidence is required to determine the cause of the crash, he stressed that Canadians need to be able to fly with confidence.
“There are similarities that sort of exceed a certain threshold in our minds with respect to the possible cause of what happened in Ethiopia,” Garneau said Wednesday.
“This is not conclusive, but it is something that points possibly in that direction … and that is why we are taking these measures.”
The safety notice will ground all Boeing Max 8s flown by Canadian airlines, including 24 jets belonging to Air Canada, 13 to WestJet Airlines Ltd. and four to Sunwing Airlines.
AIRLINES SAY EXPECT DISRUPTIONS, DELAYS
Air Canada and WestJet released a statements on Wednesday saying the airlines will comply with Transport Canada’s decision immediately. According to Raymond James analyst Ben Cherniavsky, the Boeing 737 Max 8 represents about 10 per cent of both Air Canada and WestJet’s total fleet.
Air Canada said it is working to rebook impacted customers, but given the airline flies on average between 9,000 and 12,000 passengers on 737 Max jets each day, delays in rebooking should be expected.
WestJet also said the decision will impact travel plans for some guests.
“We ask for understanding as we work to rebook all guests affected as quickly as possible,” WestJet chief executive Ed Sims said in a statement.
Garneau said Canadian passengers should expect disruptions as a result of the safety notice.
“There is some disruption and yes it’s unfortunate, but we must put safety at the top of the agenda,” Garneau said, adding that the Canadian airlines have been “very understanding” in dealing with the situation.
“There will be some disruption, there is no question about that, and hopefully we’ll be able to resolve the issue in the coming weeks and get the Max 8 up and flying. But for the moment, caution has to dominate.”
Canada had been facing increased pressure to ground the jet, after authorities around the world announced grounding orders, including the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), as well as authorities in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Poland and the Netherlands. Sunwing Airlines released a statement late Tuesday that it would temporarily suspend operations of its four Boeing 737 Max 8 jets.
Shares of Boeing, the world’s biggest plane maker, have fallen about 13 per cent since Sunday’s crash, representing approximately $32 billion in market value.