Air Canada joins the list of carriers grounding their 737 MAX planes. (Air Canada Photo)
Canada today joined scores of nations in suspending flights of Boeing 737 MAX jets, out of concern that two catastrophic 737 crashes might be related.
The move by Transport Minister Marc Garneau leaves the United States and the Federal Aviation Administration increasingly isolated in its stance that the 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9 jets are airworthy and that no further safety measures are needed at this time.
Boeing 737-8 and 737-9 planes are barred from arrivals and departures in Canada, and will not be allowed to fly over the country until further notice, Garneau said. Air Canada operates 24 of the 737-8 jets, while WestJet has 13 of the planes and Sunwing has four.
Air Canada said that it was “working to rebook impacted customers as soon as possible,” but that there may be delays.
Garneau said satellite data suggested there were similarities between the flight profiles for the 737-8 involved in an Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed 157 people on Sunday and a Lion Air 737-8 that crashed in Indonesia in October, killing 189 people.
In both cases, the pilots reported control difficulties just after takeoff, and the planes nose-dived shortly afterward.
Garneau said the satellite readings were not conclusive, and he shied away from saying definitively that the crashes were related. “But it is something that points possibly in that direction, and at this point we feel that that threshold has been crossed and that is why we are taking these measures,” he said.
With Canada having blocked Boeing 737 Max planes from its airspace, the US has the only remaining ones, with nearly 50 currently in use. pic.twitter.com/BPa6njMrnl
— Jillian Stampher (@JillianStampher) March 13, 2019
Preliminary findings from the Lion Air investigation focused on an automatic flight control system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System or MCAS. The system is designed to keep the 737 MAX from stalling under extreme aerodynamic conditions, but investigators said spurious sensor data may have caused the MCAS to put the Lion Air plane into an unwarranted dive.
Boeing has laid out a procedure that pilots can use in such a scenario to switch off the MCAS system, but that procedure wasn’t followed by the Lion Air pilots. The FAA says Boeing is due to upgrade the MCAS software next month.
Concerns about a potential link between the two fatal crashes have led to widespread groundings of the 737 MAX, the latest incarnation of Boeing’s best-selling plane. China and the European Union have been joined by nations ranging from Mexico to Oman.
On Tuesday, the FAA issued a statement saying that it saw “no basis to order grounding” 737 MAX airplanes, and that no other civil aviation authorities have furnished data that would warrant further action:
UPDATED #FAA Statement regarding @Boeing 737 MAX. pic.twitter.com/HxObBr7qRf
— The FAA (@FAANews) March 12, 2019
Boeing said it had no new guidance to offer to 737 MAX operators.
“We understand that regulatory agencies and customers have made decisions that they believe are most appropriate for their home markets,” the company said in a statement Tuesday. “We’ll continue to engage with them to ensure they have the information needed to have confidence in operating their fleets.”
The black-box recorders from Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 have been recovered, but there’s no word yet about what was found in the cockpit recordings or flight data.