Canada and U.S. reverse course, ground Boeing 737 Max 8 after Ethiopian Airlines crash

News provided by The Globe and Mail

ERIC ATKINS TRANSPORTATION REPORTER
ADRIAN MORROW U.S. CORRESPONDENT
PUBLISHED MARCH 13, 2019

Canada and the United States have joined dozens of countries in grounding the Boeing 737 Max passenger jet after two fatal crashes of the plane in five months.

Marc Garneau, Transport Minister, said he made the move after seeing satellite tracking data on the final moments of the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 that crashed shortly after takeoff on Sunday, killing 157 people, including 18 Canadians.

The safety notice bars the flight of the 737 Max 8 and 9 models “into, out of, or across Canada,” Mr. Garneau said at a press conference in Ottawa on Wednesday.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday afternoon that he has spoken with government and Boeing officials about the decision to issue and emergency order to ground the U.S.-made planes. “They are all in agreement with the action,” Mr. Trump said at the White House. “Planes that are in the air … will be grounded upon landing at the destination.”

Mr. Trump said the U.S. government had received “new information and physical evidence” both from the crash site and other places, as well as “a couple of other complaints,” which led to the decision.

He said he had spoken with the airlines, as well as the CEO of Boeing and they were all in agreement with the decision.

“It’s a terrible, terrible thing. Boeing is an incredible company. They are working very, very hard right now and hopefully they’ll very quickly come up with the answer, but until they do, the planes are grounded,” he said. “The safety of the American people and all people is our paramount concern.”

Mr. Trump said the American and Canadian groundings were coordinated. “What we’re doing, it almost has a simultaneous – we were coordinating with Canada,” he said. “We were giving them information, they were giving us information. We very much worked in conjunction with Canada.”

The Canadian decision to restrict the narrow-body aircraft is expected to bring headaches for Canada’s major airlines and their passengers.

Air Canada and WestJet Airlines Ltd. said in statements on Wednesday they will comply with the minister’s notice, but warned customers should expect delays rebooking on other planes.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency, which has 32 member countries, China, the U.K., and India grounded the plane earlier this week and, in most cases, barred it from entering their airspace.

The Ethiopian Airlines plane that crashed on Sunday and a Lion Air 737 Max jet that crashed in October, killing 189, both exhibited similar flight patterns before crashing, Mr. Garneau said, indicating there are possible problems with the automatic features of the planes’ controls.

Pilots of both planes had to correct their planes’ trajectories repeatedly after the automatic control systems aimed the nose downward.

“My experts have looked at this and compared it to the [flight path of] Lion Air in October and there are similarities that exceed a certain threshold in our minds with respect to the possible cause of what happened in Ethiopia,” Mr. Garneau said, adding the information is not conclusive and needs to be confirmed by the flight recorder data.

Both crashes are under investigation.

Mr. Garneau said deaths of Canadians, including six members of a family from Brampton, Ont., made the tragedy a personal one for many people. “It has something that has viscerally caught the attention of Canadians,” he said.

The U.S. President did not elaborate on what information the U.S. had received.

Five complaints from American pilots in a federal database, first uncovered by the Dallas Morning News on Tuesday, revealed apparent problems controlling the aircraft. Pilots complained that the Max 8’s autopilot system had unexpectedly pushed planes into a dive and failed to provide enough thrust, requiring crews to take control manually.

Air Canada said its 24 737 Max aircraft fly 9,000 to 12,000 passengers a day. WestJet flies 13 737 Max planes, and will book passengers on its 162 other aircraft.

“This decision has an impact on the travel plans of our WestJet guests and we ask for understanding as we work to rebook all guests affected as quickly as possible,” said Ed Sims, WestJet chief executive officer.

On Tuesday, Toronto-based Sunwing Airlines Inc. said it has “suspended” flights of its four Max 8 jets due to “evolving commercial reasons,” joining dozens of airlines and countries in halting the use of the new planes amid safety concerns.

The Air Canada Pilots Association said it supports the minister’s move. “Decisions such as the one taken today are difficult to make, but ultimately important to ensure continued public confidence in aviation,” the union said in a statement.

Though there is no evidence the two crashes are linked, the disasters have spooked passengers and have led to the grounding of most of Boeing’s 737 Max fleet, hammering shares in the world’s biggest plane maker.

Since the Indonesia crash, an automated anti-stall system that dips the aircraft’s nose down has been the focus of attention.

Ethiopian Airlines spokesman Asrat Begashaw told Reuters it was still unclear what happened Sunday but said the pilot had reported control issues – as opposed to external factors such as birds.

With files from Reuters