Flights to Phoenix, Cancun, Puerto Vallarta affected, not known when flights will return to normal
CBC News · Posted: Sep 10, 2019
Saskatchewan travellers looking to fly south for the winter this year might be in for a bumpy ride.
This week, WestJet announced flight cancellations from airports in Regina and Saskatoon.
The company blamed the disruptions on Boeing’s 737 Max 8 jets. The planes were pulled from service by Transport Canada after 346 people were killed in crashes involving Indonesia’s Lion Air in 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines in March of this year. Both incidents involved the Max 8.
“Guests who hold a current reservation impacted by this update will be notified proactively if there are changes to their itinerary,” wrote WestJet spokesperson Morgan Bell. “Where possible, we will work to substitute other aircraft directly onto a route and will not impact a guests itinerary so notifications will not be necessary.”
The following flights will be affected:
Saskatoon-Phoenix: Three weekly flights suspended.
Regina-Orlando: One weekly flight suspended.
Regina-Phoenix: Three weekly flights suspended.
Regina-Cancun: suspended one weekly flight in November. WestJet will operate one weekly flight in December.
Regina–Puerto Vallarta: One weekly flight suspended. WestJet will continue to operate once weekly in November. Two weekly flights will be suspended in December.
Air Canada and Sunwing had already announced plans to pull all Max 8s from its schedule until next year.
WestJet said the suspensions are temporary and that flights will resume once the Max 8 is cleared to return to service. However, that won’t happen until January 5, at the earliest.
Transport Canada hasn’t said when the ban will be lifted.
Boeing says a system designed to help keep the Max 8 stable seemed to be a factor in each crash.
Many other governing bodies, including China, the United States and the European aviation authority, have banned the planes from their airspace.
WestJet currently owns 13 Max 8 jets, accounting for 10 per cent of its fleet.
Many other flights from Calgary, Winnipeg and Toronto have also been affected.
WestJet is temporarily cancelling some direct hot holiday destination flights due to continued grounding issues with Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.
Four Regina routes are being affected by the move, with scheduling changes set to run Nov. 4, 2019, to Jan. 5, 2020, unless otherwise specified.
Regina’s once-weekly flight to Orlando, Fla., and three weekly flights to Phoenix, Ariz., are suspended.
The once-weekly flight from Regina to Cancun, Mexico, will be suspended for November, but WestJet plans to operate weekly flights in December.
The Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, routes will see one weekly flight suspended, but WestJet will continue to offer one trip a week for November. However, the two weekly flights will be suspended in December.
According to WestJet, there is no timeline on when MAX planes will return to their fleet, and this change is being made to limit last-minute cancellations.
The company said they are proactively notifying passengers about the need to rebook travel options. This began on September 8.
The plan is to resume these routes once MAX planes return to the fleet, according to WestJet.
This is the sixth time WestJet has made these kinds of nationwide schedule changes involving MAX aircraft since March 13.
Air Canada, Sunwing and now WestJet have said they won’t be flying their Max 8 planes this year
CBC News · Posted: Sep 05, 2019
Calgary-based WestJet has announced it will keep its Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft out of service during its winter schedule from Nov. 4 to Jan. 5, making it the latest Canadian carrier to commit to keeping the planes grounded until early 2020, at least.
Transport Canada has yet to give the jets permission to fly after Max 8 planes were grounded across the world in March, following two fatal crashes.
WestJet says the changes will show up on its website starting Sept. 8 and those with reservations affected by the update will be notified of any changes to their itinerary.
Air Canada and Sunwing Airlines have already announced they won’t be flying their Max 8 planes until next year.
Travel agent Lesley Keyter says those with bookings that might be affected should be diligent about keeping up to date on the status of their flights.
“If they’ve booked it directly, themselves, with the airline, they need to keep an eye out, keep their booking number, keep going to the website, keep checking their flights,” she said.
She also advised to make sure your email is entered properly with the airline’s booking system so that you receive any notifications that they send.
WestJet says it will work to substitute other aircraft, where possible, and notes it has maintained 98 per cent of total, planned departures since the Max 8 planes were grounded.
Aviation analyst Rick Erickson isn’t expecting major disruptions.
“They’ve been doing this all throughout the whole of the summer,” he said. “That means that they’re fairly well equipped to be able to operate with the challenge of quite a few number of seats no longer in their network.”
There’s still been no word on when the Max 8 might be recertified to fly in Canadian airspace.
Decision means no Canadian airlines expected to use aircraft until 2020 even if it’s cleared to fly
Ian Hanomansing · CBC News · Sep 04, 2019
Forty one aircraft, three Canadian airlines and almost six months out of service. The grounding of the Boeing 737 Max 8 is affecting Canadian flights from coast to coast, and for Westjet passengers it’s now clear that impact will continue through the busy end-of-year holiday season.
Transport Canada has not yet given the jets permission to fly, but even if it does so before the end of the year, CBC News has learned Westjet will not be including the Max 8 jets in its holiday-season schedule, one of the peak travel times of the year.
Air Canada and Sunwing had already announced they won’t be flying their Max 8s until next year.
It’s possible the Boeing jets may be recertified to fly before the end of 2019 — Transport Canada isn’t saying when that might happen. But Brian Znotins, Westjet’s vice-president in charge of scheduling at the company’s headquarters in Calgary, says his airline made the decision because it needed to give passengers some certainty in making holiday bookings.
If the Max 8 is allowed to fly in December, at most Znotins says the airline might consider an occasional flight to ease demand.
“It’s a little harder to unmix the cake at that point, but we would look at peak days, the Friday before Christmas [for example] where we can still sell seats and we’ll put the airplane back in.”
Until now, very little has been heard from Canadian airlines about the ongoing impact of the Max 8’s problems. But Westjet agreed to talk to CBC’s The National about the effects of the grounding on the airline’s operations.
The issue with the Max 8 began with two disasters: A total of 346 people killed in crashes involving Indonesia’s Lion Air in October 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines in March of this year.
Investigators were troubled by the similarity between the crashes. Pilots on both planes appeared to be struggling to maintain control of their aircraft when they went down.
Boeing has acknowledged the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), designed to activate automatically to help keep a plane stable, seemed to be a factor in each crash. It appears erroneous air speed data triggered MCAS, which tried to push the nose of the jet down to increase speed while the pilots fought to counteract it.
In the days after the first crash on Oct. 29, 2018, some U.S. pilots complained Boeing hadn’t revealed that MCAS was embedded in the Max 8’s software. Speaking publicly for the first time on this issue, Westjet’s vice-president of flight operations, Scott Wilson, told CBC News that Westjet shared that concern.
“Our job as pilots is to know and understand the aircraft so that we can apply that knowledge in a normal and not normal situation,” he says. Not being told about MCAS, “created a bit of a trust deficit. There’s no doubt about it.”
Wilson adds that he made that erosion of trust clear to Boeing. “Absolutely. And they are well aware they’ve got to basically rebuild that gap.”
After the Lion Air disaster, he says the three Canadian airlines that fly the Max 8 worked with Boeing and Transport Canada to review pilot training and procedures, what Wilson called “a made-in-Canada solution.” He adds that the airlines were confident its pilots could fly the jet safely as a result.
But then on March 10 came the second catastrophic crash, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. Within hours, Wilson says Transport Canada was again in contact with Air Canada, Sunwing and Westjet, sharing information about the tragedy and assessing the safety of the jets.
“Obviously we’d never move an aircraft ever without a 100-per-cent assurance of its safety … and the information that we had at the time led us to believe that at that moment, that there was no increased risk to operating the aircraft,” Wilson says.
But governments around the world began taking action. The day after the Ethiopian crash, China banned the Max 8 from its airspace, and the next day the European aviation authority did the same. Three days after the crash, Canada and then the United States followed suit.
At the time, Canada’s Minister of Transport Marc Garneau said there was new satellite data on the Ethiopian crash, “suggesting a possible although unproven similarity in the flight profile of the Lion Air aircraft.”
Wilson explains that the data appeared to show that MCAS played a role in both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines disasters. It wasn’t conclusive, but it was enough to ban the Max from carrying passengers in Canadian airspace.
All Boeing 737 Max 8s — about 350 planes flown by more than 50 airlines around the world — have been grounded ever since, as the manufacturer works to fix the problem and prove to aviation officials that the aircraft is safe.
For Westjet, the grounding has left 13 jets parked at airports from Vancouver to Toronto, about 10 per cent of the airline’s seats. That has created an ongoing challenge for the airline’s schedulers and maintenance team.
The person in charge of maintenance, John Kelly, says his airline’s Max 8s are essentially ready to fly — their fluids are checked every 48 hours, and once a week each jet is powered up, taxis and then is parked again.
Westjet’s vice-president of technical operations, John Kelly, takes CBC’s Ian Hanomansing into the wheel well of a Boeing 737 MAX 8 to explain how the airline is keeping the aircraft flight-ready while they’re grounded. 0:40
Standing in the gleaming Westjet hanger in Calgary, Kelly explained that the biggest challenge in this grounding hasn’t been the maintenance involved in keeping the Max 8s on standby, but the need to get more hours from the rest of the airline’s fleet.
“We pulled some planes out of heavy maintenance to help fly the schedule. We’re doing a lot more work on the other airplanes to keep them healthy and keep them flying.”
Among the work that’s been deferred is the job of putting new seats in Premium class of the airline’s older 737s, for example.
Making planes available is just the first part of the puzzle. Then comes reworking the flight schedule.
If you want a sense of the complexity of running an airline, walk through its operations centre. For Westjet it’s a room about the size of a gymnasium, filled with people tracking planes, watching the weather and calculating flight plans. When CBC News visited the centre, one of the scheduling issues the team was dealing with was fog in Prince George that had led to a two hour delay, which in turn affected that plane’s upcoming Vancouver-Victoria-Vancouver trip.
Weather problems are a fact of life for airlines. The impact of removing 13 jets for an indefinite period is infinitely more complicated.
That’s been the responsibility of Brian Znotins. With the uncertainty over when the jets will be returned to service, he has revised the airline’s flight schedule five times.
He compares the process to building a house. “You take away 7 per cent of the bricks and you still want to build that house and you have to get pretty creative.”
In a July 29 interview, WestJet chief executive Ed Sims told CBC News that the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max 8 is having a “substantial negative impact” on the airline. He declined to give specifics on the financial hit, but said the grounding has forced WestJet to increase spending on fuel and cut routes.
One summer route — Halifax to Paris — was cancelled for the season, for example. A direct flight from Vancouver to Regina has also been suspended. Some daytime flights have been moved to overnight. But with its older 737s flying more often, Znotins says Westjet has been able to maintain 98 per cent of what would have been its schedule with the Max 8s in the air.
It’s a similar story at Air Canada. The bigger airline had a fleet of 24 Max 8s, and was expecting 12 more by the end of June. Asked about the impact of the grounding on its operations, Air Canada directed CBC to its most recent quarterly report, which states the airline has managed to cover “97 per cent of our planned flying” without those aircraft.
Aviation analyst Rick Ericksen says he’s impressed with how Canadian airlines are coping and how all three have handled the grounding. But he says that aside from the lost revenue, the airlines have very little excess aircraft capacity left at the moment to deal with any other problems that may arise.
All Transport Canada will say is that it “will not lift the current flight restriction … until it is fully satisfied that all concerns have been addressed by the manufacturer and U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, and adequate flight crew procedures and training are in place.”
Air Canada has announced it won’t fly the Max 8 any sooner than Jan. 8, 2020.
For Sunwing, it’s May.
Westjet may be the best positioned of the three Canadian airlines to get the Max 8s up quickly once the flight restriction is lifted. Its Max pilots have been active, flying the airline’s older-model 737s. Kelly, in charge of maintenance, says after a software update the Max 8s should be ready to fly.
But vice-president of flight operations Scott Wilson concedes there is another challenge the airlines will face: attracting passengers who may be reluctant to fly on a plane that’s suffered two recent crashes.
28 August 2019 by Allison Lampert, Montreal, Reuters
A global shortage of pilots and mechanics is preventing some Canadian aviation service companies from meeting the needs of airlines and other customers scrambling to secure replacements for grounded Boeing 737 Max jets.
North American airlines have cancelled thousands of flights since the March grounding of the 737 Max following two fatal crashes involving the model. In an already busy industry, this has stoked demand for replacement aircraft, and several Canadian companies are eager to oblige.
But the industry-wide labour shortage has complicated matters, companies said.
“I have the planes but I don’t have enough pilots to do all the flights,” said Marco Prud’Homme, vice-president of Montreal-area Nolinor Aviation.
The charter company has had to refuse some of the surging number of client requests in the wake of the Max grounding because of the pilot shortage.
Globally, many large lessors and aftermarket service providers who do plane maintenance have generally seen muted impact from the grounding because they are already fully booked, analysts and executives say.
The aviation industry has long been wrestling with a shortage of pilots and mechanics. A 2017 report by training company CAE forecasts the need for an extra 255,000 pilots by 2027 to sustain passenger traffic which is expected to double in the next 20 years.
Stephen Lim, president of ST Engineering Aerospace America, said by e-mail that any longer-term upward pressure on MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) pricing could “come from increasing labour costs, primarily due to an industry-wide shortage of experienced mechanics.”
In Canada, labour concerns have emerged in the province of Quebec, home to most of Canada’s aviation industry.
When the provincial government announced plans to scale back accepted immigrants by 20 per cent this year, as part of a broader system overhaul, employers’ groups warned it could make it harder to fill vacancies in multiple sectors.
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According to an August report from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Quebec had a job vacancy rate of 3.2 per cent, one of the highest in the country alongside British Columbia. Canada’s overall unemployment rate edged up to 5.7 per cent in July after slipping to 5.4 per cent in May – its lowest recorded rate since comparable data became available in 1976.
Earl Diamond, chief executive of Avianor, which specializes in aircraft maintenance and cabin integration, said meeting rising demand from clients hinges on staffing and space, which are at a premium in the company’s bustling Montreal-area facility.
A recent spate of airline bankruptcies from India to Iceland, combined with the Max grounding, have thrust privately held Avianor into the centre of the scramble for replacement planes.
The company is removing the purple seat covers and carpets from an A320 formerly operated by now defunct WOW Air of Iceland, and reconfiguring the cabin for Air Canada’s leisure carrier Rouge.
“For them it’s getting the planes into their fleets as soon as possible,” Diamond told Reuters during a recent visit to the company’s facility.
To meet higher-than-usual demand from lessors and airlines, Avianor had to call back some of its workers from vacation this summer, Diamond said.
Avianor is trying to add another 70 workers, and had already taken on temporary labour from Mexico to supplement its existing staff of 400 employees.
In Quebec, aviation companies are taking steps to find workers, with Nolinor holding a Sept. 7 career day to attract mechanics. The company has also offered to fund the $100,000 retraining cost for each of two employees chosen to become pilots, Prud’Homme said.
“It’s one of the biggest problems we have in the industry.”
Shares of Boeing jumped on Thursday after Reuters reported that the planemaker plans to ramp-up production of its grounded 737 MAX jet to record levels by June 2020, as it anticipates regulatory approval.
Boeing Co.‘s chief executive said on Tuesday that the financial fallout from the grounding of its 737 MAX jetliner would not slow the world’s largest planemaker’s appetite for deals in the higher-margin aircraft services sector.
“Our ability to do those continues to be strong,” Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg told Reuters at the company’s widebody manufacturing plant north of Seattle, referring to acquisitions it has made to enlarge its two-year-old Global Services division.
WATCH: July 30 —Air Canada to keep Boeing 737 MAX planes grounded until at least January, WestJet until November
“We have the financial capacity to manage the MAX situation and continue to make our investments for the future,” he said.
Boeing‘s fastest-selling, single-aisle jet was grounded in March after two deadly crashes. The company is working on a fix for software at the centre of both crashes and is aiming to get the jet back in the air as soon as October. It has completed around 560 flights with the new software, Muilenburg said on Tuesday.
“We still anticipate getting the return-to-service early in the fourth quarter,” Muilenburg said. “We are making progress on that schedule.”
Meanwhile, Muilenburg aims to expand the services business that includes aircraft parts, maintenance and analytics to $50 billion in revenue in a decade from its 2018 revenue of about $17 billion.
Boeing bought parts distributor KLX Inc. last year for $4.25 billion, including debt, in its largest deal since merging with McDonnell Douglas in 1997. Boeing and rival Airbus SE are pushing into the market for repairs, maintenance and analytics as airlines consider outsourcing more of such services in an effort to keep a lid on costs.
Boeing has had to divert resources to the 737 MAX from across the company as it works to win approval from aviation regulators for its software upgrade.
In April, Boeing dropped production to the current rate of 42 aircraft per month after halting deliveries of the MAX to airlines, cutting off a key source of cash and hitting margins. The total cost of the 737 MAX crisis has grown to more than $8 billion and counting.
Reuters reported last week that Boeing told suppliers it will ramp back up to pre-crash production rates of 52 aircraft per month in February and reach a record 57 aircraft per month in June. Investors took that as a sign of optimism that the MAX will fly again commercially as early as October.
WATCH: July 15 —How grounding of Boeing MAX aircraft impacted passenger’s bill of rights
“We are also working with our supply chain on future rates,” Muilenburg said on Tuesday. “This is all consistent with that October return-to-service date.”
However, Muilenburg reiterated the timeline for rate increases and the return to service is in the hands of regulators, who will decide when the MAX can fly again commercially.
Although the MAX issue has diverted engineering resources and attention from other aircraft programs, Muilenburg said development work on a potential new middle-of-the-market aircraft, or NMA, “hasn’t been halted.”
“We have major risk reduction activities underway that are helping us protect the entry-into-service target date that we talked about,” he said, referring to an entry-into-service date of 2025. “We are still on that same macro path. We will make that decision when we are ready.”
Boeing‘s plane must enter the market in 2025, when airlines will be retiring Boeing 757s and 767s, with Airbus poised to scoop up new plane orders.
Muilenburg also said on Tuesday that an aircraft order from China could result from any deal to end a yearlong trade war between the U.S and China, the world’s two largest economies.
23 August 2019 by Julie Johnsson, Alan Levin and Richard Weiss, Bloomberg News
(Bloomberg) — The Federal Aviation Administration is likely to conduct its certification flight for Boeing Co.’s 737 Max in October, a key milestone toward returning the grounded jetliner to the skies, said people briefed on the matter.
That timing would be broadly consistent with Boeing’s estimate that the Max will return to service early in the fourth quarter, but may push the submission of a final certification package slightly beyond September, as the company previously estimated.
The U.S. planemaker is testing changes to the flight-control software architecture of its best-selling jetliner, which suffered two fatal crashes in a five-month span. Boeing engineers have almost worked their way through hundreds of queries fielded by the FAA from colleagues around the world, with few new concerns being raised at this point in the process, the people said.
The Chicago-based company is also briefing customers on its plans for unwinding an unprecedented global grounding that has already surpassed five months, with about 600 planes temporarily mothballed.
“We continue to support the FAA and global regulators on the safe return of the Max to service,” Boeing said in a statement.
The FAA is focused on ensuring that the revamped 737 Max systems meet safety requirements, and doesn’t have a timeline for returning the plane to service, according to a statement by the agency. FAA employees have already spent 110,000 hours working on the project, it said.
“The FAA’s certification of the Boeing 737 Max is the subject of several independent reviews and investigations that will examine all aspects of the five-year effort,” the agency said. “While the agency’s certification processes are well established and have consistently produced safe aircraft designs, we welcome the scrutiny from these experts and look forward to their findings.”
There are still numerous tasks to be accomplished before Boeing can complete its submission to recertify the plane, said another person familiar with the process. The person wasn’t aware of a specific projection that the FAA test flight would occur in October, but said it was a possibility.
A certification flight with FAA test pilots is one of the final steps that must be conducted before Boeing’s submission is finalized, and based on the timing, the final paperwork may not be completed until the fourth quarter.
If the plane behaves as expected, the results become part of the package for certification. Even though FAA engineers have worked closely with Boeing for months, the agency must perform a series of checks after the submission is made before granting approval.
Another step in the process is a review by the FAA’s Flight Standardization Board, which must recommend training requirements for the plane. In April, it made a preliminary conclusion that pilots wouldn’t need simulator training before flights resume. But the body hasn’t issued its final conclusions.
News provided by Sunwing Vacations Inc/Globe Newswire
TORONTO, Aug. 15, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Sunwing announced today that all flight services during the coming winter season will now be operated without the Boeing 737 MAX 8. The new schedule comes into effect on November 5, 2019, and runs until mid-May 2020. While the move has been prompted by the ongoing worldwide grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX 8, the company explained that being able to offer an excellent customer experience and provide their clients with much-needed reassurance while planning their upcoming winter vacation with confidence were equally important factors in their decision.
President of Tour Operations for Sunwing, Andrew Dawson, commented, “The worldwide grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft created operational difficulties for us during the summer months when we did not have additional capacity within our fleet to replace this aircraft type. In order to maintain our customers’ vacation plans, it was necessary to contract flying with third-party carriers and make schedule changes or cancellations to over 3,000 flights. We acknowledge the options our customers were presented with to maintain their travel plans may have caused them an inconvenience and we appreciate the understanding and flexibility shown by both our travel agent partners and our customers during this period.
Proactively revising our winter schedule will ensure that all future scheduled flying is operated entirely on Boeing 737-800s, sporting Sunwing’s familiar and distinctive orange tails, so that we can offer our customers the same exceptional value and award-winning inflight experience they have been accustomed to. With these changes, our customers should feel more confident about booking their vacations or destination weddings early and taking advantage of the best deals and Early Booking Bonuses we’ve ever offered.”
All schedule changes required to accommodate the change in aircraft type have already been made and are now live on the company’s website and reservation system, through to mid-May 2020. Should the Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft become available during the course of the winter, the company will evaluate opportunities to add capacity or reintegrate them into the fleet at that time. Any customers who have been affected by these changes have been notified either directly or through their travel agent, depending on how their reservation was confirmed.
Sunwing would like to thank their customers and travel agent partners for their loyalty and patience throughout these changes and reinforce their commitment to providing memorable vacations.
Jeremy Bogaisky Forbes Staff Aerospace & Defense Deputy editor for Industry; eyes on the skies
Boeing 737 MAX planes have been stuck on the ground now for five months. With the likelihood rising that they won’t return to service before the winter, some airlines may soon have to deal with the danger that the planes could literally become stuck to the ground.
Tires of planes that are parked for long periods of time can freeze to the tarmac during subzero weather, warns a Boeing maintenance manual for the previous generation of 737 aircraft. It advises maintenance workers to place sand or a coarse fiber mat under the tires and covers over the wheels and brake assemblies to protect them from the corrosive effects of rain and snow.
With the end of summer drawing closer, Air Canada is considering moving its 24 737 MAX planes south to the gentler climes of a desert storage yard, a spokesperson told Forbes. WestJet says it’s content to keep its 13 planes in Canada, spooling up the engines every week and taking them for a spin on the apron around their hangars.
Airlines have had 387 MAX planes sitting quietly at airports and storage facilities around the world since March, when the second of two horrific crashes led aviation authorities worldwide to ground Boeing’s best-selling plane. Boeing is storing roughly another 200 that it has assembled but can’t deliver.
Planes are built to move. Making sure these aren’t damaged from their prolonged grounding has become the mission of a small army of maintenance staff. The longer the planes’ wings are clipped, the more needs to be done. Among the main tools, as prescribed by the 737 manual: copious amounts of yellow 3M vinyl tape No. 471 to seal off gaps and sensors, and an array of lubricants.
Southwest Airlines, the largest operator of the 737 MAX, is storing its fleet of 34 planes in the dry heat of the high Mojave desert at an airfield in Victorville, California. Once a week, maintenance workers power up the Leap-1B engines, which their maker, CFM International, a partnership between General Electric and Safran, recommend should be idled for 15 to 20 minutes to vaporize any moisture that may have collected in the oil and fuel systems and to cover engine parts with a new coat of oil to prevent corrosion. Southwest technicians also boot up the flight computers and auxiliary power units weekly.
The doors of planes stored in the desert are generally opened during summer days so the cabins aren’t damaged by the heat, says David Querio, president of Ascent Aviation Services, which operates at Pinal Airpark in Arizona, one of the largest aircraft storage yards in the world.
Birds sometimes nest on a plane, and, rarely, an animal will take advantage of an open door to take up residence inside. “They’re removed the same day if they’re stupid enough to do that,” says Querio.
As the timeline for the 737 MAX’s return has receded further over the past few weeks, some airlines could decide to put their planes into a state of deeper storage, with the engines preserved and batteries and other sensitive parts removed, says Tim Zemanovic, president of the Minnesota aircraft disassembly firm Fillmore Aviation. Because it requires fewer regular maintenance tasks, this type of storage generally runs half the cost of active storage, at roughly $1,000 a month per plane, he says, but it means it would take more time to ready the planes to fly again when aviation regulators sign off on Boeing’s fixes for the 737 MAX.
In long-term storage, the engines, the single most valuable part on an airliner, are “pickled”: The oil is drained and replaced with an oil mixed with a corrosion prevention solution, and desiccant bags—larger versions of the moisture-removing silica packets put in consumer goods—are placed in the inlets, with gauges that monitor humidity levels. Then the ends are covered to keep out the elements, animals and insects, says Zemanovic, who used to run a storage and maintenance facility at Pinal Airpark.
When planes are dormant for more than two months, Boeing’s 737 maintenance manual calls for gaps in the fuselage to be sealed with vinyl tape and screens placed over drain holes. A protective coating is sprayed onto unpainted metal surfaces. The cabins go dark, with the window shades closed and cockpit windshields covered with aluminum foil tape or other reflective material. Cotton covers are put over the seats and runners protect the carpets.
Planes at a storage yard typically get visited at least once a day to make sure the exterior coverings are intact, says Querio.
The 737 manual lays out a schedule of maintenance procedures to be done at regular intervals that’s heavy on lubrication of myriad parts.
Every week the plane should be scanned for corrosion; every two weeks, electrical systems powered up for two hours. Every 30 days the plane should be moved a third of a wheel’s turn, to prevent the tires from getting flat spots; carpets and seats checked for mildew; and water drained from the sumps of fuel tanks to prevent growth of bacteria or fungi, which can have the consistency of mayonnaise and plug fuel filters.
Every 90 days, the flaps, rudder and other control services need to be exercised.
If the grounding extends to a year, the landing gear may need to be flexed, says Zemanovic, with the plane propped up on giant jacks placed under the wings and the nose. Boeing and Airbus recommend that some models should be restored to operating condition after a year before being shut down again, says Querio.
Boeing expects aviation regulators to sign off on its fixes for the 737 MAX and a revised training regime early in the fourth quarter, but given previous delays and new technical issues that have arisen over the past few months, some industry watchers think the plane’s return to service could slip further. Southwest Airlines has taken the 737 MAX off its flight schedule till January 5; Air Canada has scrubbed the plane through January 8.
A Southwest spokesman said that once the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration declares the model airworthy, the airline expects it will take 120 hours of work on each plane to get them ready to fly again, and 30 to 60 days for the airline’s whole fleet.
One giant task: cleaning the planes. Dust can collect inside planes stored in the desert if the doors are vented, requiring a thorough vacuuming, says Zemanovic, and if the storage facility doesn’t have a concrete wash pad with drains to properly dispose of large amounts of soapy water, workers may have no choice but to wipe down the plane by hand, a laborious process that he says could require a “couple hundred” man hours. Two necessities for the job: 27-foot high work platforms and a mammoth supply of cleaning wipes.
WestJet Airlines has extended its route suspensions related to the grounding of Boeing’s Max 8 aircraft and is seeking compensation from the aircraft manufacturer for lost revenue.
The Calgary-based airline, which owns 13 Max 8 planes for a total of seven per cent of its fleet, announced Monday it is now scheduling without the aircraft until at least Nov. 4, as opposed to the previously stated Aug. 29. Affected routes include Halifax-Paris, Vancouver-Regina, Toronto-Kelowna and Toronto-St.John’s.
WestJet is just one of many airlines around the world that has been forced to re-accommodate guests and adjust its summer flying schedule in the absence of the Max 8, which has been grounded globally since March following two fatal crashes.
In an interview Friday, WestJet CEO Ed Sims said while the airline has no intention of flying the plane again until it is “100 per cent safe to do so,” the grounding is lasting longer than anticipated after U.S. officials identified another flaw with the plane’s software in June.
“It’s up to the regulators now to drive that pace,” Sims said. “But I’d be kidding if I said I wasn’t anything other than anxious to get that aircraft back up in the air.”
According to WestJet, the airline had 9,225 Max flights planned since the grounding and has been able to cover off almost 6,000 of them with other aircraft from its fleet. Including all aircraft types, WestJet has been able to maintain 98 per cent of its planned departures since March.
Still, the shortage of aircraft has meant WestJet is flying very full planes and has little flexibility in cases of weather delays or unexpected maintenance. WestJet’s ultra-low-cost carrier Swoop, which typically can borrow aircraft from its parent company in the event its own planes are undergoing maintenance, has been plagued with cancellations this summer since there is no spare capacity to be had.
On Friday, Sims said WestJet is seeking compensation for that lost capacity, though he did not provide details on what form that compensation might take.
“We have been having multiple and significant conversations along those lines. Where those conversations will lead to will remain privy between ourselves and Boeing,” Sims said. “But clearly we are one of two Boeing-exclusive jet fleets in North America and we expect that to be reflected in the conversation we have with Boeing.”
Other airlines around the world, including China’s three largest airlines, Southwest Airlines and Ryanair, are also seeking compensation from Boeing for cancelled Max 8 flights. Boeing said earlier this month it will take an after-tax charge of $4.9 billion U.S. as a result of “potential concessions and other considerations to customers” related to the grounding and associated delivery delays. While the entire estimated amount will be recognized as a charge in the second quarter, Boeing said the actual payouts will be provided over a number of years and take “various forms of economic value.”
“We remain focused on safely returning the 737 MAX to service,” said Boeing Chairman, President and CEO Dennis Muilenburg, in a release. “This is a defining moment for Boeing. Nothing is more important to us than the safety of the flight crews and passengers who fly on our airplanes. The Max grounding presents significant headwinds and the financial impact recognized this quarter reflects the current challenges and helps to address future financial risks.”