Canada has issued a safety notice restricting domestic and foreign commercial Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes from its airspace, following two deadly crashes involving the aircraft in the last five months.
After previously refusing to ground the planes, Canada’s transport minister Marc Garneau reversed course on Wednesday, citing new satellite data received Tuesday night and reviewed Wednesday morning.
Garneau said he had convened an expert panel to consult with aviation industry experts, who provided advice. He said they had reviewed the new data, and also looked at the two MAX 8 crashes in Ethiopia on Sunday and in Indonesia in October. The Ethopia crash left 157 dead, including 18 Canadians. The Indonesia crash took 189 lives. No one survived either crash.
In the Indonesia case, a preliminary report said the pilot was “fighting against” computer software that forced the plane’s nose down, Garneau said. The crash happened within minutes of takeoff, in clear conditions with a senior pilot flying the plane.
Garneau said there were similarities between the two crashes, but warned against jumping to conclusions. “Yes it was a clear day, yes an experienced pilot, and yes, it happened within 10 minutes [of take off] but we don’t know what happened with the Ethiopian Air flight,” he told reporters.
“It could be something else, we have to wait to see the data,” the minister added.
The European Union, the UK, Australia, China and other countries had banned the Boeing plane from their airspace earlier in the week, but Canada had resisted following their lead.
Explaining why Canada took so long to come to the same decision, Garneau said he made the decision based on facts and not emotion.
“We must put safety at the top of the agenda,” Garneau said. He added: “Caution has to dominate.”
He said he had notified Air Canada, WestJet and Sunwing of the decision on Wednesday morning, and received no pushback from them, saying the airlines realize that safety is a top priority.
On Tuesday, Sunwing decided to ground its four MAX 8 planes for unrelated commercial reasons.
“For evolving commercial reasons unrelated to safety, including airspace restrictions being imposed by some of our partner destinations, Sunwing Airlines has taken the decision to temporarily suspend the operations of our 4 Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft,” Sunwing said in a statement to VICE.
Air Canada cancelled some flights to London on Tuesday after the U.K. banned MAX 8 planes from its airspace.
Canada’s decision is out of step with the American Federal Aviation Administration, which decided not to ground the planes. Garneau said occasionally Canada will make decisions that are not in step with the FAA but that they U.S. agency is aware of Canada’s decision and the reasons for it.
Garneau said he notified American officials of the decision Wednesday morning.
Garneau said he awaited “the smoking gun” that will explain what happened to this flight, including black box information and data, and that will influence Canada’s future decisions on Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes.
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenberg called US President Donald Trump on Tuesday asking him not to ground MAX 8 planes, the New York Times reported. Garneau told reporters Boeing had made no such calls to his office.
Airline pilots on two US MAX 8 planes have reported that the planes’ computer systems pointed the aircrafts’ noses downward, AP reported.
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