The union representing Air Canada flight attendants says its members don’t want to be forced to fly on Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets amid growing safety concerns surrounding the aircraft in the wake of Sunday’s crash of an Ethiopian Airlines passenger plane.
In a statement, the Air Canada Component of CUPE said the union is asking the airline to prioritize the safety of passengers and crew.
“Air Canada flight attendants have safety concerns following the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash. They don’t want to be forced to fly on Boeing 737 Max 8 airplanes,” the union said.
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Union president Wesley Lesosky said that at a bare minimum, Air Canada should offer crew who have concerns over the jet the option of being re-assigned to other flights.
“The safety of passengers and crews must be the absolute priority,” Lesosky said.
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The statement came less than 24 hours after the union suggested to members that concerns surrounding the 737 MAX 8 were overblown, assuring them that all procedures and training protocols pertaining to the jet had been followed.
“However, it’s important to remember that every day any number of serious air incidents occur throughout the world involving all makes and models of aircraft.”
The statement added that some countries’ moves to ground fleets “could be rooted as much in politics as safety.”
The union declined to say what prompted its change in stance.
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In a bulletin to crew, Air Canada said it was “aware of the intense public speculation regarding the safety of the Boeing 737 MAX,” but said it maintains “full confidence in the complete safety of our Boeing 737 Max fleet” based on data, analytics and the input of government regulators.
An airline spokesperson told Global News that Air Canada has a process for all employees who have concerns about working conditions.
“This includes our cabin crew who may, from time to time, request options to their planned flying which we manage on a case-by case-basis,” the spokesperson said.
Canada has not yet moved to ground the planes, but Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau said Tuesday that authorities were considering that option.
“I have directed my group of experts to be ready for all possibilities, including a decision to ground the MAX 8,” he said.
Air Canada officials told Global News that the airline has cancelled some flights, but that was due to the European Union and some other countries banning MAX 8 planes from entering their airspace.
The airline said it has put in place a “flexible re-booking policy” whereby customers who don’t want to fly on the 737 will be given options to change their flights onto other aircraft, subject to space and availability.
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Eight of the 10 countries with the highest number of airline passengers have either grounded the planes or banned them from their airspace.
The U.S. and Japan are the exceptions.
Unions representing American Airlines and United Airlines flight attendants in the U.S. have urged those airlines to consider grounding the new Boeing aircraft until an investigation into safety concerns is completed.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said it will not ground the 737 MAX 8, saying that a review of the planes showed “no systemic performance issues” that would warrant grounding the aircraft.
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Boeing has so far stood by the 737 MAX 8, saying Tuesday that it maintains “full confidence” in the aircraft.
The aviation giant also said it is going to deploy a software upgrade to the jet.
— With files from Maham Abedi and Shallima Maharaj