Canada to ground Boeing 737 MAX 8 after Ethiopian Airlines crash
Canada is joining the growing number of countries that have grounded Boeing’s 737 MAX 8 jets after a deadly Ethiopian Airlines crash over the weekend.
Hours later, the United States announced it will do the same.
That crash marked the second catastrophic incident in six months that involved the model of airplane, prompting a wave of countries to ground their fleets, including the U.K., China, Australia, Singapore, India, South Korea, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates and others.
The European Union also banned the jets from flying in European airspace.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau had maintained earlier this week that Canada would not ground the jets because the cause of the Ethiopian Airlines crash, which killed 157 people, including 18 Canadians, is not yet clear.
He reversed that position on Wednesday.
WATCH: Garneau explains exactly what ‘safety notice’ will entail for flyers
Garneau told reporters in Ottawa that there have been no reports from pilots flying for Canadian airlines of encountering difficulty with the 737 MAX 8’s anti-stall system, which has come under heavy scrutiny after a preliminary report into a deadly MAX 8 crash in Indonesia last year showed the pilots had repeatedly fought the plane’s anti-stall system before crashing.
But he added that the decision to issue a safety notice banning the aircraft from taking off, landing or flying over Canadian airspace comes as a result of “new data” received by Canadian officials Wednesday morning that appears to show similarities between that crash and the one over the weekend.
“There can’t be any MAX 8 or MAX 9 flying into, out of or across Canada so that obviously affects the Canadian MAX 8s that are owned by Air Canada, West Jet and Sunwing, that own aircraft but also have implications on airlines outside the country,” Garneau said.
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Garneau said the new data was obtained via satellite monitoring Wednesday morning and shows similarities between the Ethiopian Airlines crash over the weekend and the Lion Air crash in October 2018, which killed 189 people.
Those similarities “exceed a certain threshold in our minds,” Garneau said, adding that the decision to ground the fleets comes as a direct result of that information.
WATCH: Global fears grow over Boeing’s 737 MAX 8 planes
Canadian officials informed their American counterparts of the decision earlier Wednesday morning.
Several hours later, U.S. President Donald Trump said the U.S. will do the same.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the certifying body for the aircraft in question and had doubled down in recent days over its decision not to ground the MAX 8s even as a growing number of countries raised concerns.
The New York Times reported on Tuesday that the CEO of Boeing, Dennis A. Muilenburg, spoke directly with U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday to make a personal appeal not to ground the aircraft.
When asked earlier Wednesday whether political pressure could factor into the FAA’s investigation, Garneau said he is comfortable with the FAA being the certifying authority for the planes and praised the agency as “professional.”
Reuters reports a spokesperson for Ethiopian Airlines said the black box from the crash is being sent to Europe for analysis.
WATCH: Garneau questioned on reliability of FAA on aircraft certification
While the safety notice grounding the aircraft goes into effect immediately, all flights currently in the air will be allowed to complete their trips and will not be forced to make emergency landings.
Garneau said the grounding order will remain in place until investigators identify “the smoking gun” behind the Ethiopian Airlines crash.
While there will be “some disruption” as a result of the decision, the minister noted that Canadian airlines operating the aircraft have not pushed back.
Air Canada has 24 of the MAX 8 aircraft while WestJet flies 13 and Sunwing has four.
“They recognize the importance of safety,” he said.
“For the moment, caution has to dominate.”
At issue are concerns being raised about the aircraft’s Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS).
That system was introduced in 2017 and automatically lowers the nose of a plane if external sensors indicate it is at risk of a stall.
Stalling happens when there is not enough wind speed over the wing of an aircraft.
Tilting the nose of the plane down is how pilots overcome a stall because it forces the plane into a brief dip and increases the speed of wind over the wings.
But the MCAS system effectively automates that response — and that can take even experienced pilots used to flying older models by surprise.
Boeing is now facing lawsuits from the families of victims in the Lion Air crash who allege the company did not properly warn pilots of the MCAS system and that its operations manual did not properly explain the system — or how to work around it — to pilots.
A preliminary report into the cause of the Lion Air crash showed that the system pulled the plane’s nose down more than 24 times as pilots fought to regain control.
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