Boeing’s troubled 737 MAX 8 jets can resume flying in Canadian airspace this week.
Transport Canada deemed the grounded jets airworthy and said it will lift the ban on flying the jets on Wednesday, which will allow Canadian airlines to begin operating them once more.
Aviation authorities around the world grounded the jets roughly 20 months ago following devastating twin air crashes just months apart that killed just shy of 350 people.
Fatal flaws in some of the aircraft sensors were shown to have repeatedly forced the nose of the jets down even as pilots fought to right the jets.
Transport Canada says those flaws have now been fixed.
Families of the victims, however, have argued the plane should be permanently grounded.
In a statement announcing the authorization to resume flights, Transport Canada said its officials have spent roughly 15,000 hours investigating and reviewing the aircraft as well as the recommended changes to the sensor and software designs involved in the fatal crashes.
The agency also emphasized the unusual step of issuing its own airworthiness directive rather than relying on the authorization of the aircraft by the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority.
Air Canada and West Jet began training their pilots on the new changes late last month.
The return to service is set to come two months ahead of the second anniversary of the Ethiopian Airlines crash in March 2019, which was the second crash of one of the troubled planes in the span of five months and forced global aviation authorities to ground the aircraft indefinitely.
Eighteen Canadians died in the two crashes.
Changing flights on a 737 MAX 8 aircraft
The question now facing airlines is whether Canadians will be willing to fly on the aircraft.
WestJet plans to return the jet to service starting this Thursday with a commercial flight from Calgary to Vancouver, then will resume commercial flights up to three times a week with the jet between Calgary and Toronto.
Air Canada says it will do so on Feb. 1 on select flights between Toronto and Montreal, Halifax, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Edmonton, while Air Transat says it doesn’t have any of the aircraft in its fleet.
While both airlines say they are confident in the aircraft, Boeing has acknowledged previously it will need to work “to restore the confidence of our customers and the flying public in Boeing.”
In anticipation of consumer concerns about the plane, both WestJet and Air Canada are implementing more flexible flight change policies so people uncomfortable with flying on the plane can change their tickets in advance.
“While WestJet is 100 per cent confident in the safety of our MAX aircraft, we understand that not all our guests have the same comfort level, and we will be offering flexible change/cancel options,” says the information page about the aircraft on the company’s website.
Air Canada’s similar web page offers a nearly identical remark.
“While we are fully confident in the return of the Boeing 737 Max, we understand that certain customers may prefer alternate travel options and we have therefore instituted flexible change and cancellation policies,” said the airline.
Air Canada says passengers will be allowed to change to another flight, change their itinerary or cancel their flight on a MAX 8 aircraft at no cost for tickets booked before Jan. 14 with travel dates up to March 31, 2021.
WestJet says passengers who do not want to fly on the MAX 8 aircraft can also change their flights at no cost if they are at least 24 hours out from the flight, up until Feb. 28, 2021.
Consumers can find their flight information in their itinerary or booking confirmation emails.
Research conducted by WestJet and shared with Global News on Monday show airlines likely still face a steep climb when it comes to overcoming consumer fears about the Boeing aircraft.
“The pandemic has made flyers apprehensive to fly, and even more apprehensive to fly on the MAX: over the past 18 months, flyers have become significantly less comfortable with the idea of flying on the MAX,” says the airline’s internal consumer research.
“Over the past 18 months, two in five Canadian flyers have become less confident in the MAX and two-thirds of Canadian flyers will avoid flying on it.”
The research, conducted last fall, also highlighted the mistrust many appear to have towards Boeing itself as well as airlines when it comes to weighing in on the safety of the aircraft.
Boeing and the FAA were both blasted in an 18-month-long investigation by a U.S. congressional panel that found “grossly insufficient oversight” and major failings by both players in the design and certification of the aircraft as the causes of the disasters that killed so many people.
“They were the horrific culmination of a series of faulty technical assumptions by Boeing’s engineers, a lack of transparency on the part of Boeing’s management, and grossly insufficient oversight by the FAA — the pernicious result of regulatory capture on the part of the FAA,” the report said.
The report also said that Boeing withheld “crucial information from the FAA, its customers, and 737 MAX pilots” about the software and sensor failings.
Seventy-seven per cent of respondents to the WestJet research said they want to hear from Transport Canada to determine the safety of the aircraft, with only three per cent saying Boeing would be the most credible voice and one per cent saying the airlines would be.
Only nine per cent said the same about the FAA.