After nearly two years, Boeing’s troubled 737 MAX 8 aircraft are returning to Canadian skies.
WestJet is set to become the first Canadian airline to return the aircraft to commercial service with a flight from Calgary to Vancouver on Thursday morning, following extensive review by Transport Canada.
The aviation agency took the unusual step of issuing independent authorization for the aircraft after spending roughly 15,000 hours reviewing the planes and ordering specific design changes beyond what other agencies like the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration have ordered.
The FAA as well as Boeing have come under intense scrutiny for the original approval and design process of the aircraft, which failed to disclose and address what would turn out to be fatal flaws in the plane.
Faulty air speed sensors and software that pushed the nose of the plane down in response to their readings were identified as the cause behind two devastating crashes just five months apart.
Roughly 350 people, including 18 Canadians, died as a result.
“It’s not common,” said Nicholas Robinson, director general of civil aviation at Transport Canada, when asked about the independent authorization issued by the agency.
“Transport Canada and the FAA often find a common convergence when we’re looking at a state certification.”
Robinson added the three Canadian airlines operating the 737 MAX 8 as well as the pilots’ union with those operators support the changes made to the aircraft in order to meet Transport Canada approval.
The families of the victims, however, have argued the plane should be permanently grounded.
The U.S. authorized the planes for commercial service in November 2020, prompting families of the victims to plead with authorities to revoke the decision.
The EASA, Europe’s civil aviation authority, is also expected to clear the aircraft next week.
At the same time, airlines returning the planes to commercial service will face the challenge of getting consumers back on board the troubled aircraft.
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.
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