Ottawa approves return of Boeing 737 Max to Canadian skies

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Boeing 737 MAX aircraft on the ground are seen parked at Boeing facilities at Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, Washington, United States, November 17, 2020.

LINDSEY WASSON / Reuters

The federal government has approved design changes to the Boeing 737 Max that will allow the plane to fly again in Canada after it was banned from the world last year following two fatal crashes.

Transport Canada informed the United States Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday that it had validated a series of proposed modifications to the 737 Max and that it plans to make a public announcement Thursday in Ottawa.

Ottawa will require pilots to take additional simulator training on the revised 737 Max, and additional cockpit procedures will be implemented before the aircraft returns to service with major airlines across Canada, the said. director general of the ministry’s civil aviation, Nicholas Robinson.

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The plane has been grounded since last March when it crashed in Ethiopia, killing 157 people, including 18 Canadians. Five months earlier, 189 people had been killed when another 737 Max had fallen into the sea near Indonesia.

A series of international investigations determined that both crashes were caused by software designed to stabilize the aircraft, but instead forced the 737 Max to dive irreversibly when fed with data from a faulty sensor. Introduced by Boeing in 2016, it is now one of the deadliest commercial airliners in history.

Transport Canada emailed the relatives of the 18 Canadians killed in the Ethiopian crash on Wednesday, letting them know of the upcoming announcement. Several families had asked the government not to approve the plane unless the deadly software was removed from the design.

“I know the news of the completion of the validation process is not something you wanted to receive,” Robinson said in the email, which was obtained by The Globe and Mail.

“However, I can assure you that our process and review to validate these changes was complete; that our decisions were independent and driven by the analysis of our globally recognized certification experts; and that we are confident in the outcome of our validation. “

The FAA cleared the revised 737 Max to fly in November, followed by regulators in Europe and Brazil. Brazilian airline Gol returned the plane to service last week, becoming the first carrier to do so. Canada’s two largest carriers, Air Canada and WestJet Airlines, both use the plane.

However, one of the experts called to testify at the Transport Committee hearings on the Canadian government’s approval of the 737 Max said he was not convinced the aircraft had been fully secured thanks to the modifications to design.

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Boeing said the flaws in the aircraft’s software – known as the Maneuver Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) – had been fixed. But Gilles Primeau, an expert in flight control systems, said the stabilization software that caused accidents can still, under certain conditions, be fed with false information. He raised the flaw with Transport Canada, Boeing and the FAA, but says his concerns were not addressed.

“I would love to see proof that Boeing even noticed this condition or that the so-called unprecedented FAA review [of the 737 Max] didn’t notice it either, ”said Primeau. “There’s an easy way to find out: Ask to immediately see any evidence from Boeing or the FAA that this case was investigated, and how they might find a justification for accepting it.”

Under international aviation rules, the FAA reviews Boeing’s aircraft designs, which are then validated by other international regulatory bodies such as those in Canada and Europe.

Boeing was found to have withheld software information from the FAA in the original certification of the 737 Max, so when Canadian regulators checked the plane, they were unaware the system could force the plane to go. nose down that pilots might have trouble reversing.

It was also found that the FAA had outsourced much of the original design scrutiny to Boeing’s own engineers in an effort to streamline regulatory approval of the aircraft.

“I have completely lost confidence in them,” Primeau said of the FAA.

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Transport Canada has said it plans to change the way it validates new aircraft following the 737 Max disasters. In addition to additional training for Canadian pilots flying the aircraft, new cockpit measures will be introduced, which the government plans to detail in the coming weeks.

“We will be issuing a Canadian Airworthiness Directive that will clearly describe the design changes validated in Canada that are to be incorporated,” Robinson said in the email. “In addition, we will also impose the training requirements for aircrew through an interim order.”

The aircraft will likely return to service in the new year.

“We anticipate these milestones will take place in January 2021,” Robinson said in the email.

“In the meantime, I can assure all of you that the commercial flight restrictions for aircraft in Canadian airspace remain in place and will not be lifted until we are fully satisfied that all of its safety concerns have been resolved. .

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