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Report on Business Air Canada changes flight schedules, takes steps to replace Boeing 737 Max capacity through July

Transport Canada followed most major aviation regulators and grounded all Canadian-operated 737 Max single-aisle planes, seen above grounded at YVR airport in Vancouver, on March 13, three days after the Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed all 157 passengers and crew on-board.

BEN NELMS/The Globe and Mail

Air Canada has cancelled or suspended parts of its flight schedule and taken new steps to replace seat capacity lost as a result of the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max passenger jet.

Transport Canada followed most major aviation regulators and grounded all Canadian-operated 737 Max single-aisle planes on March 13, three days after the second fatal, unexplained crash of the new model killed 157 passengers and crew on an Ethiopian Airlines flight. A Lion Air 737 Max crashed in the Java Sea minutes after takeoff in October, killing 189 people.

Montreal-based Air Canada has a fleet of 24 737 Max planes, representing about 7 per cent of its passenger capacity in March, and was due to receive another 12 by the busy summer travel period.

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Boeing Co. said on Wednesday that the global grounding of the 371-plane fleet cost it US$1-billion. The Chicago-based manufacturer is expected to bear more charges as it works with regulators and customers to certify a software update and new training procedures Boeing says will address the problems believed to have contributed to the crashes.

Dennis Muilenburg said the software, which gives pilots better control over automated anti-stall functions that can be triggered by incorrect angle-of-attack sensors, has been thoroughly tested, but he offered no timeline for the plane’s return to the skies.

To replace the 737 Max aircraft, Air Canada said it has extended leases on six planes set to leave its fleet, substituted different aircraft on some routes and sped up the outfitting of six Airbus A320s it bought from Wow Air of Iceland.

The schedule changes include cancelling some summer routes such as Toronto-Shannon, Ireland, Toronto-Abbotsford, B.C., and Calgary-London, Ont.

Air Canada said it is delaying the launches of a new Montreal-Bordeaux, France, route and a Vancouver-Boston flight. Flights to London’s Heathrow airport from Halifax and St. John’s are cancelled until at least July 31, Air Canada said.

Air Canada on April 2 announced some of the changes but on Thursday expanded the list and extended the retooled schedule until the end of July.

“As the timeline for the return to service of the 737 Max is unknown, for planning purposes and to provide customers certainty for booking and travel, Air Canada has now removed 737 Max flying from its schedule until at least August 1, 2019,” the company said in a news release. “Final decisions on returning the 737 Max to service will be based on Air Canada's safety assessment following the lifting of government safety notices and approval by international regulatory authorities.”

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Air Canada and Calgary-based rival WestJet Airlines Ltd. suspended their financial forecasts after the 737 Max grounding. WestJet’s 181-plane fleet includes 13 737 Max jets, which accounted for about 12 per cent of its capacity in March.

Both airlines have said they are confident the planes will continue to be part of their fleets once the changes are approved by authorities.

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