Transport Canada aviation officials will gather with their international counterparts in Fort Worth, Tex., on Thursday, to learn how the U.S. regulator plans to assure the airworthiness of Boeing 737 Max airplanes.
The global fleet of the passenger jets has been grounded since mid-March after fatal crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia killed 346 passengers and crew.
Preliminary investigators’ reports indicated automated controls activated by nose-angle detectors were putting the planes into nosedives. Boeing says it has made changes to the plane’s software that, among other things, would let pilots override the automated controls.
Before the 737 Max can resume flying, the changes must be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The regulator said this week the plane maker has yet to submit its certification application.
Marc Garneau, the Transport Minister, said Canada will review its approval of the new planes and independently conduct its own validation of the 737 Max before allowing it to resume flying.
“The department will not lift the current flight restriction of the Boeing 737-8 Max until it is fully satisfied that all concerns have been addressed by the manufacturer and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, and adequate flight crew procedures and training are in place,” said Frédérica Dupuis, a spokeswoman for Transport Canada.
Transport Canada “has provided U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing a list of questions and action items to address as part of the validation process and evaluation,” Ms. Dupuis said. “Our expectation is that all data required to address these inquiries will be provided.”
The Thursday meeting led by Daniel Elwell, acting administrator of the FAA, “is intended to provide participants the FAA’s safety analysis that will inform its decision to return the 737 Max fleet to service in the U.S. when it is made,” the FAA said. “The FAA will provide safety experts to answer any questions participants have related to their respective decisions to return the fleet to service.”
The plane’s grounding on March 13 forced Canada’s major airlines, Air Canada and Westjet Airlines Ltd., to cancel flights and routes until August. Air Canada has 24 of the 737 Max planes in its 190-plane fleet and another 37 on order. WestJet operates 13 in its 182-plane fleet and has 44 on order. Sunwing Vacations Inc. operates four.
The 737 Max, first delivered in 2017, has greater range, lower operating costs and uses less fuel than the older versions of the aircraft. Canadian airlines are in the midst of renewing their fleets, and are counting on the return of the 737 Max to aid their route expansions and moves toward reduced flying costs.
“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,” Air Canada said in a statement. WestJet has said it hopes to resume flying the planes in the third quarter of this year, and will evaluate procedures and training before doing so.
Boeing said it has about 5,000 orders for the 737 Max, although those sales have stopped and the company said the grounding cost it US$1-billion in the first quarter of 2019.
A Lion Air 737 Max crashed into the Java Sea in October, killing 189 passengers and crew. On March 10, an Ethiopian Airlines Max crash killed 157 people. Pilots in both cases reported loss of control shortly after taking off. Preliminary investigators’ reports point to problems with the planes’ pitch sensors and the responses of the automated controls.
In both crashes, the automated controls repeatedly pointed the nose of the plane down, an anti-stall manoeuvre the pilots were unable to overcome. Boeing says it has flown the 737 Max with the updated software for more than 360 hours on 207 flights.
Reports on Tuesday said a pitch sensor could have been damaged when the Ethiopian plane hit birds, but officials in that country have said there was no evidence of such damage from foreign objects.
After the Lion Air crash in October, Boeing and the FAA issued new training manuals for the 737 Max.
Ethiopian Airlines said its pilots were properly trained on the new plane before the crash in March, but questioned whether the material provided by the FAA and Boeing were enough.
Mr. Garneau said in April Canadian pilots’ new 737 Max training requirements should include flight simulator time. His comments are at odds with those of the FAA, which said training need not include time in a simulator.