WestJet Airlines Ltd. has cancelled orders for 15 Boeing 737 Max aircraft amid a prolonged crisis for the aviation industry.
WestJet recently resumed flying three 737 Max aircraft after the government of Canada in January allowed the model to return to passenger service following a nearly two-year grounding owing to safety concerns linked to crashes. Crashes in Indonesia in 2018 and Ethiopia in 2019 killed a total of 346 people, including 18 Canadians, and spurred regulators around the world to ground the model. Canada and other regulators approved the plane’s return after examining changes that included improvements to the trim control system linked to the crashes.
WestJet has 11 Max jets in storage and another 27 remaining on order, said Morgan Bell, a WestJet spokeswoman. “I can confirm that WestJet and Boeing have reached an arrangement to adjust WestJet’s Max firm commitments by 15 aircraft,” Ms. Bell said in an e-mail. “WestJet remains committed to our 737 Max aircraft and have safely returned the first three of our 14 Max to the fleet.”
Before global regulators agreed to lift the grounding of the Max, Boeing made changes to the plane’s control software that was blamed for the repeated nosedives preceding the crashes. The new version of the automated trim control system takes readings from two – not one – sensors on the plane’s exterior, activates just once and does not override the pilot’s ability to control the plane, Boeing said.
In Canada, Max cockpits are required to be equipped with a circuit breaker that allows the pilot to disable the stick-shaker alarm that activates when some problems occur. This is intended to reduce cockpit distractions believed to have contributed to the crashes.
Airlines that have resumed flying passengers on the 737 Max include Air Canada, American Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Aeromexico. The Max offers airlines lower operating costs and greater fuel efficiency than older models, albeit with a disastrous record.
Still, the approval to fly made available to airlines hundreds of planes at a time they are not needed.
WestJet, privately owned by Onex Corp., entered the pandemic with a fleet of 181 planes and about 14,000 employees. After reducing passenger capacity by as much as 90 per cent, the airline has 4,883 active and 5,089 on layoff. Currently, 59 of WestJet’s 178 planes are active, a number that includes operational spares, Ms. Bell said.
The company recently issued another 415 layoff notices to pilots at WestJet and its discount brand, Swoop.
WestJet chief executive officer Ed Sims, in a memo to employees, said the latest travel restrictions imposed by the federal government, including hotel quarantines, have reduced demand for seats even further. “The slow rollout of the vaccine and a lack of a co-ordinated testing regime continue to hinder efforts for recovery,” Mr. Sims said in the memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe and Mail.
“Thousands of WestJetters over the past 12 months have made incredible sacrifices to support cost-cutting measures and for that we are all grateful,” Mr. Sims said. “This was not a note I was expected to write a year after the pandemic hit. Despite this latest setback, I firmly believe we can look towards the future with optimism.”
Your time is valuable. Have the Top Business Headlines newsletter conveniently delivered to your inbox in the morning or evening. Sign up today.