A plea for a public inquiry from relatives of the Canadians who died in last year’s Boeing 737 Max crash was blocked by Liberal and Conservative MPs on Thursday, dealing a heartbreaking blow to the families’ attempts to get answers about the tragedy and Canada’s oversight of the plane.
“I was almost yelling at my monitor,” said a frustrated Chris Moore, who tuned into the online federal Transport committee hearing from his home in Toronto and watched as the motion was defeated by five Liberals and four Conservatives, who said a public inquiry either wasn’t necessary, or was premature.
Mr. Moore, whose 24-year-old daughter Danielle died when the faulty plane crashed in Ethiopia, has been seeking answers as to why Canadian regulators deemed the 737 Max to be safe, particularly after it crashed once in 2018 in Indonesia, raising concerns about a fatal design flaw.
Had Canada stepped in then, rather than endorsing the plane along with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), he argues it could have saved the lives of 157 people, including 18 Canadians who died in 2019 when the 737 Max plummeted to the ground in Ethiopia.
Mr. Moore and the other Canadian families affected have been calling for an inquiry for the past year, particularly after Transport Minister Marc Garneau waited nearly a year to grant them a meeting to discuss the disaster. However, when New Democratic MP Taylor Bachrach proposed the motion Thursday at the federal Transport committee, which has been examining Canada’s approval of the 737 Max, several MPs criticized it.
Though the committee failed to force Boeing to testify – the company ignored repeated requests – and several key questions about Canada’s scrutiny of the plane have gone unanswered, Liberal Helena Jaczek said, “I really feel that we have enough information. I really just feel that a public inquiry really couldn’t add any particular value.”
She was backed by Liberal Churence Rogers, who said the committee should be allowed to write its own report first, and that a public inquiry was “premature.” Meanwhile, Liberal Chris Bittle accused Mr. Bachrach of “Just trying for a quick motion,” and a “headline” in the newspapers. Conservative Stephanie Kusie also said a public inquiry would be “premature.”
The motion was defeated 9-2. Liberals Fayçal El-Khoury and Maninder Sidhu also voted against a public inquiry, as did Conservatives Michael Kram, Gerald Soroka and Doug Shipley.
Only Mr. Bachrach and Bloc Québécois MP Xavier Barsalou-Duval supported a public inquiry.
With the motion defeated, serious questions remain about the safety of the 737 Max – which have been unanswered at the committee – even as the federal government appears poised to clear a revamped version of the plane to fly in January.
Gilles Primeau, an expert in flight control systems, testified before the committee this week that he personally would not fly on the 737 Max because he believes some of the flaws in its design have not been corrected and it is not safe.
The MPs on the committee have been unable to get a clear answer from Transport Canada officials about key aspects of Canada’s decision to allow the plane to fly after the first disaster. When the first 737 Max crashed in late 2018, killing 189 people in Indonesia, evidence suggested software designed to stabilize the plane, known as the manoeuvring characteristics augmentation system, or MCAS, could instead force it into a deadly nosedive if a sensor failed.
After that disaster, the FAA conducted a risk analysis that determined further crashes could happen, and provided the preliminary results of that study to Canada. However, Transport Canada has never disclosed exactly what was in that preliminary analysis and why Canadian officials, rather than raise alarms or ground the plane, only obtained the full report after the second crash.
Nicholas Robinson, director-general of civil aviation for Transport Canada, told the committee Thursday that the department “does not routinely request this detailed analysis that the FAA does, but does request the information and the findings from it.” After the second crash, Transport Canada recognized, “there was something we didn’t have,” and asked for the full report. He did not elaborate on what each document contained.
Despite Ms. Jaczek’s assertion that the committee has “enough information” from the hearings it has conducted, Mr. Moore said he has sent several pages of questions to Transport Canada about how it deemed the plane safe. Those questions have not been answered in the committee process. He said several of the MPs appeared to struggle with the complex subject matter during the hearings, and were unable to challenge Transport Canada officials on technical matters involving their oversight of the plane.
Mr. Moore and other families, including Brampton father Paul Njoroge, who lost his wife, three children and mother-in-law in the second crash, were hoping a public inquiry would uncover more about Transport Canada’s decisions, so that Canadians could be assured proper scrutiny of Boeing is being conducted.
Several probes, including one conducted jointly last year by regulators from around the world, concluded that the FAA had outsourced much of its oversight of the new plane to Boeing’s own engineers, who withheld information about how it was designed. Among the data it withheld were details about how the MCAS operated.
However, those probes did not scrutinize Transport Canada’s own decisions to approve the 737 Max, and how much Canada relied upon information supplied by the FAA.
David Turnbull, director, national aircraft certification for Transport Canada, acknowledged that Canadian regulators should have looked closer at the MCAS system, and it was only “after the accidents” that they fully understood how it functioned.
“We can look back at that and we can acknowledge that that was an aspect of the original certification that was not done properly,” Mr. Turnbull said of Canada’s validation of the plane. “We based our decision on the information that was available at that time.”
Mr. Barsalou-Duval said evidence the committee heard that Transport Canada test pilots raised concerns about the 737 Max before it was certified deserve further investigation. “There were issues there, and with an inquiry, we would be able to see if I’m right or not,” he said.
The 737 Max has been grounded since March, 2019 while Boeing worked to correct the flawed MCAS software. Last week, the FAA gave the go-ahead for the redesigned plane to return to service. Mr. Robinson said Transport Canada’s validation decision on the plane was “imminent” and would likely come in January.
“There will be differences between what the FAA approved and what Canada will require of its operators,” he said. “These differences will include additional procedures on the flight deck, as well as differences in training.”
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