Transportation Minister Marc Garneau has agreed to meet with relatives of the Canadians killed in last year’s Boeing 737 Max disaster, who have been trying to speak with the minister since the crash more than 10 months ago.
The families want to discuss Transport Canada’s approval of the fatally flawed 737 Max, and the government’s decision not to immediately ground the planes, two of which plummeted to the earth in the span of five months. A crash in late 2018 in Indonesia killed 189 people. Another 157 people, including 18 Canadians, died last March when a second 737 Max crashed in Ethiopia.
Both disasters have been linked to a faulty computer system that forced the plane into a nosedive. Boeing, which designed the aircraft, and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, which certified it, are facing questions about the 737 Max’s flaws at hearings in Washington, which some of the Canadian families have attended.
But the families also want a public hearing in Canada to examine Transport Canada’s endorsement of the 737 Max. Introduced in 2017, the new aircraft had more fatalities in its first 48 months than any other commercial airliner.
Until now, the families had been granted only one meeting with a Transport Canada official, which was held in private.
Mr. Garneau agreed to meet with the families after The Globe and Mail reported two weeks ago that the relatives have been trying since early last summer, through e-mails and phone calls, to arrange a meeting. A Transport Canada official confirmed this week that the minister’s office has since reached out to set up the conversation.
Chris Moore, whose 24-year-old daughter, Danielle, was killed in the second crash while on her way to Kenya to work with the United Nations, said he believes Canada needs to re-evaluate how it approves new plane designs, including Transport Canada’s heavy reliance on information from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Mr. Moore said the families also want to know why there wasn’t a bigger push to ground the plane after the first crash.
“They could have easily grounded it” then, Mr. Moore said. “It was the safe way of doing things, and they had that opportunity and they squandered it. Why? I don’t know. And that’s what I want to know: how much faith did they put in the FAA?
“What were the discussions? I would presume that someone had said, ‘Why don’t we ground it?’ Who said no?”
Internal Transport Canada e-mails The Globe obtained through Access to Information show that Mr. Garneau acknowledged after the second crash that there was “much discussion” when the first 737 Max went down in October, 2018. However, Transport Canada opted to give Canadian pilots an emergency five-step checklist aimed at counteracting the faulty computer system, known as the manoeuvring characteristics augmentation system (MCAS). However, some pilots have told The Globe the five-step system wasn’t fail-safe.
The pilots of an Ethiopian Airlines plane that crashed in March had been given similar procedures to counteract the MCAS, but investigators found that multiple alarms and alerts in the cockpit, and conflicting information from the aircraft’s sensors, impeded their ability to diagnose the problem and react fast enough.
The internal Transport Canada e-mails also showed that Mr. Garneau’s initial reaction to the March crash was to wait for signals from the United States before acting. Although countries around the world soon grounded the plane, Canada and the United States waited nearly four days.
Evidence from public hearings in Washington has shown serious flaws in the FAA’s oversight of the 737 Max.
Under an agreement with the United States, the FAA certifies new aircraft designs and Canada validates the work – essentially double checking the conclusions. However, Canadian regulators see only what the FAA gives them. The Globe reported last month that Canada approved 71 design changes from the previous model of 737 in its endorsement of the Max, but the MCAS system was not part of the information it reviewed.
The Globe’s investigation detailed that, in March, Transport Canada ignored one set of data that other countries used in their decisions to ground the plane, and waited days to obtain more data, while allowing the Max to continue flying. The FAA also shared the preliminary results of a risk analysis on the Max after the first crash that indicated further crashes were possible. But Transport Canada did not get the full version of the report until five months later, after the second disaster.
Mr. Moore said the families want to know why, nearly a year later, Canada has had no public hearing into the government’s endorsement of the plane.
Mr. Moore said he understands that responding to this month’s plane crash in Iran could delay the meeting with Mr. Garneau. "One of the things [Transport Canada] said is that the minister is busy with the Iran crash. And I said, you know, he should deal with that first,” Mr. Moore said. “We’ve been waiting 10 months to meet with him. We’ll wait.”