After a nearly two-year ban, Transport Canada has taken the first step in potentially clearing the Boeing 737 Max to fly again by approving design changes to the aircraft after two deadly crashes.
In a letter obtained by CBC News, Transport Canada said it informed its U.S. counterpart on Wednesday that it plans to make an announcement today that it has validated a number of changes to the aircraft with “some unique Canadian differences.”
There are a number of steps that still need to be taken before the plane is cleared to fly again, including issuing a directive that outlines the design changes and mandating additional training in a simulator for air crew. These steps and others are expected to happen in January 2021, the department wrote.
“In the meantime, I can assure you all that the commercial flight restrictions for the aircraft in Canadian airspace remain in effect and will not be lifted until we are fully satisfied that all its safety concerns have been addressed,” wrote Nicholas Robinson, Transport Canada’s director general of civil aviation, in the letter.
In October 2018, a 737 Max owned by Lion Air plunged into the Java Sea shortly after takeoff, killing all 189 passengers. In March 2019, an Ethiopian Airlines flight plunged from the air southeast of the capital, Addis Ababa, minutes after takeoff, killing everyone onboard — including 18 Canadians and a family of permanent residents to Canada.
Countries around the world swiftly grounded the aircraft after the second crash. Canada came under criticism for being one of the last countries to do so. Transport Minister Marc Garneau later testified in front of MPs and said “we were scrambling for information” and “had no clear picture of what happened.”
Problems with anti-stall system
Ethiopia’s investigation report pointed the finger at Boeing, saying flaws in the aircraft’s design caused the crash. Inaccurate sensor readings activated the MCAS anti-stall system, which pointed the plane’s nose down as pilots struggled to right it, the report said.
Transport Canada has been working with other regulators around the world, but said it conducted its own independent review of the changes to the aircraft to determine if it’s safe to fly again. The U.S. has already cleared the plane safe to fly again and Boeing conducted its first flight again with media on board on Dec. 2.
This past summer, the department’s pilots did a series of flight tests on the updated version of the Boeing 737 Max and tested out the change in procedures that it deemed necessary, Transport Canada’s Robinson testified in front of MPs last month.
Some victims families of the Ethiopian Airlines crash have been calling on Canada to launch an independent inquiry before clearing the plane safe to fly again.