In a major development, Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau said Canada is suspending departures, arrivals and flights over the country involving the Boeing 737 Max 8 and Max 9 aircraft.
The decision came after Garneau and senior officials reviewed new evidence this morning from satellites that showed “possible but unproven similarity” in the Boeing 737 Max crashes from Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air.
Garneau cautioned the jury is still out, but he said Canadians deserve full protection in the air.
“We want them to be able to fly with confidence.”
The decision will undoubtedly have a major impact on Air Canada and WestJet, which will have to scramble to find new ways of transporting customers across Canada and around the world.
Air Canada has 24 Boeing 737 Max 8 planes, while WestJet has 12.
In a statement posted on their media room site, Air Canada said it will “comply immediately with Transport Canada’s safety notice closing Canadian airspace to Boeing 737 MAX aircraft operations until further notice.
“Air Canada’s cancellation and rebooking policies are in place with full fee waiver for affected customers. We are working to rebook impacted customers as soon as possible but given the magnitude of our 737 MAX operations which on average carry nine to twelve thousand customers per day, customers can expect delays in rebooking and in reaching Air Canada call centres and we appreciate our customers’ patience.
“Customers are further advised to check the status of their flight on aircanada.com prior to going to the airport.
“We fully support this decision and will continue to work with Transport Canada towards resolution of this situation as soon as possible,” Air Canada said.
WestJet today announced it also is complying with Transport Canada’s decision.
“We respect the decision made by Transport Canada and are in the process of grounding the 13 MAX aircraft in our fleet,” said Ed Sims, WestJet President and CEO. “This decision has an impact on the travel plans of our WestJet guests and we ask for understanding as we work to rebook all guests affected as quickly as possible.”
WestJet has 162 aircraft or more than 92 per cent of its overall fleet that remain in service. Guests can book with confidence knowing that WestJet continues to fly throughout the network with the safety of guests and employees at the forefront.
WestJet is contacting impacted guests to arrange for alternate travel plans.
Garneau said there was “no pushback” from either WestJet or Air Canada when he told them of his decision and that both airlines “realize the importance” of the issue.
The minister said airlines and passengers in Canada – and around the world – will be impacted by the grounding decision.
“Yes, there is some disruption, and, yes, it’s unfortunate. But we have to put safety at the top of the agenda.”
Garneau said Canadian airlines have been “very understanding,” but that “there will be some disruptions.”
The minister said he hopes to resolve the Boeing 737 Max issue soon and get them back in the air.
Sunwing early Wednesday suspended operations of its four Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft, the only Canadian airline to do so.
In doing so, ,Sunwing joined aviation authorities in United Kingdom, Germany, France, Australia, Indonesia, China and other countries, who have either grounded or ordered that none of the Boeing MAX 8 aircraft fly in their airspace.
In a statement sent Tuesday night, Sunwing said they have confidence in the investigative process and handling of the air-worthiness investigation by the FAA and Transport Canada and will work to minimize the impact of the schedule changes, something they say can be done as the MAX 8 makes up less than 10 percent of their fleet.
“For evolving commercial reasons unrelated to safety, including airspace restrictions being imposed by some of our partner destinations, Sunwing Airlines has taken the decision to temporarily suspend the operations of our 4 Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft. We are in the process of revising our flying schedule to accommodate the temporary removal of our MAX aircraft from service and we appreciate the patience of our retail partners and customers while we work to communicate these updates. “
In a statement today, Sunwiing said it supports Garneau’s move and that it “will continue to follow their lead on this matter. We are finalizing a revised schedule to accommodate the temporary removal of our MAX aircraft from service and we appreciate the patience of our retail partners and customers while we work to communicate these updates. We will endeavor to minimize the impact of these schedule changes and we will not be cancelling any flights as a result.”
Air Canada and WestJet, the only two other Canadian airlines with the aircraft in its fleet, have been saying they were confident in the safety of its operations and fleet.
Garneau had said Monday it would be premature to speculate about the cause of the accident and that his department is working with the American Federal Aviation Administration to determine if action is required.
Canada’s action serves to further isolate U.S. authorities, who so far have resisted pressure to ground the Boeing 737 Max.
The union representing Air Canada’s flight attendants, meanwhile, said it welcomes Garneau’s decision to close the Canadian air space to Boeing 737 airplanes.
“In light of the new data received by the federal government, we welcome the Minister’s decision to err on the side of prudence until the analysis of the causes of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash is completed,” sayd the president of the Air Canada Component of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Wesley Lesosky.
The Air Canada Component of CUPE represents more than 8,500 flight attendants at Air Canada mainline and Rouge.
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