Canada, US ban 737 MAX flights citing new data

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Updated on the afternoon of 13 March

Declaring that safety “has to be paramount in our considerations” and “caution has to dominate”, Canada’s Minister of Transport today banned Boeing 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9 flights in Canadian airspace, citing “new data”. Shortly thereafter, US President Donald Trump ordered the MAX 8 and MAX 9 to be grounded.

The announcements from Canada’s Honourable Marc Garneau and later Trump follow the grounding of the MAX by regulators around the globe, including EASA, in the wake of the 10 March crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302.

In a statement, Garneau said: “My thoughts continue to go out to all those affected by the tragic aircraft accident involving an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Following advice from Transport Canada Civil Aviation experts, as a precautionary measure, I am issuing a safety notice to address this issue. This safety notice restricts commercial passenger flights from any air operator, both domestic and foreign, of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 and 9 aircraft – from arriving, departing, or overflying Canadian airspace. This safety notice is effective immediately, and will remain in place until further notice.”

He continued: “The advice the experts have provided is based on the information they have been receiving; the requirements for new procedures and training for Boeing 737 MAX 8 and 9 flight crews they have already put in place; and the latest information available from the incidents.”

During a press briefing, which was televised by Canada’s CPAC cable news, Garneau referenced “new data that we received this morning and had the chance to analyze” as a driver behind the decision. Aviation journalist Seth Miller later confirmed that the latest information provided to Transport Canada came courtesy of Aireon, whose new space-based ADS-B service is tracking aircraft globally.

Aireon says in a statement to RGN: “Our sympathies go out to the families of the passengers and crew of Ethiopia Airlines Flight 302. The Aireon space-based ADS-B system has the ability to monitor the data from all aircraft equipped with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) transponders and the system was able to capture information associated with Flight 302. At the request of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Transport Canada and several other aviation authorities, Aireon provided the data transmitted from the Flight 302 to support the accident investigation. The authorities are in receipt of the data and are in the process of their respective accident investigations. We cannot comment on the cause of the tragedy or the outcome of the investigation, only that we have provided the data. This unfortunate tragedy further highlights the need for a global, real-time air traffic surveillance system.”

The FAA also cited new information as the reason why it is grounding the MAX, according to American Airlines, which currently flies 24 MAX aircraft.

Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 was a scheduled flight from Addis Ababa to Nairobi, Kenya on 10 March. It crashed six minutes after takeoff, killing all 157 people on board. Less than six months earlier, on 29 October 2018, Lion Air flight JT 610 lost communication after takeoff from Jakarta. The aircraft sank into the Java Sea with 189 people on board.

Following the Lion Air accident, the FAA on 7 November issued an emergency Airworthiness Directive (AD) for the MAX, after analysis performed by the manufacturer showed that if an erroneously high single angle of attack (AOA) sensor input is received by the flight control system, there is a potential for repeated nose-down trim commands of the horizontal stabilizer. “This condition, if not addressed, could cause the flight crew to have difficulty controlling the airplane, and lead to excessive nose-down attitude, significant altitude loss, and possible impact with terrain,” stated the AD.

Transport Canada adopted the FAA AD when it was published last fall, and required Canadian airlines which operate the Boeing 737 MAX 8 and 9 aircraft to put new procedures in place and implement additional crew training. “We were one of the first countries to do so and not all countries have implemented this change. And these Canadian requirements for new procedures and training to protect against the risk identified went above and beyond the measures directed by the United States Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing – and above and beyond what other nations have done,” Garneau noted today.

The Canadian Transport Minister is not the first party to suggest that some operators are better prepared to support safe MAX operations than others. The Allied Pilots Association, which represents American Airlines’ pilots, in a revelatory statement said: “The flying public should also be aware that American Airlines’ Boeing 737 MAX planes are unique. After the loss of Lion Air Flight 610, Boeing disclosed that the MCAS [Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System] can be triggered by a single erroneous Angle of Attack (AOA) event. The two dozen 737 Max aircraft in the American Airlines fleet are the only ones equipped with two AOA displays, one for each pilot, providing an extra layer of awareness and warning.”

Even though some countries and carriers have clearly taken measures to enhance MAX safety, the aircraft type is now grounded in Canada and the US. Flight disruptions will be felt in both countries.

Garneau also stressed that it’s too soon to speculate about the cause of the accident in Addis Ababa, and to make direct links to the Lion Air accident in Indonesia in October 2018. Noting that his department has been closely monitoring the investigations by the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the FAA and the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority, he added: “My departmental officials continue to monitor the situation and I will not hesitate to take swift action, should we discover any additional safety issues.”

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In issuing a Continued Airworthiness Notification to the International Community (CANIS) this week, the FAA said it anticipates mandating design changes to the MAX’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) by AD no later than April 2019. The agency initially doubled down on its decision not to ground the MAX, saying in a statement yesterday evening that its review thus far “shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft. Nor have other civil aviation authorities provided data to us that would warrant action.”

Now in an unprecedented move, Trump (not the FAA) has publicly announced that his administration will follow other countries and ground the MAX.

Boeing in a statement says that while it continues to have confidence in the safety of the MAX, the airframer is recommending that the FAA temporarily suspend MAX operations.

North American operators of the MAX include American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines (which operates the MAX 9 variant), Air Canada and WestJet. Alaska Airlines is expected to launch MAX 9 flights in a few months.

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