Air Canada is proud it has been able to manage the protracted grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX with minimal disruption to passengers. But the carrier is eager to see the safe return of the MAX after the aircraft is re-certified, as the twinjet represents a key element of its narrowbody fleet renewal strategy, which will see aged Airbus A320s exit the operation.
Following the March 2019 grounding of the MAX, Air Canada had to quickly adjust its schedule. It explained to Canada’s CBC News shortly thereafter that it consolidated two daily flights between Toronto and Calgary into one larger Airbus A330, changed the start dates on a number of new frequencies, and delayed seasonal services, among other changes.
During a media event today in Montreal to unveil Air Canada’s first Airbus A220-300, company vice president network planning Mark Galardo spoke candidly to Runway Girl Network about the MAX grounding, saying it posed significant schedule challenges, and continues to smart.
From the day of the grounding we had 24 MAX aircraft in our fleet. We were flying 24, basically, and you know that was roughly about 20% of our narrowbody fleet. So, when you lose 20% of your narrowbody fleet on line in a moment’s notice, [it’s] very hard to recover from that. But somehow, someway, through all our fancy footwork, and a very, very complex logistical piece of work, we got through it. Very, very minimal disruption to our customers.
And if you look at summer of 2019, we were supposed to have 36 of these aircraft, which represented like literally 25% of our fleet. And right now, as we speak, we are supposed to have 40 of them and then if we look at next summer, we are supposed to have 50.
So, getting through this is challenging. Obviously, we are counting on the MAX as a better aircraft than what it was replacing in our fleet. But we are getting through it. Right now, we are suspending [MAX operations] until April 30th and we’ll see how things transpire in the next couple of weeks and we’ll decide when the reintroduction date is, based on regulatory feedback.
Will Air Canada’s passengers be willing to fly the MAX once it is back in service, in Galardo’s personal opinion? “Well, I am of the view, of the personal view that when the aircraft is let’s say approved for flight, it is going to be one of the safest out there. It’s going to be thoroughly vetted and I think it’s normal that people will feel anxious. But I think in time everybody will rally around the aircraft,” he told RGN.
For passengers who are super anxious, will they be able to book around the MAX? “I am not exactly aware of the policy, but I can assure you there is a whole team that’s looking at that. Obviously, I think one of the things that is pretty key is that we put our pilots front and center because I think they are going to do quite a job convincing the population that this aircraft is completely safe,” said the Air Canada executive.
In 2014, Air Canada finalized a firm order for 61 737 MAX aircraft, saying the type would generate an estimated CASM reduction of approximately 10% compared to its existing narrowbody fleet.
The A220-300, meanwhile, is also part of Air Canada’s fleet renewal strategy. The carrier holds firm orders for 45 of the type, and the first revenue flight, Montreal-Calgary, will operate tomorrow. “And it’s going to do a whole bunch of routes between now and next summer. But it’s going to allow us to start some new routes. So Toronto to San Jose, California so linking Silicon Valley directly to Toronto. Montreal to Seattle, and you know there is no comparable aircraft in its family that can compete with this aircraft. And the economics of this aircraft allows us to start many new nonstop routes,” said Galardo.
“My opinion, it’s the best narrowbody product out there,” he added.
Photo of Air Canada MAX at top credited to RGN contributor Jason Rabinowitz
Editor’s note: RGN was a guest of Air Canada for today’s event in Montreal. The carrier covered your author’s flights to and from Toronto.
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