Sunwing first Canadian airline to ground 737 Max 8 jets
OTTAWA -- Transport Minister Marc Garneau is expected to clarify Ottawa's position today on the type of aircraft that crashed in Ethiopia, as Canada continues to fly the planes that have been grounded by dozens of other countries.
His discussion of the Boeing 737 Max 8 later this morning will come after he said Tuesday that he saw no reason to ground the aircraft, although he noted that "all options are on the table."
Toronto-based Sunwing Airlines became the first Canadian carrier to temporarily ground its four Max 8 aircraft in the wake of the Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed all 157 people on board, including 18 Canadians. But Sunwing said it made the decision late Tuesday for "evolving commercial reasons" unrelated to safety, including airspace restrictions in other countries.
While aviation experts warn against drawing conclusions until more information emerges from the crash investigation, much of the world, including the European Union, has grounded the Max 8 or banned it from their airspace.
Passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs said Wednesday that it would be prudent for Garneau to suspend use of the aircraft until questions are answered about what caused the Ethiopian crash.
"Generally, one should always be erring on the side of caution when it comes to safety questions," he said from Halifax. "If there is enough evidence of a potential harm, and in this case I think there is evidence of potential harm, then the prudent thing is to ground those aircraft."
He said airlines should allow passengers to rebook on alternate planes or cancel their tickets without penalty if they have apprehensions about flying on the Max 8.
In a statement Wednesday, Air Canada spokeswoman Isabelle Arthur said the airline has a "flexible rebooking policy" that includes options to change flights to another aircraft if space permits, but wouldn't indicate if that comes with a fee.
"Based on real information and data, and ongoing consultations with government safety regulators including Transport Canada and the FAA, we have full confidence in the safety of our fleet and operations and we continue to operate the 737," she said in an email.
Air Canada, along with Southwest and American Airlines, are the major outliers in resisting a grounding of the fleet. Air Canada has 24 Max 8 aircraft, which it uses mainly for domestic and U.S. routes, while Calgary-based WestJet Airlines Ltd. has 13 Max 8s.
Air Canada cancelled London-bound flights from Halifax and St. John's, N.L., after the United Kingdom banned all Boeing Max 8 jets in its airspace.
The U.S.-based Boeing has said it has no reason to pull the popular aircraft from the skies and does not intend to issue new recommendations about the aircraft to customers.
The Federal Aviation Administration has also backed the jet's airworthiness and said it was reviewing all available data.
-- By Alison Auld in Halifax, with files from the Associated Press