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Canada grounds Boeing 737 Max aircraft

Last Updated Mar 13, 2019 at 11:40 am MST

Transport Minister Marc Garneau answers a question during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, November 1, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Canada has now moved to ban the use of Boeing 737 Max 8s and 9s.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau says a safety notice has been issued, meaning the new type of aircraft is now banned from flying in or above Canada. A Boeing 737 Max 8 plane was involved in the deadly Ethiopian Airlines crash on Sunday that left 157 people dead, including 18 Canadians.

Garneau says the decision was made after new information about Sunday’s crash was received Wednesday morning. He cites some evidence suggests a worrying correlation between the Ethiopian Airlines crash and one in Indonesia just this past October.

“The new information, and I hasten to say this is new information that we received and analyzed this morning, comes from validated satellite tracking data suggesting a possible, although unproven, similarity in the flight profile of the Lion Air aircraft,” the minister said. “I caution that this new information is not conclusive, and that we must await further evidence, hopefully, from the voice and data recorders.”

Garneau adds it’s still too soon to speculate about the exact cause of the crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302.

The safety notice takes effect immediately, and will remain in effect until further notice. Garneau says any flight currently in the air on its way to Canada will be allowed to land.

The government’s announcement comes just a day after Garneau had said he saw no reason to prohibit flying the planes in Canada, although he did note that “all options are on the table.”

Sunwing Airlines was the first Canadian carrier to temporarily ground its fleet of 737 Max aircraft, following Sunday’s crash, joining a growing number of other carriers worldwide who had also stopped using the type of plane.

On Tuesday, the European Aviation Safety Agency moved to keep the aircraft out of the air over all of Europe.

Garneau says there have been no complaints raised by pilots operating Canadian planes about the Boeing 737 Max aircraft. However, multiple media reports have suggested several complaints have been made by pilots in the U.S.

The decision to ground the plane is being described by the federal government as a precautionary move.

Passengers and the grounding

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.”

Air Canada says it has a ‘flexible rebooking policy’

Air Canada spokeswoman Isabelle Arthur says in a statement the airline has a “flexible rebooking policy” that includes options to change flights to another aircraft if space permits.

“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 a statement, Air Canada said its “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 12,000 customers per day, customers can expect delays in rebooking and in reaching Air Canada call centres and we appreciate our customers’ patience,” the airline said.

Air Canada added it supports the decision.

WestJet working to re-book affected customers

WestJet says it respects the decision made by Transport Canada.

“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,” the company said in a statement.

“We have 162 aircraft or more than 92 per cent of our overall fleet that remain in service,” WestJet said, adding it will continue to fly throughout its network.

Anyone affected by the grounding is being asked to contact their airline to find out what to do.

Air Canada has 24 Max 8 planes used mainly for domestic and U.S. routes. Meantime, WestJet has a fleet of 13.

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 is reviewing all available data.

Meanwhile, the Air Canada Pilots Association says the decision to ground the aircraft was a difficult one to make “but ultimately important to ensure continued public confidence in aviation.”

-With files from The Associated Press