Any time a country or region imposes any sort of visa stipulation - even if it’s a waiver - the travel industry sighs a collective groan, knowing the obstacles and headaches to come.
OTTAWA — Effective immediately Transport Minister Marc Garneau has ordered the grounding of all Boeing 737 Max 8 airplanes in Canada, and has closed Canada’s airspace to the aircraft.
“Yes there will be some disruption. It’s unfortunate but we must put safety at the top of the agenda,” Garneau said at a press conference this morning. “The airlines have been very understanding. For the moment, caution has to dominate.”
While in the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s ET302 crash Garneau said he wouldn’t hesitate to fly on the aircraft, and stood firm in Canada’s refusal to ground the planes, he said in a press conference this morning that new data has come to light that resulted in the about-face.
Garneau said the details and coverage of the ET302 crash “has driven things home to us in a very personal way.” The flight killed all 157 people on board, including 18 Canadians. “This has been a great loss for our country,” said Garneau.
He said he and his panel of aviation experts have been reviewing the latest data in real time since Sunday’s crash and the resulting decision of countries and airlines around the world to ground the 737 Max 8s and close airspace to the aircraft.
While cautioning that the preliminary data is not conclusive, Garneau said the panel’s preliminary take on satellite tracking data from both the ET302 crash and the Lion Air crash “show similarities”. He added: “We feel that threshold has been crossed.”
Meanwhile, citing evolving commercial reasons unrelated to safety, including airspace restrictions being imposed by some of its partner destinations, Sunwing Airlines announced late last night that it had decided to temporarily suspend the operations of its four 4 Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft.
Sunwing says: “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.
“We will endeavor to minimize the impact of these schedule changes, which we believe is achievable given that the MAX 8 makes up less than 10% of our fleet.”
Sunwing has four 737 Max 8s. Air Canada has operated Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft since 2017 and has 24 of the aircraft. WestJet has 13.
Agents are fielding calls and emails from clients booked onto 737 Max 8s looking to change their flight plans.
Niche Travel Group’s Faith Sproule, based in Dartmouth, NS, sent an email update yesterday to her clients: “If you are departing Halifax on a direct flight to Mexico or the Caribbean this winter then you are NOT booked on a 737 Max 8 plane. Your direct Jamaica, Cancun, Punta Cana, Samana, Puerto Plata, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and St. Pete’s flights are NOT using 737Max 8s.”
Asked at this morning’s press conference if there was any pushback from Air Canada or WestJet when told about the decision to ground the 737 Max 8s, Garneau said no. “I would say there was no pushback. They realize the importance of safety.”
Garneau added that he and his team will be monitoring the situation and anticipates the return of the aircraft to the skies. In the meantime, he said, “Canadians expect safe air travel. I want them to be able to fly with confidence.”
Garneau also said there was “absolutely no political pressure” from the U.S. about Canada’s 737 Max 8 decision. The U.S. is now the only country with any substantial number of 737 Max 8s still allowing the planes to fly.
Air Canada is offering full fee waivers for passengers on impacted flights and says it will comply immediately with Transport Canada’s safety notice closing Canadian airspace to Boeing 737 Max aircraft operations until further notice.
“We are working to rebook impacted customers as soon as possible but given the magnitude of our 737 Max operations which on average carry 9,000 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.”
Air Canada adds: “We fully support this decision and will continue to work with Transport Canada towards resolution of this situation as soon as possible.”
WestJet has also announced that it is complying with Transport Canada’s decision to temporarily ground the Boeing 737 Max fleet.
“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.”
Sims adds that WestJet has 162 aircraft – or more than 92% of its overall fleet – that remain in service.
WestJet says it is contacting impacted guests to arrange for alternate travel plans.