The entire fleet of Boeing’s popular 737 Max 8 and Max 9 planes have been grounded in an unprecedented global response to two deadly plane crashes in the last six months.
Canada and the U.S. were the last major holdouts as countries began banning the Boeing jets from their airspace after an Ethiopian Airlines crash killed 157 people, including 18 Canadians.
That changed late Wednesday morning, when Canada announced it had issued a rare safety order to ground an entire series of planes — 41 jets operated by Canadian airlines.
The U.S. followed in quick succession with President Donald Trump telling reporters at the White House that the two models of commercial jets from the American aviation company will temporarily be banned from flying in U.S. airspace.
The grounding of the planes is expected to create months of travel disruptions and cost airlines tens of millions of dollars.
With few countries supporting the jets’ continued operations, Boeing gave a “recommendation” to countries that had already grounded the planes to stand by that decision.
“We are supporting this proactive step out of an abundance of caution,” wrote Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg in a statement, while stressing the company has “full confidence” in the 737 Max jets.
“We are doing everything we can to understand the cause of the accidents in partnership with the investigators, deploy safety enhancements and help ensure this does not happen again.”
Ethiopian authorities said Wednesday that they will send the flight recorders recovered from the plane to an as-yet-unspecified European country for analysis.
The investigation, which includes Canadian and American officials, is now underway.
In announcing the ban, Transport Minister Marc Garneau cited new satellite data received Tuesday night, saying there appear to be similarities between Sunday’s crash outside Addis Ababa and the Lion Air 737 Max crash outside Jakarta last October.
“The new information, and I hasten to say this is new information that we received and analyzed this morning … suggesting a possible, although unproven, similarity of the Lion Air aircraft,” Garneau told reporters at a press conference in Ottawa.
Garneau stressed the new data was not a conclusive explanation of what happened to the Ethiopian Airlines plane. But he said it was sufficiently concerning that it “crossed the threshold” and convinced him to order the planes out of Canadian airspace.
“As the investigations have just started, it is too soon to speculate about the exact cause of the accident in Addis Ababa, and to make direct links to the Lion Air accident in Indonesia in October of 2018,” Garneau said.
Canada’s decision will inevitably lead to delays and diversions for air travellers flying to and from the country, Garneau said, as Air Canada, WestJet and Sunwing scramble to make alternative arrangements.
But Garneau said he received no pushback from Air Canada, which operates 24 of the 737 Max models, when he notified the airline Wednesday morning.
“They realize the importance of safety,” Garneau said.
One of the last Boeing 737 Max 8 aircrafts scheduled to fly into Toronto Pearson airport Wednesday night made the trip with no passengers on board. Two Air Canada pilots on the flight confirmed it was empty.
Last December, the Liberals published regulations for how airlines must accommodate travellers who have their flights delayed or cancelled – the so-called air passenger bill of rights. Under the proposed regulations, airlines would have to ensure that travellers make it to their destination – even if the travel is disrupted by forces outside the airlines’ control, such as Garneau’s safety order.
The regulations are not yet in force, however, meaning the airlines have few obligations to those who have travel plans disrupted by the government’s decision to ground the Boeing jets.
On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that Muilenburg made a “personal appeal” to Trump to allow the jets to continue flying. According to the paper, citing two unnamed sources, Muilenburg made a brief call to Trump to express “confidence in the safety of the 737 Max 8 jets.”
The call came after Trump publicly mused on Twitter that airplanes are becoming too complex, and said he wanted pilots, not Albert Einstein, flying his plane.
Garneau, who has a doctorate in electrical engineering and is a former astronaut, said “absolutely not” when asked if American officials had pushed Canada to allow the 737 Max 8 to continue operating.
He also said that Boeing had not attempted to discuss the matter with him.
Trump said Boeing’s Muilenburg, along with American airline companies, agreed with the decision to temporarily halt the use of 737 Max 8 and Max 9 jets.
Asked if Canada’s earlier announcement influenced his decision, Trump said the two countries had been working closely together.
“We were co-ordinating with Canada,” Trump said. “We were giving them information, they were giving us information. We very much worked in conjunction with Canada.”