Grounded Boeing 737 Max could be cleared to fly again as soon as this week, say crash victims’ families

Canadian families who lost loved ones on a Boeing 737 Max in 2019 say Transport Canada has told them the fleet will be cleared to fly again, possibly as early as tomorrow.

The aircraft has been grounded for 20 months in the wake of two deadly crashes. In March 2019, an Ethiopian Airlines flight plunged from the air southeast of the capital Addis Ababa minutes after takeoff, killing everyone onboard — including 18 Canadians and a family of permanent residents to Canada.

Five months earlier, another 737 Max owned by Lion Air plunged into the Java Sea shortly after takeoff, killing all 189 passengers.

Chris Moore’s 24-year-old daughter Danielle died in the Ethiopian crash. He took part in a video call this afternoon with roughly 10 other victims’ families, Transport Minister Marc Garneau and several officials from Transport Canada. Moore said they were told the planes would be cleared to fly again very soon.

“They were very confident they would be un-grounding it, even as early as tomorrow,” Moore told CBC News. “Which is crazy. How could you leave us in a lurch like that?”

Moore said that three people on the call — Nicholas Robinson, director of civil aviation at Transport Canada, Dave Turnbull, the department official in charge of aircraft certification, and a test pilot — assured the families that the department’s review process for the aircraft was thorough.

But Moore and other grieving family members say they still have safety concerns they feel haven’t been addressed, and don’t want the fleet cleared to fly yet.

“I don’t feel good about it,” he said. “I feel it was going to happen sometime, although it shouldn’t from my perspective. There’s still a lot of questions about the safety of that plane.”

Chris Moore protested outside Transport Canada on the anniversary of the Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed his 24-year-old daughter Danielle. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)

Roughly two weeks ago, the U.S. cleared the 737 Max to fly again. Transport Canada has been working with the United States’ Federal Aviation Administration and received a directive listing changes to the aircraft. The department’s safety experts have been doing their own independent review of those proposed changes to determine if the aircraft is safe to fly again.

Ethiopia’s investigation report pointed the finger at Boeing, saying flaws in the aircraft’s design caused the crash. Inaccurate sensor readings activated the MCAS anti-stall system, which pointed the plane’s nose down as pilots struggled to right it, the report said.

Garneau said earlier this month that if Canada approves the aircraft to fly again, it would be with conditions.

“These differences will include additional procedures on the flight deck and pre-flight, as well as differences in training,” he said in a media statement.

His office insisted Canada would not allow the plane to fly again until Transport Canada “is fully satisfied that all its safety concerns have been addressed, and that enhanced flight crew procedures and training are in place in Canada.”

For the past year, families have been calling on the federal government to launch an independent inquiry to determine why Canada didn’t ground the 737 Max after the first crash — and what it knew after the second disaster.

But the Liberals and Conservatives blocked the NDP’s motion during Thursday’s transport committee hearing, leaving victims’ families devastated. 

Moore and Paul Njoroge testified last week at the committee that the plane should remain grounded until after an inquiry. Njoroge lost his family in the Ethiopian Airlines crash — his wife, three children and mother-in-law. 

“I still have nightmares about how my wife must have felt helpless, seeing the fear in our children’s eyes, knowing they were about to die,” he told the committee on Nov. 24.

“We want Transport Canada to go back to the drawing board … I think that’s the only way Canadians can feel safe stepping onto a 737 Max.”

Rescuers work at the scene of an Ethiopian Airlines plane crash south of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on March 11, 2019. (Mulugeta Ayene/The Associated Press)

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