A Boeing crash in Africa raises questions for Canadian airlines

An Air Canada Boeing 737 MAX 8 departs Vancouver. The airline has turned to the plane as its new narrow-body workhorse (photo: Brett Ballah).

The crash of an Ethiopian Boeing 737 Max 8 has raised questions about the safety of the aircraft that Boeing will do everything possible to answer after the second crash in less than five months in eerily similar circumstances.

Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 crashed just minutes after taking off from Addis Ababa. Early reports suggest the pilots reported having problems soon after takeoff, and the plane seemed to repeatedly climb and dive before crashing just outside the Ethiopian capital, killing 157 people.

A similar crash involving a Lion Air Max 8 killed 189 people in Indonesia in October.

“Boeing is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the passengers and crew on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, a 737 MAX 8 airplane,” Boeing said in a statement. “We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families and loved ones of the passengers and crew on board and stand ready to support the Ethiopian Airlines team. A Boeing technical team will be travelling to the crash site to provide technical assistance under the direction of the Ethiopia Accident Investigation Bureau and U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.”

Eighteen Canadians were among the victims. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed sympathy for the victims.

“On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our heartfelt condolences to those who have lost family, friends, and loved ones as a result of this tragedy. While the causes of the crash continue to be investigated, the safety and security of all Canadians remains our primary concern.”

Westjet uses the Max 8 on services within Canada and on flights to Hawaii and Europe (photo: Westjet).

For Canada’s two national airlines, answers can’t come fast enough. Air Canada and Westjet, have largely staked the future of their domestic services on the narrow-body plane. They are already facing questions from concerned passengers.

One passenger, Anthony Falls, tweeted that he would be returning to Edmonton from Puerto Vaillarta tomorrow on a Westjet MAX 8.

“Is there any concern flying this aircraft?” he wondered.

While the airline did not answer his question directly, Falls later tweeted that he trusts Westjet.

Other airlines were taking a more cautious approach. Cayman Airways decided to ground its pair of Max 8 aircraft for the time being.

“While the cause of this sad loss is undetermined at this time, we stand by our commitment to putting the safety of our passengers and crew first by maintaining complete and undoubtable safe operations, and as such, we have taken the decision to suspend operations of both our new Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft, effective from Monday March 11, 2019, until more information is received,” said Cayman Airways President and CEO, Fabian Whorms.

Neither Westjet nor Air Canada has indicated a similar move here.

The Max 8 boasts a 13 per cent better fuel efficiency over older 737 models, and in Canada is configured for up to 174 passengers.

A large crater marks the spot where an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737MAX8 crashed outside of Addis Ababa killing 157 people (photo: Ethiopian Airlines).

Friends and relatives of Canadian citizens believed to be on board can contact Global Affairs Canada’s 24/7 Emergency Watch and Response Centre by calling 613-996-8885 or 1-800-387-3124, or by sending an email to sos@international.gc.ca.

Ethiopian flies to Toronto from Addis Ababa five times a week on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

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