Westjet ready to fly 737 MAX as of January 21


Westjet will start non-commercial flights by mid-month then deploy the MAX between Calgary and Toronto as part of a gradual return to service

Airline’s plans are contingent on Transport Canada’s final approval

Westjet 737 Max
A Westjet Boeing 737 MAX departs Vancouver International Airport in December 2018 (Brett Ballah).

Canada’s Westjet said Tuesday it will be ready to return its fleet of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft to service in less than two weeks.

The announcement comes despite the fact Transport Canada has not approved use of the plane. The ministry cleared the way for the Max to return to service before Christmas, but has not given its final approval yet. That approval is expected “soon.”

“The FAA, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and numerous other regulatory bodies around the world have spent more than a year examining the MAX aircraft to provide recommended changes to software, pilot training and maintenance requirements,” said Westjet President and Chief Executive Officer Ed Sims in a statement. “We are confident with the changes they have mandated. In particular, the deliberate, detailed and independent scrutiny applied by Transport Canada’s National Aircraft Certification team, which prescribed additional requirements to pilot procedures and training, provides further confidence in the aircraft and its safe return.”

Other countries have already approve the Max’s return to service. American Airlines has been flying its fleet since December 29.

Westjet parked 13 MAX aircraft in March of 2019 following a Transport Canada order. The type was grounded around the world after a pair of fatal crashes. Investigators have linked the crashes to software installed on the Max to prevent aerodynamic stalls in certain phases of flight. Westjet has 43 unfilled MAX orders, according to Boeing.

2,000 hours of service

While they’ve been in storage, Westjet has run engines and checked critical systems weekly. It is also updating the plane’s systems to meet new safety requirements. It’s all happening under the watchful eyes of Boeing and Transport Canada. The airline estimates each aircraft will have had more than 2,000 hours of maintenance

“We’ve designed a new MAX-specific training programme that exceeds regulatory requirements,” said Jimmy-Dean Porter, Westjet’s Chief Pilot. “Once all the updates are complete, our 737 pilots will be required to conduct special simulator training before getting back on the flight deck.”

By mid-month, Westjet will fly the MAX on non-commercial flights.

Once the regulator signs off on the MAX’s return to service, Westjet intends to deploy the aircraft on its Toronto-Calgary route three times a week. That structure will be in place for at least a month. The airline will then deploy the plane on other routes as conditions warrant.

Westjet also said it will tell passengers where the MAX will be deployed.

“We are dedicated to restoring guest confidence in this aircraft through our safe operation, while providing the transparency and the flexibility that some of our guests may still require,” said Sims. “We will be forthcoming with our guests on where the MAX aircraft are flying, and we will be flexible with our change and cancel policy to ensure our guests can make their travel plans confidently.”

MAX in Canadian skies

In all, there were 41 MAX aircraft in Canadian fleets when the type was grounded. They flew routes as short as Toronto-Montreal, and as far afield as Hawai’i and Mexico.

But that was back before the pandemic, causing airlines to ground aircraft and cancel flights.

Air Canada had 24 MAXs in the fleet and expects another 16 to be delivered. Sunwing had four MAXs in its fleet. Neither has revealed specific plans yet for a return to service.

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