Canada grounds Boeing 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9 aircraft

Flight deck of a modern airliner at night (Boeing 737-800 Next Generation). Photo courtesy of © Can Stock Photo / FER737NG

Facing increasing pressure to ground Canada’s Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft, Transport Minister Marc Garneau has grounded all MAX 8 and MAX 9 aircraft.

“This safety notice restricts commercial passenger flights from any operator of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9 variant aircraft whether domestic or foreign from arriving, departing, or overflying Canadian airspace,” announced Garneau at a news conference Wednesday morning that started 45 minutes late. “This notice is effective immediately and will remain in place until further notice.”

As of Tuesday night, only Canada and the U.S. had not grounded the aircraft following Sunday’s plane crash just minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. On Tuesday, Garneau had resisted calls to ground it.

It is the second crash in six months for the aircraft, one of the most popular worldwide. October’s crash in Indonesia killed 189 people.

“The panel has been reviewing data in real time, and I can assure you it has been occupying our time 100 per cent,” said Garneau referring to the many experts consulted in Canada’s aviation industry after Sunday’s crash that killed 157 people, including 18 Canadians.

“The new information comes from satellite tracking data suggesting a possible, although unproven in the flight profile of the Lion Air aircraft, and I caution that this new information is not conclusive and that we must await further evidence hopefully from the voice and data recorders,” Garneau continued. “As the investigations have just started it is too soon to speculate of the exact cause of the accident in Addis Ababa and to make direct links to the Lion Air accident in Indonesia.”

Data and voice recorders recovered from the crash site in Ethiopia will be sent to Europe for analysis. A decision where to send the flight and voice recorders in Europe is expected to be made Thursday.

Some media reports said the pilot reported flight control problems, not an external issue. Reuters quoted a spokesperson for Ethiopian Airlines who said the pilot had requested to turn back and was granted permission.

Garneau told reporters he informed Canada’s airlines Wednesday morning of his decision, and there was no push back from the air carriers. He also informed the Federal Aviation Association in the U.S.

Sunwing had already grounded its Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft for what it called “evolving commercial reasons” unrelated to safety including airspace restrictions in other countries.