Sunwing Airlines temporarily grounds Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft
Jackie Dunham, with files from Genevieve Beauchemin and CTV Vancouver's Penny Daflos
Published Tuesday, March 12, 2019 10:09AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, March 12, 2019 11:02PM EDT
Sunwing Airlines has temporarily grounded its four Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft but says the move has nothing to do with safety issues, while Air Canada workers are expressing concerns.
“For evolving commercial reasons unrelated to safety, including airspace restrictions being imposed by some of our partner destinations, Sunwing Airlines has taken the decision to temporarily suspend the operations of our 4 Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft,” Sunwing said in a statement Tuesday night.
Earlier in the day, Air Canada was forced to cancel flights to London after the U.K.’s Civil Aviation Authority banned the aircraft from its airspace following the Ethiopian Airlines disaster that killed 157 people, including 18 Canadians and several more permanent residents of Canada.
In a statement, Air Canada said passengers scheduled to fly from Halifax to London and St. John’s, N.L., to London on Tuesday and Wednesday will be rebooked on other flights departing from Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa.
The U.K. is the latest region to ground flights involving Boeing 737 Max 8 jets in response to growing concerns about the aircraft’s safety after it was involved in two deadly crashes in the past five months.
Since Sunday’s tragedy, the European Union and more than 50 countries around the world, including Australia, India, Singapore, Ethiopia, Indonesia, and China, have grounded or closed their airspace to the relatively new Boeing plane.
Owner of Canadian Aviator Publishing Steve Drinkwater said it was “unprecedented that so many countries have reacted to this the way they have without having any evidence to suggest that it's warranted.”
Air Canada operates 24 Max 8 aircrafts while WestJet owns 13 of the aircraft in its fleet. Some Air Canada trips including some to and from Europe have been cancelled. Some passengers were even temporarily stranded in the French-owned, Caribbean-area island of Martinique.
In Canada, Transport Minister Marc Garneau told reporters the government currently has no plans to ground the aircraft here and said he would board a Boeing 737 Max 8 “without hesitation” when asked about Canada’s response to the crash on Monday.
“It was a sunny day, an experienced pilot, the plane was brand new. But we know little else,” he said, adding the government is working with authorities from the U.S, where the jet was made, to determine the cause of the crash. “I will not hesitate to take any action necessary when we discover what that cause is.”
The minister’s remarks followed a call by the Air Canada Pilots Association for Garneau to take “proactive action to ensure the safety of the Canadian travelling public” on Monday morning. A Union representative for Air Canada’s flight attendants says crews also have safety concerns.
Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration is facing mounting criticism for also insisting the Max 8 jet is airworthy. But at least one aviation expert told CTV News the Boeing jet is the gold standard in aircraft safety and claimed the FAA isn’t going to jump the gun without concrete proof.
FUTURE TRAVELLERS PANIC ONLINE
Travellers have been reaching out to the Canadian airlines on Twitter questioning their continued use of the Boeing 737 Max 8 in the wake of the Ethiopian Airlines tragedy.
On Sunday, the Ethiopian Airlines jet crashed in clear weather minutes after takeoff, killing 157 people including 18 Canadians. Five months earlier, the same model of aircraft flown by Indonesia’s Lion Air plunged into the ocean and killed 189 people.
“Hey @aircanada - if I’m flying a 737 Max soon can I change to another aircraft without charge? Or you going to force me to fly?” one man asked the airline on Monday.
“@WestJet are there any plans to ground the reported 15 Max 8 planes you currently have. I have a flight on one of those planes after calling to confirm. I’m not comfortable. WHAT ARE YOU DOING ABOUT THIS!!!” a woman tweeted on Monday.
In a statement to CTV News, a spokesperson for Air Canada said the airline has been following the investigation closely.
“These aircraft have performed excellently from a safety, reliability and customer satisfaction perspective,” the statement read.
A spokesperson for WestJet said the company “remains confident” in the safety of their fleet.
“We have flown five different variants of the Boeing 737 since 1996, and the fleet currently operates around 450 safe daily B737 departures,” the airline said.
DESPITE CRASH, NORMAL CANCELLATION POLICIES STILL IN PLACE
Canadian airlines have been trying to reassure customers worried about flying on one of the jets in the future with their safety records and the training their flight crews must complete.
In a statement to CTVNews.ca, a spokesperson for WestJet said passengers wishing to make changes to their reservation will be subject to the airline's normal change and cancellation policies.
CTV Vancouver’s Penny Daflos reported that Canadian airlines have been telling customers their regular cancellation and rescheduling policies will still apply despite the crash.
The fact that the same type of plane went down shortly after takeoff in both the Ethiopia and Indonesia crashes has led to speculation about the aircraft’s safety. However, experts have cautioned against drawing conclusions about the aircraft as it is still very early in the investigation into the Ethiopian Airlines crash.
Aviation analyst Phyl Durdey said nothing is definitive yet in terms of the cause of the crash.
“We can’t jump to conclusions and say ‘Yes the airplane’s at fault,’” he told CTV News Channel on Monday.
With files from The Canadian Press