Garneau orders grounding of all Boeing 737 Max 8s over safety concerns

OTTAWA — Transport Minister Marc Garneau is grounding all Boeing 737 Max 8 airplanes in Canada over safety concerns arising from the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight that killed all on board, including 18 Canadians.

In a news conference in Ottawa Wednesday morning, delayed twice by what Garneau said was incoming new information, the minister called the decision to ground the plane a precautionary move that was made after a review of all the available evidence.

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The "safety notice" means none of the aircraft can fly into, out of, or over Canada, he said: "I will not hesitate to take swift action should we discover any additional safety issues."

While aviation experts warn against drawing conclusions until more information emerges from the crash investigation, numerous jurisdictions — including China, Germany, the United Kingdom and the European Union — have grounded the Max 8 or banned it from their airspace.

Garneau said evidence about multiple Boeing 737 Max 8 flights suggests a worrying correlation between the Ethiopian Airlines crash and another off Indonesia in October.

Passenger-rights advocate Gabor Lukacs said Wednesday that it would be prudent for Garneau to suspend use of the aircraft until questions are answered about what caused the Ethiopian crash.

"Generally, one should always be erring on the side of caution when it comes to safety questions," he said from Halifax. "If there is enough evidence of a potential harm, and in this case I think there is evidence of potential harm, then the prudent thing is to ground those aircraft."

He said airlines should allow passengers to rebook on other planes or cancel their tickets without penalty if they have apprehensions about flying on a Max 8.

In a statement Wednesday, Air Canada spokeswoman Isabelle Arthur said the airline has a "flexible rebooking policy" that includes options to change flights to another aircraft if space permits, but wouldn't indicate if that comes with a fee.

Garneau said people with flights affected by the grounding should contact their airlines to find out what to do.

"Based on real information and data, and ongoing consultations with government safety regulators including Transport Canada and the FAA, we have full confidence in the safety of our fleet and operations and we continue to operate the 737," she said in an email.

Air Canada, along with Southwest and American Airlines, have been the major outliers in resisting a grounding of the planes. Air Canada has 24 Max 8 aircraft, which it uses mainly for domestic and U.S. routes, while Calgary-based WestJet Airlines Ltd. has 13 Max 8s.

Air Canada cancelled London-bound flights from Halifax and St. John's, N.L., after the United Kingdom banned all Boeing Max 8 jets from its airspace.

The U.S.-based Boeing has said it has no reason to pull the popular aircraft from the skies and does not intend to issue new recommendations about the aircraft to customers.

The Federal Aviation Administration has also backed the jet's airworthiness and said it is reviewing all available data.

Companies in this story: (TSX:AC, TSX:WJA)

— By Alison Auld in Halifax and Jordan Press in Ottawa, with files from the Associated Press

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