The banning of Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft, and the related Max 9, from Canadian and U.S. airspace — following a similar ban by the European Union — will obviously cause a great deal of inconvenience for air travellers.
Indeed, it is already doing so. The expanded bans announced Wednesday created immediate headaches for travellers, including Canadians, who were suddenly faced with cancelled flights.
The timing of the move, based on concerns about the safety of the planes in the wake of Sunday’s crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight, isn’t great. Thousands of Canadians are away from home on March break and many will likely be scrambling to make alternate arrangements for return flights.
But Transport Minister Marc Garneau made the logical move with his announcement Wednesday that, after initially hesitating to ban the Max 8s from Canadian airspace, “new information” was prompting Canada to follow the example of the European Union. A few hours later, the U.S. also followed suit in banning the Max 8s. The planes have now been banned in more than 40 countries.
As inconvenient as the wide-spread ban of the Boeing jetliners may be, it seems like the move that had to be made in view of the evidence. The decision by Canada and the U.S. to ground the planes was based on “newly refined data from satellite-based tracking” of the Ethiopian Airlines flight which crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all 157 aboard, including 18 Canadians. There was reportedly enough similarity with an October crash of a Max 8 in Indonesia that killed 189 people to sound alarm bells about the aircraft.
Garneau cited the correlation between the two crashes in announcing Canada’s ban. He pointed out that in certain circumstances, the aircraft’s system attempts to tilt the plane’s nose down, contrary to pilots’ efforts. This was a pattern seen in both flights before they crashed, he explained.
Passenger-rights advocate Gabor Lukacs called it prudent for Garneau to suspend use of the Max 8s until questions are answered about the cause of the Ethiopian Airlines crash.
“Generally, one should always be erring on the side of caution when it comes to safety questions,” Lukacs told the Canadian Press 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.”
There could realistically be no other decision. The safety of air travellers must come ahead of convenience or money. Even though some vouched for the safety of the aircraft, it would be foolish to play Russian roulette with people’s lives if the evidence provides sufficient cause for concern.
While banning the aircraft’s use will cause headaches for travellers, airlines and Boeing officials in the short term, it will provide time for investigators and Boeing engineers to pinpoint the cause of the two crashes and, let’s hope, figure out a solution to the problem.
Flying can be a traumatic enough experience for jittery travellers without having to worry about a repeat disaster if there is indeed a common cause in these two jetliner crashes.