Canada Bans Boeing 737 Max Flights, Citing New Satellite Data
Canada’s transport minister banned all Boeing 737 Max jets from its airspace, saying that newly available satellite-tracking data suggests similarities between the deadly crash involving one of the jets in Ethiopia on Sunday and another accident last October.
The move adds pressure on the Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing, which so far have resisted calls to ground the jet. The F.A.A. has said it has seen “no systemic performance issues” that would prompt it to do so, but safety regulators in some 42 countries have now banned flights by the jets.
The crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 killed all 157 people on board. The circumstances appeared similar to those in the crash of a 737 Max 8 operated by Lion Air, an Indonesian carrier, last October in which 189 people were killed. In both cases, the jets crashed just minutes after erratic takeoffs.
During a news conference, Marc Garneau, the transport minister, said that on Wednesday morning officials and experts compared satellite tracing data showing the vertical path of the Ethiopian jet at take off with similar data from the Lion Air crash in October. Mr. Garneau, a former astronaut and engineer, said the similarities in the data exceed enough of a threshold to indicate a possible cause of the accident in Ethiopia.
“This is not conclusive, but it is something that points possibly in that direction, and at this point we feel that threshold has been crossed,” he said.
Mr. Garneau said that the two flights showed similar “vertical fluctuations” and “oscillations.”
Canada’s decision comes after Ethiopian Airlines said that one of two pilots on Sunday’s flight reported “flight-control problems” to air traffic controllers minutes before the plane crashed and told controllers that he wanted to turn back to Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa. The pilot was cleared to do so, three minutes before contact was lost with the cockpit, a spokesman for the airline said on Wednesday.
The disclosure suggests that a problem with the handling of the aircraft or the computerized flight control system could have been a factor. There has been no suggestion so far of terrorism or other outside interference in the functioning of the aircraft, which was only a few months old.
Officials examining the Indonesia crash have raised the possibility that a new flight-control system could have contributed to that earlier accident. As they banned flights by the aircraft this week, some safety regulators cited concerns that pilots would be unable to handle the aircraft if they were given inaccurate signals from key flight instruments.
“We are facing uncertainties about whether pilots have the courage or the capability to fly” if an aircraft has difficulties, said Li Jian, the deputy director of China’s Civil Aviation Administration, the first to ground the 737 Max. Europe and other countries in Asia have followed suit; roughly two-thirds of the Boeing Max 8 aircraft in the world have been pulled from use since Sunday’s crash.
The F.A.A. has cautioned against drawing too many similarities between the crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia before the investigation is completed. It could be weeks before investigators are able to point to the likely cause of the latest crash.
Mr. Garneau said his government told the office of Elaine Chao, the United States transportation secretary who oversees the F.A.A., about its decision in advance of Wednesday’s public announcement.
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The Ethiopian Airlines spokesman, Asrat Begashaw, said Ethiopia would ask a foreign country for help analyzing the flight data and voice recorders, known as the black boxes, recovered from the wreckage. He said the airline had not yet decided where to send the black boxes.
The two recorders must be taken to a specialized center to read their data, said Lynnette Dray, an aviation expert and senior research associate at University College London.
“If the boxes are intact, then they will be able to take the data off them and look at it immediately,” Dr. Dray said.
[Read more about Boeing’s efforts to contain fallout from the crash.]
The 737 Max is Boeing’s best-selling jet ever and expected to be a major driver of profit, with around 5,000 of the planes on order. The accidents have put Boeing on the defensive, and the aircraft maker issued a statement on Tuesday that said it had “full confidence in the safety of the 737 Max.”
The manufacturer has been updating its training guidelines and manuals so that airlines can teach their pilots to fly the planes more safely and easily.