Victims’ families tell MPs Boeing 737 Max should stay grounded for now
Canadians who lost loved ones in a deadly crash on a Boeing 737 Max plane in 2019 told MPs today that the aircraft should remain grounded in Canada, even though the U.S. has cleared it to fly again.
Family members of people killed in 737 Max crashes told the House of Commons’ transport committee this afternoon they want Canada to launch an independent inquiry into the crashes before clearing the planes for service.
“I believe the plane is still unsafe to fly,” said Paul Njoroge, who lost his entire family last year on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302.
“I still have nightmares about how my wife must have felt helpless, seeing the fear in our children’s eyes, knowing they were about to die.
“We want Transport Canada to go back to the drawing board … I think that’s the only way Canadians can feel safe stepping onto a 737 Max.”
Canada’s 737 Max fleet has been grounded for 20 months in response to two deadly crashes. In March 2019, an Ethiopian Airlines flight plunged from the air southeast of the capital Addis Ababa minutes after takeoff, killing everyone onboard — including 18 Canadians and a family of permanent residents to Canada. Five months earlier, another 737 Max owned by Lion Air plunged into the Java Sea shortly after takeoff, killing all 189 passengers.
Ethiopia’s investigation report pointed the finger at Boeing, saying flaws in the aircraft’s design caused the crash. Inaccurate sensor readings activated the MCAS anti-stall system, which pointed the plane’s nose down as pilots struggled to right it, the report said.
Transport Canada has been working with the United States’ Federal Aviation Administration and received a directive listing changes to the aircraft. The department’s safety experts have been doing their own independent review of those proposed changes to determine if the 737 Max is safe to fly again.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau’s office said today the experts’ work is expected to conclude “very soon.”
‘Desolation and pain’
The families said today they want Transport Canada to explain why it approved the planes to fly in the first place, and why the fleet wasn’t grounded immediately after the crash in 2018.
Njoroge’s wife Carolyne Karanja, their three children (Ryan Njuguna, Kellie Pauls and Rubi Pauls) and mother-in-law Anne Karanja all died on board Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. He reminded MPs the 737 Max they were on blasted a nine-meter-deep crater in the ground when it hit.
“The tragic death of my family left me in a chasm of solitude, desolation and pain,” he said. “I am here today because I believe that the crash that killed my family was preventable.”
Njoroge said aviation regulators around the country were not “diligent enough” when they decided to allow the 737 Max to fly.
“Certainly, Canada would not have lost its 18 citizens and an unknown number of Canadian permanent residents had Transport Canada made prudent decisions after the crash of Lion Air Flight 610,” he said.
Garneau has been criticized by victims’ families for not grounding Canada’s 737 Max fleet of 41 planes after the first crash, and for Canada being one of the last countries to do so after the second crash.
Families want to know what data Canada had after the first crash when it issued a directive to pilots to memorize a 5-step process to deal with a potential problem with the plane.
Garneau said in March 2019 it would have been “premature” to ground the fleet before investigators could pinpoint the cause of the second crash.
Garneau told the transport committee in March 2020 that Canada was “scrambling for information” and “had no clear picture of what happened” until data showed similarities to the Lion Air crash. Garneau said he notified the U.S. on March 13, 2019, and it followed suit two hours after Canada grounded the plane.
Too many unanswered questions, said Chris Moore
Chris Moore’s 24-year-old daughter Danielle died in the Ethiopian crash. He reminded the committee that Transport Canada had questions about the 737 Max as early as 2016 — but Canada didn’t get answers from Boeing and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration before it approved the plane as safe to fly, according to government documents.
The documents show Transport Canada’s test pilots asked for more information about the plane’s automated anti-stall system before the 737 Max was certified, but didn’t get an explanation in time.
“Our government didn’t fully understand what they were validating,” said Moore. “Transport Canada was essentially rubber-stamping a doomed MAX plane. Eighteen Canadians perished and our government shrugged.”
David Turnbull, Transport Canada’s director of national aircraft certification, told the committee in March 2020 that the questions pilots asked about the aircraft’s anti-stall system form a regular part of the certification process. He insisted Canada would never allow the planes to fly if it was aware of any safety issues.
In a statement, Garneau’s office said today that Transport Canada wanted to know if a “stall warning system, versus a stall protection system” was being used that would have required that a “higher degree of design integrity be met.”
“In the end, Transport Canada was satisfied that the systems in question represent a stall identification system.”
Moore said today there are still too many unanswered questions.
“Did any engineer recommend grounding the plane?” he asked. “Did Canadian and American authorities feel superior in their knowledge and downplay the Lion Air crash because it occurred in a developing country? Would Canada have grounded the Max if the crash happened in Canada?”
The U.S. House Transportation Committee’s investigation released damning details about how Boeing “jeopardized the safety of the flying public” to keep up with production pressures, and cited a “culture of concealment” at Boeing that involved hiding flaws with the new MCAS system from 737 MAX pilots.
Garneau’s office said if Canada approves the aircraft to fly again, there will be conditions.
“These differences will include additional procedures on the flight deck and pre-flight, as well as differences in training,” said Garneau’s director of communications Amy Butcher in a statement to CBC News.
The office insisted Canada will not allow the plane to fly again until Transport Canada “is fully satisfied that all its safety concerns have been addressed, and that enhanced flight crew procedures and training are in place in Canada.”