On November 18, 2020, the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released an Airworthiness Directive for the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. Through this directive, the FAA is mandating its approved changes made to the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, and confirms it can return to service in U.S. airspace.
On December 17, 2020, Transport Canada aviation safety experts completed their independent review of the design changes to the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft and have validated these changes. Validation of these changes means that these modifications can be incorporated on Canadian registered aircraft.
This validation is an important first step in the eventual return to service of this aircraft in Canadian airspace. However, the return to service is complex, and comprehensive safety plans which require additional aircraft changes, maintenance and training must first be in place.
Questions and answers
Q1. Is Transport Canada approving the FAA’s changes?
A1. Transport Canada aviation safety experts have now completed their extensive, independent review of the design changes to the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, and have validated these changes recently certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The validation is an important first step in the process leading to the return of the 737 MAX to Canadian airspace. It allows for the implementation of Canadian design modifications on Canadian registered aircraft.
Transport Canada has worked extensively with the FAA and other key certifying authorities, including the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the National Civil Aviation Agency of Brazil (ANAC), as well as the three Canadian operators of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, and their pilot unions throughout the validation process of the aircraft to ensure all safety issues are addressed prior to a safe return to service of the aircraft.
Transport Canada will be working with Canadian airline operators, crews and union associations over the coming weeks on how the Canadian requirements will be implemented.
Q2. What are the next steps now that Canada has validated the MAX changes? How long would it be before we would see these aircraft in operation in Canadian airspace?
A2. The return to service of the Boeing 737 MAX is complex and the validation of the design changes is a first step. Now that Transport Canada has independently validated the design changes including changes to the aircraft software and Aircraft Flight Manual, the second step is finalizing the Airworthiness Directive (AD) that will clearly outline the actions Canadian operators must take to ensure their aircraft is safe to fly again.
This will include changes to the aircraft software associated with the Flight Control Computer that manages the Speed Trim System (STS) including the Maneuvering Augmentation Characteristics System (MCAS) that were identified as a contributing factors in both accidents; wire routing changes identified during the review of the aircraft following the grounding; and revisions to the Aircraft Flight Manual which include instructions and information necessary for the flight crew’s safe operation of the aircraft.
For the third step, Transport Canada will issue an Interim Order that will clearly outline the required training that Canadian air crew will be required to complete to operate the aircraft safely.
Throughout these steps, Transport Canada will continue to work collaboratively with Canadian airline operators and air crew to implement the enhanced flight crew procedures and training.
The department expects to issue the Canadian Airworthiness Directive, along with the Interim Order and training requirements in January 2021.
Q3. What are the differences with the FAA-approved aircraft? Can you explain the additional safety requirements Canada will require?
A3. Prior to a return to service of the aircraft in Canadian airspace, Transport Canada will require:
modifications to the aircraft as specified in the Canadian Airworthiness Directive;
incorporation of the revised pilot training syllabus into the Transport Canada-approved training program for each Canadian airline; and
aircraft maintenance checks to ensure the aircraft will operate safely, given the aircraft have been in storage for some time.
Specifically, the Canadian design changes for the Boeing 737 MAX will include an enhanced flight deck procedure that provides the option for a pilot-in-command to disable a loud and intrusive warning system (commonly called the “stick shaker”) when the system has been erroneously activated by a failure in the angle of attack sensor system. This feature will effectively reduce pilot workload given what has been learned from the two tragic accidents, and has been fully evaluated by Transport Canada’s flight test pilots.
There will also be differences in training including that associated with the enhanced flight deck procedure.
Q4. With the FAA approval, are Boeing Max aircraft now allowed in Canadian airspace?
A4. No. The commercial flight restrictions for the operation of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in Canadian airspace remain in effect and will not be lifted 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.
Q5. If Transport Canada requires additional safety requirements, does this mean it is not safe to fly the FAA-approved 737-MAX aircraft?
A5. The U.S. FAA is the state of design for the Boeing aircraft, and therefore the FAA has the final say on the aircraft design for U.S. operators. Transport Canada’s decision to put additional safety measures in place does not imply that a U.S.-configured aircraft is inherently unsafe.
In Transport Canada’s opinion, however, the additional measures to be required in Canada will provide the option for a pilot to reduce the cockpit workload in specific conditions, and also impose further clarity and emphasis on certain aspects of the pilot training syllabus.
Q6. How can Canadians be assured that this aircraft will be safe to fly?
A6. Transport Canada is committed to keeping Canadians, the travelling public, and the transportation system safe and secure. As part of this commitment, the department has developed an aircraft certification team that is globally recognized as being a leading authority on certification.
This team worked exhaustively for 20 months in its independent review and testing of the Boeing 737 MAX prior to taking the decision to validate the aircraft. This decision was only taken once the department was fully satisfied that all its safety concerns were addressed, and that enhanced flight crew procedures and training were identified.
While global certification authorities have worked extensively together in the review of this aircraft, the decision to certify/validate an aircraft is one that Canada has taken independently. The differences between the FAA and Transport Canada in procedures and training demonstrate these independent actions.