Top StoriesAnalysis Paralysis - Marc Garneau

Analysis Paralysis - Marc Garneau

Analysis Paralysis - Marc Garneau
ABOVE: 737 Boeing Max 8 (photo credit: Caribb via flickr)

Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau's befuddled and perplexing response to the safety concerns being raised from around the world regarding the safety and reliability of the 737 Boeing Max 8 is being attributed to the influence of Boeing and its lobbyists' ability to override decisions by agencies set up to regulate air passenger travel and safety. Legitimate concerns are now being raised in Ottawa as to whether Boeing’s influence extends right in to the office of Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau. How else to explain Garneau puzzling response that he has no plans to ground Canada’s fleet of the Max 8 aircraft, but that, “all options are on the table."

Air Canada has 24 Boeing Max 8 planes in service and West Jet has 13. Sunwing announced yesterday they are grounding the Max 8 planes in their service. Boeing is one of the biggest players in the Washington lobbying influence game, spending millions annually to lobby Congress and the executive branch. Last year, records show the company spent over 15 million dollars lobbying in Washington Center for Responsive Politics. It is unclear how much the company spends on lobbyists in Ottawa.

Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau (photo credit: International Transport Forum via flickr)

In the past five months, two of the new Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes have crashed killing a total of 346 passengers. A November 2018 crash in Indonesia killed 189 people and a crash six minutes after take-off last Sunday form Addis Ababa Ethipia killed all 157 people on board, including 18 Canadians. Two were from the Ottawa area including a respected Carleton University Professor.

After the latest incident, U.S.-based Boeing 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. Strangely, this same line was repeated by the Federal Aviation Authority's acting administrator, Dan Elwell, who said that a review had shown, “no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft”. Elwell also said that no foreign civil aviation authorities had provided data that would warrant action and claimed if any safety issues were identified during an urgent review of the Ethiopian Airlines crash the FAA would, “take immediate and appropriate action.”

The statement seemed bizarre coming from a regulator that is supposed to oversee safety, especially in light of the obvious. In two incidents in five months, 346 people have died and Boeing still can't explain the cause of the accidents. On Monday, Germany banned flights by the Boeing 737 MAX 8 in its own national airspace.

"Safety comes first," said German Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer. "Until all doubts have been cleared up, I have ordered that German airspace be closed to all Boeing 737 MAX aircraft with immediate effect." The European Union Aviation Safety Agency followed on Tuesday saying it, “is taking every step necessary to ensure the safety of passengers.”

More troubling is that EASA has publicly stated that they believe it is not possible to rule out that the same cause may have affected both MAX 8 crashes and that they have lost confidence in the ability of the Boeing 737 Max 8. All EASA countries and many others including China, Indonesia, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, India have since suspended the planes. Of the top 10 countries by air passenger travel, only the United States, Canada and Japan have not grounded the 737 MAX 8. Interestingly, after the November incident Boeing announced it was putting new software on the planes to make them “safer”.

As Canada's Minister of Transportation, Marc Garneau is responsible for ensuring that the public health and safety is protected when it comes to transportation matters. He would be briefed and have access to all the same materials and information that led EASA, China, India and the dozens of other countries to ground the aircraft. Transport Canada has the full authority to ground the Boeing 737 MAX 8. So, with 346 deaths in 5 months, including 18 Canadians, and no explanation from Boeing as to the cause of these horrific crashes, what possible information could Mr.Garneau be waiting for before he does the right thing and suspends these planes?

It is clear he is reading the briefing notes from Boeing and not the regulators tasked with ensuring public safety. The union representing Air Canada flight attendants has said their attendants should not be forced to fly on Max 8 aircraft for safety concerns and hundreds of passengers from Air Canada and West Jet have called for refunds of their tickets and suspension of cancellation fees for Boeing 737 Max 8 flights. The airlines are refusing.

So, we appear to have a Minister of Transportation who is seemingly putting corporate business interests ahead of passenger safety. The question is, why? An obvious place to look is at the amount of influence Boeing and its lobbyists have with regulators and the Minister in Ottawa. 346 people, including 18 Canadians, are dead. What more information does he need?

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