Air Canada cancels order for 11 Boeing 737 Max jets amid ongoing questions

MONTREAL — Air Canada is cancelling an order for 11 Boeing 737 Max aircraft amid ongoing production delays to the grounded jet, which continues to face questions around its safety.

Canada’s largest airline said Wednesday it will decrease the number of Max family aircraft ordered in a 2013 deal to 50 from 61. The 11 jets are Max 9s.

Despite the cancellations, Air Canada emphasized its belief in the Max program, saying the move reflects “evolving, long-term fleet planning requirements.”

“Air Canada is fully committed to the Boeing 737 Max aircraft,” the airline said. “Our requirements have evolved, so we are making adjustments to our order to better meet our anticipated needs.”

The Canadian government and countries around the world grounded the 737 Max last year following two crashes in a five months that killed all 346 people on board, including 18 Canadians.

The grounding has pushed back the expected delivery of the remaining 26 Max jets on Air Canada’s order book until well into 2021. The planes were initially slated to hit the tarmac this summer alongside the carrier’s existing fleet of 24 Max 8s — roughly 25 per cent of its narrow-body fleet.

Two months after suspending Max production, Boeing Co. continues to advise customers and suppliers that it expects approval from the Federal Aviation Administration in the middle of the year.

Shortly after, Air Canada removed the Boeing 737 Max from its operating schedule until June 30. The airline said last month it now expects to start reintroducing Max planes late in the third quarter.

WestJet Airlines Ltd. was slated to receive two Max jets last year and two in 2020 on top of the 13 now sitting idle. It has scrubbed the plane from its schedule until June 24.

The decision by the airlines — already reeling from a decline in travel triggered by COVID-19 — marks the latest in a series of delays that have reduced revenue and capacity and bumped up costs for the carriers, which have had to spend more on leases for aircraft that are less fuel-efficient.

On Wednesday, Boeing reported that it logged more commercial aircraft cancellations than new orders last month, marking a bleak start to 2020 for the manufacturer already reeling from two fatal crashes of its best-selling plane.

Some Boeing customers converted orders for larger planes. For example, aircraft leasing firm Air Lease converted nine Max planes into three 787s. Oman Air converted 10 Maxes into four 787s.

Meanwhile, questions around safety persist. Debris has been found in the fuel tanks of 70 per cent of grounded Boeing 737 Max jets that have been inspected by the company, Boeing confirmed last month.

Inspectors found the debris in 35 out of about 50 jets that were inspected. They are among 400 built in the past year that Boeing hasn’t been able to deliver to airline customers.

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