Garneau calls for flight simulators before Max 8s can return to Canadian skies

MONTREAL — Transport Minister Marc Garneau says airlines hoping to fly the Boeing 737 Max 8 in Canadian airspace must first train their pilots using a flight simulator.

The call goes further than recommendations from U.S. regulators as training procedures for the grounded plane come under continued scrutiny following two deadly crashes.

“Simulators are the very best way, from a training point of view, to go over exactly what could happen in a real way and to react properly to it,” Garneau said.

“It’s part of it — the software fixes…and the training itself, which in my mind requires simulation time,” he said at an event in Montreal Wednesday.

Garneau’s comments highlight the potential hurdles to landing on a common set of standards and getting the Max 8 back into the air.

Until recently, most U.S. airlines did not require flight simulation for pilots of the Max 8, which aviation authorities across the globe grounded in the wake of the deadly Ethiopian Airlines tragedy on March 10. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that American Airlines will start to use flight simulators, a significant shift.

“As a result of the continuing investigation into both aircraft accidents, we are looking at the potential for additional training opportunities in co-ordination with the FAA and Allied Pilots Association,” American Airlines said in an email Wednesday.

On Tuesday, however, a panel appointed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said pilots will not need new training on flight simulators to learn how to operate the Boeing jet. The group said in a draft report that computer and classroom instruction about new anti-stall software should be adequate for pilots who have flown earlier versions of the 737.

Garneau said he feels “strongly about simulators,” stressing their effectiveness and drawing on his experience as an astronaut.

“From our point of view, it’s not going to be a question of pulling out an iPad and spending an hour on it,” he added, referencing an American Airlines pilots union statement that pilots who were already qualified for Boeing 737-800s took a one-hour, iPad-based training program to fly the Max 8.

Garneau closed Canadian skies to the Max 8 last month over safety concerns arising from the erratic flight path of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 that bore startling parallels to a fatal Lion Air crash off the coast of Indonesia on Oct. 29.

The two flights, both on Max 8s, killed a total of 346 people, including 18 Canadians on board the Ethiopian Airlines flight.

The global grounding of more than 375 Max 8s has impacted scores of airlines, including Air Canada, WestJet Airlines Inc. and Sunwing Airlines Inc.

Air Canada — where 24 Max 8s make up about 10 per cent of its main 243-plane fleet — froze its sunny 2019 financial guidance last month “in light of the current uncertainty.” Older replacement aircraft such as the Airbus A320 are not as fuel efficient and others can only avoid maintenance for so long before heading back to the hangar, further reducing capacity.

Garneau’s remarks came after an announcement highlighting new incentives to buy electric cars.

Starting next month, Canadians who buy or lease an eligible electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicle will get $5,000 off the purchase, Garneau said. Shorter-range plug-in hybrid cars come with a $2,500 incentive.

The minister said Transport Canada is working out the logistics of the discount “at lightning speed,” with plans on how to dole it out still uncertain as the clock ticks down to May 1.

The 2019 budget set aside $300 million for the federal purchase incentive.

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