Canada’s WestJet returned the Boeing 737 Max to revenue service on 21 January with a flight from Calgary to Vancouver, becoming Canada’s first airline to fly the aircraft commercially following an almost two-year pause.
The Calgary-headquartered carrier says flight WS115 carried 71 passengers and arrived in Vancouver ahead of schedule due to a strong tailwind. The aircraft will return to Calgary later the same day.
“The return of WestJet’s Max aircraft marks an operational milestone after 22 months of intense review and considerable learning,” says airline chief executive Ed Sims. “WestJet’s preparation, our processes, due diligence and philosophy of safety above all other considerations have brought us to this point today where we can welcome guests aboard Max aircraft with 100% confidence in their safety.”
The flight comes just days after the Canadian regulator, Transport Canada, approved changes to Boeing’s design and software, allowing the Max to return to airlines’ active fleets. That follows an almost-two-year global grounding following two fatal accidents which killed 346 people.
According to Cirium fleets data, the airframe, with the tail number C-FHCM, went into service on 27 February 2019, about two weeks before the type was grounded. It is the youngest of the airline’s 13 Max jets acquired prior to re-certification. The airline had been operating the type in its fleet since September 2017.
WestJet plans to initially use the 737 Max on flights between Calgary and Vancouver, and on the popular Calgary-to-Toronto route. Prior to the grounding, it was also flying the aircraft to Hawaii and Halifax, in eastern Canada, airline officials say.
Scott Wilson, the carrier’s vice-president of operations and a Max pilot himself, was part of the crew that flew the aircraft from Calgary to Vancouver on 21 January. He says the trip was “smooth, on-time and unremarkable”.
Wilson says changes made to the type’s software and design give pilots “absolute control of the aircraft at all times”. Also, redundancy and additional pilot training, in full-motion simulators, make the Max “the safest aircraft in the skies today”.
“Knowing and having been involved with the regulator, flight crew approaching this aircraft have no concerns with the flight control system,” he adds.
That said, WestJet, like other airlines operating the aircraft, will let potential passengers rebook flights if they are uncomfortable travelling on the type.
WestJet’s Montreal-based competitor Air Canada has said it plans to return the beleaguered aircraft to revenue service on 1 February. Canadian vacation specialist Sunwing Airlines also operates the 737 Max but it is unclear when it will bring the type back into its schedule.
On 18 November, the Federal Aviation Administration re-certificated the type, paving the way for it to return to service in the USA. Several other regulators quickly followed, and the first flight after the global grounding was conducted by Brazil’s Gol on 9 December. In the USA, American Airlines first flew the type on 29 December.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is expected to issue an airworthiness directive allowing the type to resume service in that jurisdiction next week.