(Adds comment from Canada’s Transport Minister)
MONTREAL, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Canada expects to lift its flight ban on the Boeing 737 MAX jetliner in January, the country’s aviation regulator said on Thursday, after it approved design changes to the aircraft grounded in March 2019 following two fatal crashes.
Transport Canada rolled out its plans for bringing the jets back to the country’s skies, first reported by Reuters on Wednesday, following a near two-year flight ban.
The regulator joined U.S. and European authorities in insisting on additional pilot training and a software update to the MCAS anti-stall system that contributed to the two crashes which killed a total of 346 people in 2018 and 2019.
Canada’s decision is widely watched as it carries extra clout as one of a group of aircraft-producing nations that have subjected the MAX to intense scrutiny, alongside the United States, Europe and Brazil. Attention now turns to China, the largest market for the MAX and a rising aerospace-producing nation which has not said when it will grant approval to resume flights.
Transport Canada’s plans follow earlier announcements by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) along with Boeing’s main regulator, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which lifted its own ban on Nov. 18.
Canada’s approval of design changes marks the first step in the aircraft’s return to service in Canada, which the regulator said would require a Canadian airworthiness directive in January and an interim order on training.
“It’s possible that after January, once the planes have been modified and the pilots and everybody are trained on the procedures, we will allow the MAX to fly,” Transport Minister Marc Garneau told reporters.
Investigations into the crashes of the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines flights pointed to Boeing’s poor systems design as a contributing factor and criticized the FAA for lax oversight of the planemaker.
Ottawa has held its own hearings on aircraft certification. Some family members of crash victims have called for an investigation citing concerns the Canadian regulator was too close to the FAA when it first allowed the jet to fly in Canada.
Transport Canada and EASA have diverged from the FAA on certain requirements for crew training. The regulators are giving pilots leeway to stop a noisy “stick shaker” alarm from vibrating based on faulty sensor information, halting a distraction thought to have added to the workloads of the crews involved in the crashes.
The Canadian regulator said its “decision to put additional safety measures in place does not imply that a U.S.-configured aircraft is inherently unsafe.”
Reporting By Allison Lampert in Montreal and Jamie Freed in Sydney. Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty, Chizu Nomiyama, Alexandra Hudson and Andrea Ricci