Canada’s WestJet will start returning its grounded Boeing 737 Max aircraft to passenger service this month.
WestJet said its plans for a "phased and transparent" restart for the 737 Max followed validation by Transport Canada last month of changes to the aircraft’s design, software, training and maintenance requirements.
That, in turn, followed validation of Boeing’s efforts to guarantee the Max’s safety by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The 737 Max has been grounded worldwide for nearly two years following two fatal crashes involving the aircraft in October 2018 and March 2019, killing 346 people.
"As we continue working with Transport Canada on the additional Canadian requirements, our first Max will be ready to return safely to service as of 21 January," said WestJet president and chief executive Ed Sims, pending final confirmation on when Transport Canada will reopen Canadian airspace to the Max.
WestJet will begin the process with non-commercial test flights in mid-January.
Then, from 21 January, providing Canadian airspace is open to the Max, the airline plans to operate three roundtrip flights a week between Calgary and Toronto.
The schedule will run for four weeks, allowing WestJet to evaluate other routes and consider additional frequencies. It currently operates six daily flights between the two cities.
"The FAA, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and numerous other regulatory bodies around the world have spent more than a year examining the Max aircraft to provide recommended changes to software, pilot training and maintenance requirements," said Sims.
"We are confident with the changes they have mandated. In particular, the deliberate, detailed and independent scrutiny applied by Transport Canada’s National Aircraft Certification team, which prescribed additional requirements to pilot procedures and training, provides further confidence in the aircraft and its safe return."
Sims added: "We are dedicated to restoring guest confidence in this aircraft through our safe operation, while providing the transparency and the flexibility that some of our guests may still require.
"We will be forthcoming with our guests on where the Max aircraft are flying, and we will be flexible with our change and cancel policy to ensure our guests can make their travel plans confidently."
WestJet has created a dedicated 737 Max microsite featuring a range of resources to reassure passengers, including details of the steps taken to ensure the Max’s safety – as well as a behind-the-scenes video.