This is where Canada's 737 Max 8 jets flew the day an Ethiopian plane went down - Macleans.ca

This is where Canada’s 737 Max 8 jets flew the day an Ethiopian plane went down

Canada’s fleet of 737 MAX 8s were in the air constantly on March 10. One of them criss-crossed North America for almost 17 hours.

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An Air Canada Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft is shown next to a gate at Trudeau Airport in Montreal, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)

Most Canadians don’t identify airplanes they board by their tail numbers, a jumble of characters that distinguish one aircraft from another. No one who flew on C-GEHQ, a brand new Air Canada 737 Max 8 jet registered only this past February, would ever take note of that name. But C-GEHQ was a workhorse almost immediately, and racked up a lot of air miles on March 10, the same day Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed soon after takeoff, killing everyone aboard. The Canadian jet’s grueling schedule that day—along with publicly available data showing the flight plans of other 737 Max’s—provide a telling glimpse of how heavily the country’s major airlines had come to depend on the model before Ottawa prohibited airlines around the world from flying Max 8 or Max 9 aircraft in Canadian airspace.

No surprise, then, that carriers with finite fleets were scrambling on Wednesday to sustain business as usual, with thousands of passengers expecting no interruptions to their plans.

On March 10, C-GEHQ’s day started with an early departure from Vancouver to Palm Springs, California. The plane landed three hours and six minutes later, five minutes early. Before the day was out, C-GEHQ had flown to Calgary, back to Palm Springs, once again to Vancouver, and then on to its final destination of Montreal, where that redeye flight landed on March 11 at 7:47 a.m., 37 minutes late. All told, C-GEHQ spent nearly 17 hours in the air and racked up more than 11,800 air kilometres. It’s a sign of how much Canada’s airlines had come to rely on the Max 8 jets, which promised increased fuel efficiency and improved aerodynamics.

RELATED: Canada’s oh-so-slow, less-than-reassuring grounding of the Boeing Max 8

Less than an hour after that Montreal arrival on March 11, C-GEHQ took off for Toronto, the first of three flights on the day. Three more flights followed on March 12. On March 13, as a so-called “bomb cyclone” weather event brought high winds, blizzards and flooding to much of the American heartland, C-GEHQ was en route from San Francisco to Montreal, its flight path neatly avoiding—or so its passengers hope—the worst of the weather.

One thing C-GEHQ’s passengers would rather not know, at least until a safe landing in Montreal, was that Transport Minister Marc Garneau had announced a “safety notice” prohibiting 737 Max series aircraft from flying in Canadian airspace. According to Flightaware, before Garneau’s announcement C-GEHQ had four planned flights after Montreal—twice to Los Angeles and back. An even newer Air Canada Max 8 had six planned flights before the safety notice. The newest Westjet Max 8, less than a month into service, was on tap for four flights.

Canada’s combined fleet of 41 737 Max jets were constantly in the air. On March 10, 38 of the aircraft crisscrossed the continent, travelling as far afield as Hawaii and various Caribbean destinations—and even London, U.K. They touched down and took off often from Canada’s busiest airports, including Vancouver (26 times), Toronto (24), Calgary (22) and Montreal (12). On the map below, Air Canada flights are in red, WestJet in blue and Sunwing in orange.

In the wake of the Ethiopian Airlines disaster, Sunwing appeared the most cautious among the Canadian airlines. Flight-tracking websites had shown two of the four Sunwing 737 Max 8s as having not flown since March 11. One of the planes hadn’t flown since March 12. Indeed, on the evening of March 12, Sunwing issued a statement announcing it had grounded its 737 Max fleet. The airline cited “evolving commercial reasons … unrelated to safety,” including “airspace restrictions being imposed by … partner destinations.” Air Canada and WestJet both announced they’d comply with the government directive.

When Canada grounded all 737 Max 8s, it joined most global carriers in doing so. Hours later, U.S. President Donald Trump issued an “emergency order” to do the same.

Where every Canadian 737 Max 8 jet flew on March 10, 2019


Mark Serial Number Owner Registration date Cities visited
C-FAXD 44299 Sunwing Airlines Inc. 2019-03-08 Did not fly
C-GEJL 61230 Air Canada 2019-03-04 Vancouver, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary
C-FHCM 43796 Westjet 2019-02-27 Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary
C-GEIV 61229 Air Canada 2019-02-26 Montreal, Orlando, Montreal, Calgary, Toronto,
C-GEHY 61228 Air Canada 2019-02-19 Calgary, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Vancouver
C-GEHQ 61226 Air Canada 2019-02-18 Vancouver, Palm Springs, Calgary, Palm Springs, Vancouver, Montreal
C-GEHV 61227 Air Canada 2019-01-31 Los Angeles, Montreal, San Francisco
C-GDDR 60521 Westjet 2019-01-31 Toronto, Fort Myers, Toronto, Cayman Islands
C-FYXC 44298 Sunwing Airlines Inc. 2019-01-31 Toronto, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, Toronto
C-GEHI 61225 Air Canada 2019-01-29 Toronto, San Francisco, Toronto
C-FCTK 60520 Westjet 2018-11-30 Toronto, Vancouver, Toronto
C-GAMQ 60518 Westjet 2018-11-13 Toronto, Edmonton, Cancun, Edmonton
C-GEHF 60519 Westjet 2018-10-30 Calgary, Puerto Vallarta, Calgary, Kahului, Calgary,
C-GZSG 60516 Westjet 2018-07-19 Calgary, Mazatlan, Calgary, Cancun
C-FSOC 61224 Air Canada 2018-07-03 Toronto, Calgary, Kahului, Calgary
C-FSOI 61223 Air Canada 2018-06-23 San Francisco, Montreal, Los Angeles
C-FNWD 60517 Westjet 2018-06-21 Ottawa, Toronto, Willemstad, Curaçao, Toronto
C-FSNU 61220 Air Canada 2018-06-14 Montreal, San Francisco, Montreal
C-FSNQ 61222 Air Canada 2018-06-08 Vancouver, Kahului, Vancouver
C-GMXB 60387 Sunwing Airlines Inc. 2018-05-31 Vancouver, Calgary, Liberia, Costa Rica, Regina
C-FSLU 61221 Air Canada 2018-05-28 Did not fly
C-FMXA 43297 Sunwing Airlines Inc. 2018-05-25 Veradero, Cuba, Vancouver, Cancun, Calgary
C-FSKZ 61219 Air Canada 2018-05-02 Vancouver, Honolulu, Vancouver
C-FSJJ 61217 Air Canada 2018-04-27 Did not fly
C-FSJH 61218 Air Canada 2018-04-20 Vancouver, Puerto Vallarta, Vancouver, Kahului, Vancouver,
C-FSIL 61214 Air Canada 2018-04-03 Vancouver, Honolulu, Vancouver, Montreal
C-GCAM 60515 Westjet 2018-03-29 Vancouver, Edmonton, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary,
C-FSIQ 61216 Air Canada 2018-03-28 Vancouver, Calgary, Vancouver, Calgary, Kona, Hawaii,
C-FSIP 61215 Air Canada 2018-03-23 Toronto, Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton, Toronto,
C-FSDW 61212 Air Canada 2018-03-12 Montreal, Fort de France, Martinique, Montreal
C-FRYV 60514 Westjet 2018-03-01 Cancun, Calgary, Montego Bay, Jamaica, Toronto
C-FSEQ 61211 Air Canada 2018-02-27 Edmonton, Toronto, Edmonton, Toronto
C-FSES 61213 Air Canada 2018-02-26 Calgary, Toronto, Montreal
C-FSDQ 61209 Air Canada 2018-02-01 Vancouver, Cancun, Vancouver
C-FSDB 61210 Air Canada 2018-01-31 Montreal, Los Angeles, Montreal, Vancouver
C-FSCY 61208 Air Canada 2017-12-04 San Francisco, Toronto, San Francisco
C-GRAX 60513 Westjet 2017-11-09 Toronto, Montego Bay, Jamaica, Calgary
C-FTJV 61207 Air Canada 2017-10-31 London, UK, Halifax, Toronto, Edmonton
C-GXAX 60512 Westjet 2017-10-10 Cancun, Vancouver, Calgary
C-FNAX 60511 Westjet 2017-09-26 Calgary, Palm Springs, Calgary, Vancouver, Calgary,
C-FRAX 60510 Westjet 2017-09-26 Toronto, Las Vegas, Toronto