It took a review of additional data but Transport Canada now joins the global collection of aviation regulators that grounded the Boeing 737 MAX following the crash of Ethiopian Airlines ET302 on Sunday. The decision by Transport Canada this morning comes as the FAA and Boeing find themselves further isolated from the global aviation community in terms of evaluating the safety risk of the aircraft type.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau noted that “It is too soon to speculate about the cause of the accident in Addis Ababa, and to make direct links to the Lion Air accident in Indonesia in October 2018.” At the same time, however, Garneau cited “new data” acquired by the agency that showed sufficient similarities in the flight profiles of the two accidents to justify the move.
Having data like this available quickly shows the power of [the ADS-B nav] upgrade. It has a lot of capabilities that are useful in unfortunate events like this. We’re happy to be able to support that.– Aireon CEO Don Thoma
While Garneau did not name the data supplier PaxEx.Aero confirms that the new information was provided by space-based aircraft tracking service Aireon. The Aireon solution rides along on the Iridium NEXT satellite constellation, collecting data from ADS-B out transmitters across the globe. Aireon CEO Don Thoma notes that the company is tracking thousands of aircraft at any time, even as the solution is not yet fully live. The final satellites launched just two months ago and are in the final stages of payload testing. Still, the company collects billions of data points monthly and can quickly respond to requests for such data following incidents such as the ET302 incident.
Transport Canada requested the data from Aireon late Tuesday and it was delivered overnight, allowing for the review this morning and the decision that followed.
Thoma was clear that his company provides the data and that interpretation of that data is up to the individual regulatory agencies.
FAA also has the data
Canada is not alone in requesting the data. Thoma confirms that the FAA requested the tracking information from Aireon following the crash and that Aireon delivered it on Monday, March 11. This means that the FAA and Transport Canada made different decisions based in part on the exact same aircraft ADS-B data.
Speaking to that divergence of policy Garneau stated, “We work extremely well [with the FAA]. Its obvious that with so many flights between our countries and our natural affinity for each of the that we adopt a very, very similar approach… But we adopt our own decisions in Canada.”
Update (15:41 EDT 13 March 2019)
The FAA has now joined in grounding the 737 MAX, citing “newly refined satellite data available to the FAA this morning” as one of the driving factors. There is no indication from Aireon that additional data was made available today versus what was delivered on Monday. But the company is also very clear in spelling out that it provides the data and that others are responsible for interpreting it.
Original story continues below.
Aireon issued a further statement on the incident and its collected data.
Our sympathies go out to the families of the passengers and crew of Ethiopia Airlines Flight 302. The Aireon space-based ADS-B system has the ability to monitor the data from all aircraft equipped with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) transponders and the system was able to capture information associated with Flight 302. At the request of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Transport Canada and several other aviation authorities, Aireon provided the data transmitted from the Flight 302 to support the accident investigation. The authorities are in receipt of the data and are in the process of their respective accident investigations. We cannot comment on the cause of the tragedy or the outcome of the investigation, only that we have provided the data. This unfortunate tragedy further highlights the need for a global, real-time air traffic surveillance system.
The Aireon system is slated to enter service imminently. First up are operational trials over the North Atlantic Ocean with the Canadian and United Kingdom Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs), NAV CANADA and NATS. Additional deployment of the Aireon service will occur in NAV CANADA’s Edmonton airspace. Once fully operational, the Aireon system will provide air traffic controllers, airline operators and industry stakeholders with a complete, real-time, global picture of international air traffic. The company has partnerships with air traffic organizations around the globe that will migrate to the space-based aircraft tracking from legacy radar systems in the coming years.