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WestJet extends Boeing Max route suspensions until end of August

 A WestJet Boeing 737 Max 8 jet from Las Vegas lands in Calgary on Tuesday March 12, 2019.
A WestJet Boeing 737 Max 8 jet from Las Vegas lands in Calgary on Tuesday March 12, 2019. - Gavin Young
CALGARY, Alta. —

WestJet Airlines has suspended more flights as a result of the continued grounding of the Boeing Max 8 aircraft, and one analyst said the Calgary-based airline may be forced to make further alterations to its schedule well into the fall.

The Calgary-based airline announced in late June that it is now scheduling without the Max 8 — grounded globally in March following two fatal crashes — until Aug. 29, as opposed to the previously stated July 3. The announcement extends the existing flight suspensions for routes such as Halifax-Paris, Vancouver-Regina and the daytime Toronto-Kelowna route. Other routes that had been suspended through July 3, such as Edmonton-Ottawa and Edmonton-Montreal, will now operate but only on an overnight basis.

In a statement posted on the airline’s website, WestJet said proactively removing the Max aircraft from the August schedule will reduce last-minute flight cancellations and unexpected disruptions for travellers.

“We are in the process of contacting any guests whose travel plans may be impacted to offer them choice and flexibility in advance of their travel date,” WestJet said in its statement.

WestJet, which owns 13 Boeing Max planes, accounting for seven per cent of its fleet, is just one of many airlines around the world struggling to re-accommodate guests in light of the ongoing grounding of the plane. Air Canada has removed Max 8 aircraft from its schedule until at least Sept. 2, while in the U.S., Southwest Airlines, American Airlines and United Airlines have removed the plane from their schedules until early November.

WestJet CEO Ed Sims told reporters in May following the company’s annual general meeting that the work currently being done by Boeing and regulators around the world provides a “clear line of sight” to the eventual lifting of the grounding order. At the time, he predicted WestJet would be flying the Max 8 again sometime in the third quarter.

However, in June, U.S. officials identified another flaw with the plane’s software that they said must be addressed by Boeing before the Max 8 can fly again. Robert Kokonis, president and CEO of independent consultancy AirTrav Inc., said he believes this means the grounding will be longer than originally anticipated and Canadian airlines may have to make further alterations to their schedules.

“We have three major U.S. carriers now who are all extending the delay through until November. So I think in the not-so-distant future, Air Canada and WestJet and Sunwing will have to further delay the scheduled reintroduction of the aircraft,” Kokonis said.

According to WestJet, the Max 8 accounted for more than 1,200 monthly departures in the airline’s August schedule. The airline said it has been able to cover 675 of those flights using other aircraft.

Twitter: @AmandaMsteph

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