“DGCA has taken the decision to ground the Boeing 737-MAX planes immediately. These planes will be grounded till appropriate modifications and safety measures are undertaken to ensure their safe operations. As always, passenger safety remains our top priority. We continue to consult closely with regulators around the world, airlines, and aircraft manufacturers to ensure passenger safety,” the aviation ministry tweeted.
SpiceJet will have to immediately ground the 12-13 B737 MAX planes in its fleet. Five MAX planes of Jet Airways have been grounded for some time now, due to non-payment of lease rentals.
“We will see if overflying by the Boeing 737 MAX also needs to be stopped after studying whether airlines of nearby regions use this plane to overfly India on their international routes. We need to study that before taking a call on overflying by MAX,” said highly paced sources.
A large number of countries and standalone airlines have grounded the B737 MAX, with places like Singapore and Australia banning overflying over their airspace.
‘No B737 MAX simulator in India for pilots to train on’
SilkAir, a subsidiary of Singapore Airlines (SIA), used to operate its Max to Hyderabad and Bangalore. “SilkAir will be flying the Boeing 737 NG (new generation) to Hyderabad and Bangalore instead of the Boeing 737 MAX,” said an SIA spokesperson. Singapore’s aviation authority has suspended “all variants of the Boeing 737 Max aircraft into and out of Singapore.
Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority temporarily suspended airlines from flying B737 MAX jets to or from Australia. China and Indonesia had done so soon after Sunday’s crash of an Ethiopian B737 MAX that killed all 157 on board. Aerolíneas Argentinas is grounding its five Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes and so are Ethiopian Airlines, Aeromexico, Cayman Airways and South Africa’s Comair and South Korea’s Eastar Jet.
The DGCA had on Monday night issued instructions, asking captains and co-pilots with over 1,000 and 500 hours, of flying experience on this aircraft respectively, to operate this aircraft. This instruction was severely criticised by experts as they pointed out pilots operating both the ill-fated Lion Air and Ethiopian B737 MAX had huge flying experience.
“It is about a snag in the aircraft, its operating system. It is not something that can be taken care of by simply asking for experienced pilots to fly the plane. That decision of DGCA made no sense,” said a senior pilot of the B737 MAX who said a new operating system almost gives the MAX “a mind of its own after which the pilots can do nothing.”
According to aviation safety experts, “the problem was that these great flying professionals aren’t being trained on B737 MAX simulators and so they won’t be able to take split-second decisions and take control of the plane in time when needed”.
Boeing and its home-country regulator, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), have expressed confidence in the safety of the model, but since the Ethiopian crash, the list of regulators and airlines grounding B737 MAX over safety concerns has been growing. There are 387 of the aircraft with 59 operators worldwide, as per the FAA.
A senior commander said, “The big issue is that B737 MAX doesn’t behave like the conventional B737 in certain crucial conditions.” A preliminary investigation into the first crash (Lion Air, October) had indicated a problem with the aircraft’s stall-prevention system, a defect a majority of pilots who fly it wouldn’t encounter during their training as the conventional B737 simulator cannot simulate this problem.
“India, for instance, has no B737 MAX simulator. The closest one is in Singapore. All B737 pilots should be given at least four hours of training on the B737 MAX simulator so that they are prepared to handle its idiosyncrasies,” the commander said.
For instance, when the B737 MAX is flown manually, if its systems sense that the aircraft nose is pitched too high and it might stall, they override the pilot to force the aircraft into a nose-down pitch. This could send it into a dive if it’s a false stall warning or in other conditions. Conventional B737 systems don’t respond to stall in this manner.
Air safety expert Mohan Ranganathan said, “The flight control features of a conventional B737 and a B737 MAX are totally different. When you have untrained pilots flying an aircraft which they may not be familiar with, you’re asking for trouble.”
In late-night move, India grounds Boeing 737 MAX – Times of India