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The Boeing 737 Max, operated by Jet Airways and SpiceJet in India, is Boeing’s rival to Airbus A320neo planes. (Reuters)
The Boeing 737 Max, operated by Jet Airways and SpiceJet in India, is Boeing’s rival to Airbus A320neo planes. (Reuters)

Boeing 737 Max to keep flying in India for now despite plane crash scare

  • DGCA issues additional guidelines for operating Boeing 737 Max 8 planes in India, including those on E&M and pilot training
  • Ethiopia plane crash was the second accident involving Boeing 737 Max planes in five months, the first being Lion Air crash in October

New Delhi: India will not rush into ordering a nationwide grounding of Boeing Co.’s 737 Max 8 planes but retains the option to do so, a senior government official said. Civil aviation minister Suresh Prabhu met his ministry officials earlier on Monday to take stock of the situation after Sunday’s deadly crash of a Boeing 737 Max 8 jetliner of Ethiopian Airlines, followed by China’s grounding of all such planes used by its carriers.

Meanwhile, Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) issued additional guidelines for operating Boeing 737 Max 8 planes. The steps relate to engineering and maintenance of such planes and having experienced pilots. The regulator said in a statement that the steps are “interim safety measures taken with inputs available at this stage". It will closely monitor the situation and may impose more steps, if needed.

The crash of Boeing’s best-selling aircraft has sparked safety concerns worldwide. The Ethiopia plane crash was the second accident involving the Boeing 737 Max planes in five months. The first was of a Lion Air plane in Indonesia in October.

Although grounding aircraft is an option, the government would not take a decision in a hurry, the official said on condition of anonymity. “The correlation between Sunday’s plane crash with any safety issue with the aircraft has to be established. The DGCA is keeping a close watch on the situation," the official said.

Two of India’s biggest airlines, Spicejet Ltd and Jet Airways (India) Ltd, have so far taken delivery of 18 B737 Max 8 planes. Five of those planes, forming part of Jet Airways’ fleet, have been grounded by lessors for non-payment of dues.

The two carriers are awaiting delivery of a total of 362 Boeing 737 Max jetliners, which are slated to be delivered over the next decade, according to airline executives.

The Ethiopia plane crash has raised concerns about whether the Boeing 737 Max 8 jets are prone to faults, especially during take-off. The crash of the Ethiopian Airlines’ aircraft, as well as that of the Lion Air jet, took place during their take-off phases.

While SpiceJet has 13 Boeing 737 Max planes, Jet airways has five.
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While SpiceJet has 13 Boeing 737 Max planes, Jet airways has five. (Paras Jain/Mint)

The Nairobi-bound Ethiopian Airlines’ 737 Max 8 crashed minutes after take-off, killing all 157 people on board. Four Indians were on board the ill-fated flight. Last October, a 737 Max 8 flown by Lion Air crashed into the sea, killing 189 people.

After its review meeting on Monday, DGCA observed that “the “Daily Defect’ and ‘Daily Incident’ reports contained defects of routine nature and no significant concern was observed".

Ahead of the meeting with SpiceJet and Jet Airways and Boeing, a DGCA official said, requesting anonymity, that no immediate grounding of the B737 Max was expected before gathering of credible data to arrive at a conclusion on the plane’s airworthiness.

SpiceJet did not respond to emailed queries. A spokesperson for Jet Airways said the airline has five B737 Max in its fleet, but is currently not operating them. “The airline is in contact with the manufacturer and the regulator in context of this development, and remains committed to implementing all directives or advisories that may be published by those authorized," the spokesperson said.

The Boeing 737 Max, a narrow-body jet that entered into service in 2017, is Boeing’s rival to Airbus SE’s A320neo planes.

Boeing 737 Max planes witnessed robust demand globally as the manufacturer claimed they would bring down fuel costs of airlines by about 15%, and engineering and maintenance costs by another 10-15%.

In 2015, Jet Airways placed an order for 75 Boeing 737 Max aircraft, and extended it by another 75. In a regulatory filing in June 2018, the airline said it would buy an additional 75 jets, taking the total order size of its Boeing 737 Max fleet to 225.

In January 2017, SpiceJet placed an order for 205 Boeing planes valued at $22 billion or 1.5 trillion at list price. With an earlier order for 55 planes and 100 additional 737 Max 8 aircraft, the airline firmed up an order for 155 planes. It also has purchase rights for 50 Boeing 737 Max 8 and wide-body aircraft.

An industry expert said the Ethiopia plane crash did not appear to be linked with safety issues.

“How can there be a ‘safety issue’ with an aircraft family that is the latest in the market, less than five months in service, and which has just been introduced," asked Mark Martin, founder and chief executive of Martin Consulting Llc.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate that we sum it up as the ‘stick-shaker’ problem that we saw on the Lion Air crash, as that was linked to the air speed indication being ‘asymmetric’," Martin said.

“The Boeing 737 Max is the latest that’s out there and I don’t believe that one doubts Boeing quality and workmanship; yet, aircraft don’t necessary have to fall from the skies; so clearly, Boeing, the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) and the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) need to step in to solve the problem, and if it means to ground the 737 Max worldwide, then so be it."

Boeing on Monday said it had no basis to issue new guidance to operators based on information available so far in the Ethiopian Airlines crash investigation.

In another statement, it said a technical team would travel to the crash site to provide technical assistance under the direction of the Ethiopia Accident Investigation Bureau and the US NTSB.

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