NEW DELHI :
SpiceJet Ltd hopes to be able to fly its grounded Boeing 737Max aircraft fleet by October-November this year as regulators around the world are set to carry out test flights on the aircraft in the coming days.
“They (Boeing 737Max aircraft) are again occupying some space at our airports right now. We hope they can be back soon. But my expectation is it is still a few months away. They are saying August, but I would think it is more like October-November," the airline’s chairman and managing director Ajay Singh said during a webinar that was attended by several big wigs of the aviation industry on Tuesday.
SpiceJet ordered as many as 205 of these planes in 2017, of which 13 have been delivered. The planes were, however, grounded around the world in March 2019 after two fatal crashes. Efforts to re-certify the planes have been marked by repeated delays.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency will in the coming days perform its flight tests on the grounded Boeing jet after the US Federal Aviation Administration conducts its own, according to a report by news agency Bloomberg.
However, the return of Boeing’s 737Max is at risk of additional delays because of coronavirus travel restrictions that have hindered planning for test flights by regulators.
SpiceJet is the sole operator of Boeing 737Max planes in the country.
Jet Airways (India) Ltd, which operated similar planes, grounded its operations since April 2019 because of an acute shortage of funds.
Meanwhile, the Indian government will ramp up flights under the Vande Bharat Mission (VBM), to bring home more Indians stranded abroad in the coming days, civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri said during the webinar.
“We have gone to about 52 countries, to places Air India has never flown before (for carrying out repatriation flights under the VBM)," said the civil aviation minister. International air travel will be opened up systematically without endangering people, Puri said.
However, the minister said that he did not want to put a timeline on the resumption of international travel.
“When domestic aviation reaches 50-55% capacity and states are in a position to take in more passengers, we will look at international flights," Puri said. The resumption of international air travel will depend on several factors, including bilaterals and foreign countries opening up for international passengers, he said.
Foreign airlines have operated more than 800 flights, taking out more than 200,000 people, the minister indicated. This includes Qatar Airways, which operated 81 flights, while KLM has operated 68 flights. The other airlines include Kuwait Airways, which operated 41 flights, British Airways (39 flights), and FlyDubai (38 flights).
“This is almost double of what Air India has operated," the minister said. The government is happy if foreign airlines want to carry out charter flights to India to repatriate their citizens stranded in the country, Puri said.
Meanwhile, SpiceJet’s Singh said that all Indian carriers would eventually have to look at operating wide-body aircraft if they want to fly directly to faraway international destinations as travelling through hubs may not be an attractive proposition in a world scarred by the coronavirus pandemic.
“However, this has to be supported by government policies. We must decide to must take passengers from India to all over the world," Singh said. The economy will not open up until air travel is fully restored, he contended.