New Delhi: Boeing Co. expects its grounded 737 Max aircraft to return to the skies globally by the first quarter of next year, in what would be a huge relief to airlines including India’s SpiceJet Ltd.

A definite timeline for the return of the narrow-body planes would depend however on aviation regulators in various countries, Darren Hulst, deputy vice-president of commercial marketing at Boeing said at the release of the company’s commercial market outlook for India.

The Chicago-based company has predicted airlines in India will need 2,380 new planes valued at $330 billion over the next 20 years to handle growing demand for air travel.

Boeing had last year forecast Indian carriers will need 2,300 planes worth $320 billion over 20 years.

The upward revision in the forecast reflects India’s position as one of the world’s fastest-growing aviation markets fuelled by an expansion of budget airlines, lower fares and higher disposable incomes.

Boeing is expected to approach the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to recertify the 737 Max in the near future, according to media reports.

Regulators globally are, however, expected to conduct their own due diligence before permitting carriers to operate the plane.

A senior official of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said in September that it would carry out its own due diligence before permitting the 737 Max planes to fly on Indian skies even if the US FAA re-certifies the aircraft.

Hulst said Boeing is focused on safety and the safe return to service of the 737 Max and that it has been working with regulators including the DGCA for the recertification of the plane.

Boeing has added three elements of safety in the aircraft’s MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) as well as the flight control system, Hulst said.

“We have taken a pause in everything to focus on safe return of 737 Max planes to service," Hulst said.

The 737 Max, considered a more fuel-efficient plane than its predecessors, was grounded by the DGCA on 13 March after aviation regulators worldwide did the same following the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max near Addis Ababa on 10 March, killing 157 people, including four Indians. This followed a Boeing 737 Max of Lion Air crash last October that killed 180 people in Indonesia.

“We are working with our customers (airlines) so that they can deliver the message to passengers that this aircraft is safe to fly," Hulst said.

Currently, SpiceJet is the only Indian operator of the 737 Max with 13 planes.

Another Indian operator of the aircraft, Jet Airways, has been grounded since April.

“Boeing is providing regulators around the world, including the DGCA, with detailed information regarding the 737 Max," said Salil Gupte, president of Boeing India.

Meanwhile, in its commercial market outlook for India, Boeing said it expects Indian airlines to spend $440 billion on aviation services besides maintenance and engineering.

“While many of the new airplanes will replace aging aircraft, most will help operators grow their network as India’s airplane fleet is projected to quadruple in size to approximately 2,500 airplanes by 2038," Boeing said.

“Beyond India, the global commercial jet fleet is expected to double in size by 2038 as airlines will need 44,000 new airplanes valued at $6.8 trillion, and demand more than $9 trillion in aviation services," it added.

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