WITH COUNTRIES across the world, including India, moving to ground Boeing’s 737 Max aircraft over safety fears following Sunday’s crash in Ethiopia, the US bowed to international pressure with President Donald Trump announcing that America would also follow suit.
Hours earlier, Indian aviation regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), said that its staggered decision to ground the aircraft was taken after it failed to get assurances on specific safety issues during discussions with the American manufacturer and US regulator Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
“The FAA had yesterday (Tuesday) issued a CANIC (Continued Airworthiness Notification to the International Community) and Boeing had responded to our mails. But at the end of the day, we thought that from a safety point of view, we didn’t get more confidence from the communications and took this decision… very robust regulators world over raised safety concerns with this aircraft,” DGCA chief B S Bhullar told reporters.
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Late Wednesday, the US confirmed that it had joined countries such as the UK, China, France, Canada, Oman, Singapore, Australia and Indonesia in grounding the plane. Announcing the decision, Trump said “Boeing is an incredible company”, and is working hard right now, but their Max aircraft would be grounded until “they come up with a solution”.
The DGCA decision, meanwhile, came shortly after the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) banned the aircraft’s operations in the EU. The national aviation regulator is in constant contact with Boeing and FAA after the 737 Max 8 crash near Addis Ababa that killed all 157 people onboard, Bhullar said.
In India, budget carrier SpiceJet operates 12 of these aircraft while Jet Airways has five. Following the DGCA decision, SpiceJet cancelled 14 flights Wednesday and, according to Civil Aviation Secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola, is likely to cancel 30-35 flights Thursday. Jet had already grounded its Boeing Max aircraft due to the airline’s financial woes.
Following a meeting with airline officials, the DGCA will monitor any surge in fares on account of flight cancellations, Kharola said.
Asked about a timeline for lifting the restrictions on Boeing’s flagship narrowbody aircraft, Bhullar said the DGCA would consult all regulators, including the FAA and the manufacturer, before taking a decision. “But we expect it will take time,” he said.
In Toronto, Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau told reporters that satellite data showed possible similarities between the flight patterns of the Max jets operating in Canada and that of the plane that crashed in Ethiopia.
The US FAA had earlier said there was no evidence to warrant the grounding of the aircraft. But CNN reported that pilots in the US had formally complained at least five times about the aircraft. The complaints are part of a federal database to which pilots can anonymously send complaints, the network reported.
“Some of the pilots logged complaints about unintended nose-down situations while flying the Max 8 jet, which has now been involved in two deadly crashes in less than six months,” the report said. “One wrote that they turned autopilot on, and ‘within two to three seconds the aircraft pitched nose down’, causing the plane’s safety system to sound the warning ‘Don’t sink, don’t sink’,” it said.