India on Tuesday grounded the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft used by the country’s airline companies in the aftermath of the Ethiopian Airlines crash on Saturday that killed all 157 people on board. SpiceJet has 12 such planes in its fleet, while the Jet Airways has five.
“DGCA [Directorate General of Civil Aviation] has taken the decision to ground the Boeing 737-MAX planes immediately,” said the Ministry of Civil Aviation in a tweet on Tuesday night. “These planes will be grounded till appropriate modifications and safety measures are undertaken to ensure their safe operations.”
An unidentified DGCA official said the planes will be grounded by 4 pm on Wednesday. Additionally, no such aircraft will be allowed to enter or transit the Indian airspace from 4 pm onward, said the ministry. “The timeline is to cater to situations where aircraft can be positioned at maintenance facilities and international flights can reach their destinations,” it added.
“As always, passenger safety remains our top priority,” said the ministry. “We continue to consult closely with regulators around the world, airlines, and aircraft manufacturers to ensure passenger safety.”
The ministry will also hold a meeting with airlines at 4 pm to prepare a contingency plan as several flights have been cancelled, PTI quoted a senior government official as saying. SpiceJet cancelled 14 flights on Wednesday.
The direction came as several countries continued to ground the Boeing 737 Max 8 planes after the deadly crash near Addis Ababa, in which four Indians also died. This was the second such crash involving the aircraft in less than five months. In October last year, a Lion Air jet crashed in Indonesia, killing 180 people on board
Civil Aviation Minister Suresh Prabhu said that he had directed the secretary to hold an emergency meeting with all airlines to prepare a contingency plan to avoid inconvenience to passengers. “While passenger safety is a zero tolerance issue, efforts are already on to minimise the impact on passenger movement as their convenience is important,” he said in a tweet.
Minutes after the ministry’s directive, SpiceJet confirmed it had grounded the planes. “SpiceJet has suspended Boeing 737 Max operations following DGCA’s decision to ground the aircraft,” the airlines’ head of communication Tushar Srivastava said on Twitter.
The DGCA on Monday had issued additional safety instructions and asked SpiceJet and Jet Airways to ensure that the pilots commanding the Boeing 737 Max 8 planes should have at least 1,000 hours of flying experience. Prabhu had also asked the aviation watchdog to conduct a safety assessment of all such aircraft operated in India.
In a statement, SpiceJet had earlier said it was actively engaged with both Boeing and the DGCA, PTI reported. “We have already implemented all additional precautionary measures as directed by the DGCA yesterday,” it said. “The Boeing 737 Max is a highly sophisticated aircraft. It has flown hundreds of thousands of hours globally and some of the world’s largest airlines are flying this aircraft.”
EU closes airspace to the jet
The European Union on Tuesday prohibited Boeing 737 Max planes from flying, AFP reported. The EU’s aviation safety agency said it was closing European airspace to all such planes aircraft currently operating, observing that the “exact causes” of the Lion Air crash were still being investigated.
“Since that action, another fatal accident occurred,” said the European Union Aviation Safety Agency. “At this early stage of the investigation, it cannot be excluded that similar causes may have contributed to both events.”
Earlier on Tuesday, the United Kingdom, Malaysia, Singapore, Germany, Australia, Oman, South Korea and France had banned the Boeing 737 Max from being flown in their airspace. China had already imposed such a ban a day after the crash.
Turkish Airlines, one of the largest carriers in the world, said it would suspend its 12 Max aircraft from Wednesday until the “uncertainty” was clarified.
Low-cost airline Norwegian Air said it expected the manufacturer to compensate it for the lost revenue from the grounding of its fleet of 737 Max planes, Reuters reported.
Meanwhile, the United States said there is “no basis” for grounding the planes. “Thus far, our review shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft,” Federal Aviation Administration President Daniel Elwell said in a statement. “Nor have other civil aviation authorities provided data to us that would warrant action.”
While the Federal Aviation Administration has not grounded the planes, it has directed Boeing to make design changes.