India has joined a growing list of countries that have grounded the American manufacturer Boeing’s 737 MAX aircraft following the recent crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight.
The crash, on March 10, happened minutes after the aircraft took off from the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa for Nairobi, Kenya, killing all 157 people on board, including four Indians.
Now, India’s aviation watchdog the directorate general of civil aviation (DGCA) has decided to ground the aircraft model “till appropriate modifications and safety measures are undertaken to ensure their safe operations,” the civil aviation ministry said in a late-night tweet on Tuesday (March 12).
Two of India’s airlines, Jet Airways and the low-cost carrier SpiceJet, have the narrow-bodied, fuel-efficient Boeing 737 MAX models in their fleet.
However, all five of the financially-embattled Jet’s 737 MAX aircraft were already grounded due to payment issues with lessors. So the DGCA order will mainly hurt SpiceJet, which operates 13 of these planes, according to its website.
Amid growing safety concerns following the Ethiopian Airlines crash, SpiceJet had defended the 737 MAX as “a highly sophisticated aircraft.”
After the DGCA’s order, the airline said that it has suspended operations of the model. “[W]e will be working with the regulator and the manufacturer to attain normalcy in our operations,” SpiceJet said in a statement. “We are confident of accommodating the vast majority of our passengers and minimise inconvenience.”
The Ethiopian Airlines plane crash is the second such incident involving the 737 MAX in less than five months. In October, Indonesian carrier Lion Air’s jet of the same make had crashed minutes after taking off from Jakarta, killing all 189 people onboard, including the pilot Bhavye Suneja, who was an Indian citizen.
After the Lion Air crash, the DGCA had recommended simulation training for pilots flying the 737 MAX in India.
The DGCA’s move to ground the 737 MAX comes a day after it stated that there was “no significant concern” with the aircraft. However, as an interim measure, it had issued stricter safety norms, including one stating that only senior pilots with at least 1,000 hours of flying experience should fly the model.
The new decision comes amid mounting questions over the safety of the 737 MAX, which has been in commercial use since 2017. Both Jet Airways and SpiceJet got their first deliveries of the model in 2018, and have each placed orders of over 100 more such planes.