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Lion air crash triggers DGCA advisory for Boeing Max pilots in India

Jet Airways and SpiceJet are the only two Indian carriers which operate the Boeing 737 Max aircraft.

india Updated: Nov 08, 2018 23:58 IST
Faizan Haider
Faizan Haider
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Jet Airways,SpiceJet,Boeing jets
A Jet Airways Boeing 737-800 passenger plane moves on the runway at an airport in New Delhi on August 27.(REUTERS)

India’s aviation regulator asked Jet Airways and SpiceJet on Thursday to “take corrective action” against a potential instrument malfunction in Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft — the same type of jet that was involved in a fatal crash off Indonesia’s coast last month — even as aviation experts said the measure may not be enough to ensure safety.

The advisory by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) refers to an emergency directive issued by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on how to handle incorrect data from a sensor that Indonesian investigators said had malfunctioned on a new 737 Max 8 jet operated by Lion Air.

The jet plunged into the sea 15 minutes after take-off on October 29, killing all 189 people on-board.

The problem, the FAA said in its emergency Airworthiness Directive (AD), could cause the flight crew “to have difficulty controlling the airplane”, lead to the aircraft losing altitude and even “possible impact with terrain”.

DGCA said airlines, as advised by the FAA, must make changes to their flight manuals and take appropriate corrective action within three days of receiving the advisory which essentially defines the procedures the pilots will have to carry out to take control of the plane in the event of a malfunction similar to what is suspected to have hit the Indonesian jet.

In India, Jet Airways operates five 737 Max 8 and SpiceJet has one, with each having placed orders for around 200 more jets from Boeing.

Boeing Co. too said it issued a safety bulletin reminding pilots how to handle instrument malfunction.

But aviation experts said the problem might be more serious than it appears and cannot be solved by a circular or a change in standard operating procedures.

“We are looking at multiple equipment failure and today’s pilots are not trained to handle that. If both AOA (angle of attack sensors, which indicate the angle at which a plane is flying and is especially important during take-off and landing) malfunction, how the pilot should respond is something that needs to be a part of training in a simulator and not through a circular,” said captain Mohan Ranganthan, an aviation safety expert.

He said that an aircraft’s airworthiness must also be questioned if it malfunctions 5,000 feet into the air, referring to preliminary reports that the crashed Lion Air jet first lost altitude at a height of 5,000 feet before climbing and then diving again before its crash.

“The only way to control an aircraft in case of false AOA is to take over manual control… Manual operation can be a short term measure only,” said VK Kukar, a former Air India pilot.

Another pilot, who asked not to be named since he is currently employed with a national airline and not authorized to speak to the media, said the recent directive suggests there is a need for additional training for those operating Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes.

For now, a DGCA official said, there is no plan to ground the aircraft.

A Spicejet spokesperson did not respond to requests for a comment.

A Jet Airways spokesperson said their 737 MAX aircraft continue to fly in compliance with the advisories issued by the manufacturer and regulatory authorities.

First Published: Nov 08, 2018 18:37 IST