DGCA yet to take call on Boeing 737 jets, issues safety guidelines
After the Ethiopian Airlines crash, regulator says only experienced pilots to be deployed on 737 Max 8 flights.Updated: Mar 12, 2019 00:02 IST
India’s aviation regulator is yet to take a call on grounding all B737-800 MAX aircraft following the second accident involving the new Boeing jets in six months. But the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has said the minimum experience level of crew operating such planes as Pilot in Command (PIC) should be 1000 hours and co-pilot 500 hours on Boeing 737 NG aircraft type, which is an older version.
Soon after an Ethiopian Airlines jet crashed killed all 157 on board on Sunday, Chinese, Indonesian and Ethiopian airlines decided to ground the aircraft. Jet Airways has five of these aircraft on its fleet and SpiceJet 12.
According to Jet airways, all its 737-800 MAX aircraft are grounded as the airline negotiates a financial crunch.
“Jet Airways has five B737 MAX in its fleet but is currently not flying any of these aircraft. The airline is in contact with the manufacturer and the regulator in context of this development, and remains committed to implementing all directives or advisories that may be published by those authorized,” said a spokesperson for Jet airways.
SpiceJet did not comment on the matter.
In a directive issued on Monday evening, DGCA said, “The engineering and maintenance team has been asked to check autopilot system. And Stall Management and Yaw damper system for any stored maintenance messages and carry out necessary corrective action prior to release of aircraft for line operation.
“Directed officials of DGCA to undertake safety assessment of Boeing 737-MAX (being flown by domestic carriers,” civil aviation minister Suresh Prabhu tweeted.
“Safety of passengers is our utmost concern. Directed Secretary and DGCA to take appropriate action immediately.”
The junior minister of aviation, Jayant Sinha echoed that on Twitter. “DGCA is undertaking a detailed technical evaluation and consulting with safety regulators around the world. safety is our paramount consideration.”
During the review on Monday, DGCA analysed all reported snags/ defects of significant nature along with rectification action(s) taken on these aircraft.
“Compliance of an earlier advisory issued by DGCA post Lion Air accident on 3.12.2018 was also reviewed. During the review, it was observed that the ‘Daily Defect’ and ‘Daily Incident’ reports contained defects of routine nature and no significant concern were observed,” the spokesperson said.
The B737 is popular with several airlines around the world and the new 800 MAX variant was widely touted for its fuel efficiency. In October, a B737-800 MAX operated by Indonesia’s Lion Air plunged into the sea 15-minutes after take-off, killing all 189 people on board. The Ethiopian Airlines jet too crashed soon after take-off.
Investigators are yet to determine the cause of Sunday’s crash.
Boeing, in a statement, said its “technical team will be travelling to the crash site to provide technical assistance under the direction of the Ethiopia Accident Investigation Bureau and U.S. National Transportation Safety Board”.
Soon after the Lion Air crash, DGCA directed Indian airlines to land B737-800 MAX aircraft at the nearest airport if “maneuvering characteristics augmentation system (MCAS) of the plane develops any snag”.
MCAS is a utility that prevents the aircraft rising at too steep an angle (and stalling), and offsets this by getting it to dip. Since it is a new utility, no one is really aware of how it works, said a senior DGCA official who asked not to be identified.
The official also referred to the Angle of Attack (AOA) issue which caused the Lion air crash. AOA is simply the angle between the wind and the aircraft.
Beyond a certain AoA, the aircraft stalls. MCAS is designed to prevent this stall by automatically kicking in and causing the angle to reduce.
The issue is also compounded by the new aircraft’s aerodynamics, which are different from the old one’s because its engines are a little higher according to experts.
In India, there is a further complication, said an expert.
“Indian operators have not opted for AOA display in the cockpit to save costs.
“This should be mandatory as it affects the safety of passengers. Monitoring by DGCA doesn’t solve the issue as none of the pilots in India area trained to deal with the situation. Now the situation is you don’t know which aircraft is next, as 737-800 MAX is turning out to be a dangerous plane,” said Captain Mohan Ranganathan, an aviation safety expert.
HT couldn’t independently ascertain whether the new jets of Jet and SpiceJet do not have this display.
An AOA sensor keeps track of the angle at which wind is passing over the wings and tells pilots how much lift a plane is getting, information which can be critical in preventing the aircraft from stalling and diving.
First Published: Mar 12, 2019 00:01 IST