DGCA has been closely monitoring the global ungrounding of the airplanes post the re-designing and training that the company is offering
After two years of being grounded, Indian skies are ready to welcome Boeing’s 737 MAX in entirety. India’s civil aviation regulatory body, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) “rescinded with immediate effect” the ban on Boeing 737 MAX.
After the two infamous major fatal accidents involving the 737 MAX that took place in October 2018 and in March 2019, killing a total of 346 people; aviation authorities across the globe had grounded the plane initiating an investigation. “Following two fatal accidents involving Boeing 737 MAX, (Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302), the Director General had decided, for the purpose of safety, that operation of Boeing Company Model 737-8 and Boeing Company Model 737-9 would not take place from/to Indian airports and transit or enter into Indian airspace effective from 1030 UTC March 13, 2019 till further notice,” DGCA stated in a circular.
The main cause of these accidents was revealed to be a design flaw in the aircraft model that came with a maneuvering characteristics augmentation system (MCAS). This flight control law was designed and certified for newer models of the 737 to provide consistent handling qualities in unusual flight conditions.
In case of the two crashes, the MCAS wrongly misread the plane’s angle of attack during the ascent and forced the nose down leading to the crash. However, later, other concerns also emerged. “During the review and testing process, a few issues were discovered that did not directly relate to the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) or the accidents,” Boeing stated.
Based on the design changes by Boeing, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an Airworthiness Directive (AD) on November 18, 2020, mandating actions for 737 MAX airplanes return to service (RTS). Simultaneously, the FAA rescinded the Emergency Order of Prohibition, following which European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) also issued its own AD on February 17, 2021, which has been mandated by DGCA for compliance on Indian registered fleet.
In April 2021, DGCA allowed foreign registered Boeing 737 MAX aircraft which were grounded in India to construct operational readiness flight and ferry fly out of India. Overflying of foreign registered Boeing 737 MAX aircraft over the Indian airspace was also approved.
After the FAA’s order, DGCA continued to closely monitor the global trend with regard to un-grounding of the airplanes. “Worldwide 17 regulators have permitted operation of Boeing 737 MAX airplane. A sizeable number of airlines (34) with the B737 MAX airplane (345) are operating currently and have attained 1,22,824 total departures with 2,89,537 cumulative hours since the ungrounding from 9th December 2020, with no untoward reporting,” stated DGCA.
ACTIONS TAKEN BY THE COMPANY
The grounding of the 737 MAX fleet was a major jolt for the aerospace company, however, the manufacturer continued to comply with the authorities. The task at hand was not only to get the fleet operational again but also to regain the trust of customers globally. The actions taken up by Boeing to further enhance the company’s safety culture include:
The aerospace giant has also re-designed how the airplane’s flight control computers process the information provided by the Angle of Attack (AOA) sensors. They now compare information from both AOA sensors — instead of one — before activating. This adds a new layer of protection. Also, the MCAS will now only activate once and will never provide more input than the pilot can counteract using the control column alone. This gives pilots the ability to override MCAS at any time.
“During the review and testing process, a few issues were discovered that did not directly relate to the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) or the accidents,” Boeing stated
The company is confident that with the changes it has made to the airplane, most flight crews are never likely to experience a situation that would activate MCAS. It will only activate in the rare instance when the following three conditions occur at the same time:
Further to the design changes, the company will also be training the pilots, who will complete a suite of computer-based training modules that provide them with an enhanced understanding of the 737 flight control system, including MCAS, and related changes to airplane software. Prior to the un-grounding, pilots from more than 80 global airlines tested the enhancements firsthand in a full-motion flight simulator. They also reviewed the course material and technical documentation.
Further to the design changes, the company will also be training the pilots, who will complete a suite of computerbased training modules
Following return to service, Boeing plans to work with key regulators and continue to engage in studying the human factors associated with the crew alerting features on new models of the 737. Planning for this initiative is in the early stages.
Going forward, each airline would also work directly with its regulator to determine their training approach and receive approval for their training course. Boeing has also continued to work with the airlines side-by-side during the redesigning term as well. Additionally, after a regulator lifts the order suspending 737 operations for airlines under its jurisdiction, Boeing and the airlines begin working to train airlines as well as pilots. Airlines will also be required to implement all required changes specified by the regulator on airplanes in their fleets and complete all activation tasks. For the undelivered airplanes, the FAA will perform in-person, individual reviews of each prior to issuing an airworthiness certificate.
BOEING FLEET IN INDIA
In India, SpiceJet, which is the country’s only airline that presently has the aircraft in fleet, recently finalised settlement with major lessor of MAX aircraft. “Hope to see its MAX aircraft back in air soon, subject to regulatory approvals,” the low-cost carrier stated while announcing that it has entered into a settlement with Avolon, paving the way for the airline’s 737 MAX aircraft to start to return to service.
The airline expects to start operations of MAX aircraft around the end of September 2021 subject to regulatory approvals.
Ajay Singh, Chairman and Managing Director, SpiceJet, said, “I am delighted to share that our 737 MAXs will be back in the air soon. As India emerges from Covid and air traffic picks up again, the MAX aircraft will play a major role in our future expansion. With a better and a more efficient fleet back in operation we expect a significant reduction in our operating costs improving our bottom line.”
The airline operates a fleet of Boeing 737s, and the majority of the airline’s fleet offers SpiceMax, claimed to be the most spacious economy class seating in India by the airline.
Boeing also highlighted that in India, single-aisle airplanes such as the 737 family will continue to serve growth in domestic as well as regional markets
In its India forecast earlier this year, Boeing had highlighted that in India, single-aisle airplanes such as the 737 family will continue to serve growth in domestic as well as regional markets, such as short-haul flights from India to the Middle East and Asia-Pacific regions. Indian operators will need 1,960 new single-aisle airplanes over the next 20 years. The company forecasts strong aviation growth in India due to the country’s growing economy and an expanding middle class, fueling demand for more than 2,200 new jets valued at nearly $320 billion over the two decades.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic sharply reduced Indian air travel last year, the country’s domestic passenger traffic is recovering more rapidly than in most other countries and regions, recently reaching 76 percent of pre-pandemic levels. While COVID-19 remains a near-term challenge, the country’s passenger traffic is forecast to outpace global growth, doubling from pre-pandemic levels by 2030, according to Boeing’s annual Commercial Market Outlook.
“Many more Indians will travel by airplane for leisure and business as incomes rise tied to industrialisation and an economic growth rate in South Asia that leads all emerging markets. With greater demand for domestic, regional and long-haul travel, we anticipate India’s commercial fleet will grow four-fold by 2039,” said David Schulte, managing director of Regional Marketing, Boeing Commercial Airplanes.
The company stressed that the Indian carriers have opportunities for growth in international markets. Boeing has strengthened its supply chain with 250 local companies in India who manufacture critical systems and components for some of Boeing’s most advanced products including the 787 Dreamliner and 777 family of aircraft. The Tata-Boeing joint venture manufactures fuselages for Apache helicopters and added a new production line to manufacture vertical fin structures for the 737 family of airplanes.