Indian pilots express doubts about resuming commercial services with 737 MAX in Jan

Ashwini Phadnis New Delhi | Updated on November 12, 2019

Grounded Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in Seattle   -  REUTERS

Boeing’s announcement on Monday that it expects the grounded 737 MAX to resume commercial services in January, as it works to address questions from regulators over its documentation for revisions to the plane’s software, has met with scepticism in Indian aviation circles.

India is unlikely to allow the 737 MAX aircraft to start flying in the Indian skies from January next year. “It is quite unlikely as we have a lot of ground to cover,” a senior official of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said.

It remains to be seen whether the European aviation regulator will allow the aircraft to fly in its territory, merely based on a certification given by the US authorities. Earlier this year, the European Aviation Safety Agency had said that it would conduct its own tests before allowing the MAX to fly in its skies.

The plane was grounded across the world in March last year, when a Lion Air and an Ethiopian airline aircraft crashed, killing 300 passengers. At that time and since then, lots of concerns have been raised by airlines, pilots and the flying public about the safety and design of the aircraft.

Meanwhile, Boeing is following its own plans and claims that MAX deliveries to airline customers could resume in December. The American aircraft manufacturer also said that it is working towards a final validation of the updated training requirements “which must occur before the MAX returns to commercial service, and which we now expect to begin in January.”

Indian pilots sceptical

Even as the manufacturer is moving ahead with its plans, pilots in India have expressed their doubts about whether the MAX can be re-certified to fly within the next seven weeks.

According to some pilots, there was little information about the new design. While one of the pilots commented that Boeing had given itself a very short deadline, another said that they only had the manufacturer’s claim that it had sorted out problems with the aircraft design. He, however, added that he would not be surprised if the process was completed in the first quarter of next year.

Captain P.P. Singh, Senior Vice-President, JetLite, pointed out that at first glance, it appeared that there was a gap between the timelines being projected by Boeing and its major US-based 737 Max customers, including Southwest Airlines. Whereas Boeing claims that it was possible for deliveries to commence by next month, Southwest and American Airlines had pushed the scheduled operation of their MAX aircraft to March 2020.

Boeing re-certification milestones

Perhaps what Boeing is banking on are the re-certification milestones that it has achieved so far, to be able to give the all-clear for the MAX aircraft to resume operations in January. Explains Captain Singh, “A careful examination shows that these positions (Boeing and American airlines’) are compatible, based on the re-certification milestones achieved so far. If Boeing has cleared the hardware and software modifications with FAA, it would be able to restart deliveries, as long as airlines agree to accept the planes, but not use them for carrying passengers till the other milestones, such as pilot training approval, are achieved.”

Read also: Boeing 737 MAX likely to resume operation in January

Other pilots opine that assuming a training footprint approval in January 2020, followed by approval by other regulators in due course “it should be feasible for US carriers to put the aircraft back in commercial service by March next year. This is, of course, the best case scenario if there are no further hiccups,” a pilot adds.

Another issue that is likely to muddy the waters for Boeing is that flyers may not be ready to fly on the MAX aircraft. This is an aspect that airlines with this variety of aircraft in their fleets will have to address.

For instance, at a briefing for the global media on October 25 in Chicago, a senior United Airlines official said the airline will “re-accommodate” customers not comfortable flying on the Boeing MAX aircraft.”

Published on November 12, 2019

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