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Indian pilots recall Boeing MAX red flags

Ashwini Phadnis New Delhi | Updated on March 14, 2019

Pilots express concern over the fact that airlines encourage them to fly on auto pilot rather than manually. This file photo shows the cockpit of a Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircarft   -  REUTERS

Point to lack of simulator-based training, reduction in experience requirements

Though Indian carriers operating the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft have not yet faced issues such as those that caused the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines aircraft on Sunday, a cross section of pilots BusinessLine spoke to did point to some red flags.

The first is the lack of a MAX simulator in India to offer training on this new version of the aircraft, particularly during emergencies. The second is the steady decline in the number of hours flown required of pilots to operate the aircraft.

Inadequate training

“There is a one-day ground class. It (MAX) is an easy enough aircraft to fly, but if there is an incident — given that the experience of pilots is coming down and that they are not encouraged to fly manually — then it could become an issue,” said a pilot with over 10 years of experience in flying Boeing aircraft including the MAX.

Another pilot pointed to the lack of simulator training for the MAX. “If I am a captain who has done a one-day ground class, I can (allowed to) fly the MAX for the first time if my co-pilot has flown that aircraft even once before. There is no training as such given to fly the MAX,” he said.

Yet another pilot who too has flown the MAX added that after the Lion Air crash in October last year, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) had mandated that pilots undergo runway stabiliser exercises, during which all the switches are put off and the pilot has to fly manually.

After the Ethiopian crash, the DGCA came out with new norms — that the minimum experience level of a pilot in command operating the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft should be 1,000 hours, and that a co-pilot has to have a minimum experience of 500 hours of flying a Boeing 737 New Generation (NG) aircraft. Earlier, a new captain or first officer could fly the MAX even a day after being endorsed as an NG pilot. All over the world, the 737 NG and MAX are taken as one endorsement.

Yet another area of concern, said some pilots, is that airlines would rather they flew on auto pilot than manually. The reason is apparently economic.

Cost-saving

“If a pilot feels the aircraft is not stable at the time of landing, he is likely to do a go-around (taking off again instead of landing) and then try to land again. This burns more fuel,” said a pilot who has over 10 years of experience flying Boeing, and has flown the MAX, too.

Published on March 14, 2019

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