New Delhi: Operations of Boeing 737 Max-8 aircraft in India ceased at 4 pm on Wednesday as per official orders, after the Government allowed some time “to cater to situations where aircraft can be positioned at maintenance facilities and international flights can reach their destinations”. Indian carrier SpiceJet, that used to operate 12 of these aircraft, announced that it had cancelled 14 of its flights on Wednesday. Top Government officials indicated that about 30 to 35 flights of the airline could be cancelled on Thursday which they said would be a “challenging day”.
As reported, Indian Government aviation regulator DGCA had on Tuesday night decided to ground the Boeing 737-Max8 aircraft operated by Indian carriers with immediate effect following the Ethiopian Airlines crash on Sunday and similar action taken by several countries.
However, controversy broke out on Wednesday morning, with reports that some Boeing 737 Max aircraft were still operating in the Indian skies. The Civil Aviation Ministry then swiftly clarified the situation by tweeting, “In continuation to the decision of DGCA to ground the B737 Max operations, further clarification follows. B737Max operations will stop from/to all Indian airports.”
The other Indian carrier that operated these planes — five of them — was cash-strapped Jet Airways but there were reports that these planes were already grounded earlier.
Meanwhile, in a statement issued, SpiceJet said, “Complying with the DGCA directive, SpiceJet has grounded its entire B737 Max fleet. …SpiceJet has presently announced cancellation of 14 flights for today and will be operating additional flights from tomorrow. Of the 76 planes in our fleet, 64 aircraft are in operations and we are confident of minimising the inconvenience to our passengers.”
Amid reports of hike in aviation spot fares, top Government officials said that airlines have been requested to keep fares at a reasonable level and that the DGCA would monitor fare levels regularly.
Officials also that lifting the ban on the B-737 Max 8 would be based on inputs from various agencies and it would not happen soon.
Meanwhile, according to news agencies, Civil Aviation Ministry Secretary P.S. Kharola said all Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft operated by Indian carriers have been grounded and that about 35 flights of carrier SpiceJet would be cancelled on Thursday. He also said that Thursday would be a “challenging” day as “out of 520 odd flights that SpiceJet flies every day, about 30-35 flights will have to be cancelled”.
“Tomorrow is going to be a real challenging day because today the ban has come into effect only from the second half of the day... SpiceJet has assured us that they have taken up multiple plans. They have increased the utilisation of existing aircraft, so that the cancellations get limited,” Mr. Kharola was quoted by news agencies as saying.
“As of now, all aircraft of Boeing 737 Max have been grounded. The last flight (aircraft) to be grounded was today around 2.30 pm. The deadline was 4 pm and before that all aircraft have been grounded,” he said.
“We had a discussion with airlines as to how they would plan to overcome the situation. The airlines have assured that the grounding of 12 aircraft would not significantly impact the passengers and they would draw up a very elaborate plan,” the Civil Aviation Secretary added.
“Today, SpiceJet has just cancelled 14 flights... They have been able to accommodate the passengers affected by cancellation of 14 flights within their own system,” he added. Mr. Kharola emphasised that the SpiceJet had been told that cancellations of flights should happen on those sectors that have multiple flights. He added that SpiceJet would be setting up a special cell to deal with passenger complaints and ensure that the passengers are informed well in time about cancellations or any other adjustments.
He also said that the ministry has requested SpiceJet that in case it is not able to adjust or accommodate, other airlines should come forward and they should carry these passengers based on their existing agreements with SpiceJet.
The Government is also working on a contingency plan with airlines to minimise inconvenience for passengers.
As already reported, on Tuesday night, the Civil Aviation Ministry had said, “DGCA has taken the decision to ground the Boeing 737-MAX planes immediately. These planes will be grounded till appropriate modifications and safety measures are undertaken to ensure their safe operations. As always, passenger safety remains our top priority. We continue to consult closely with regulators around the world, airlines, and aircraft manufacturers to ensure passenger safety.”
The crash of an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737Max 8 aircraft in Ethiopia on Sunday had killed all 157 people on board including four Indians. This is the second time in five months that aircraft of this specific make has crashed, sparking global alarm. A Boeing 737Max 8 aircraft operated by carrier Lion Air crashed in Indonesia in October last year killing 189 people on board.