The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has introduced additional safety measures for Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes after a fatal accident in Ethiopia killed 157 passengers on board on Sunday morning.
This is the second crash involving the 737 MAX 8 in less than five months. Boeing is facing increased scrutiny over plane’s safety and regulators are grounding fleet and ordering additional checks.
On Monday, China ordered its airlines to suspend 737 MAX 8 operations. Globally, Boeing has delivered over 350 737 MAX 8 planes and 97 of them are in service in China. The Indonesian government announced 737 MAX 8 planes will be temporarily grounded and be subject to further safety checks. Ethiopian Airlines, too, has grounded the remaining four 737 MAX 8 planes in its fleet as a safety precaution.
On Monday, the DGCA issued additional measures for Indian operators covering the areas of engineering and maintenance and flight operations. Under the new norms, airlines will have to ensure the captain operating the MAX aircraft has a minimum of 1,000 hours of experience and co-pilot has 500 hours of experience on 737 planes. The engineering departments have also been instructed not to release the MAX planes for operations in case of dual failure of autopilot, faults in spoiler system. The DGCA said these are interim measures and same had been communicated with Boeing and the US Federal Aviation Administration.
A Nairobi-bound 737 MAX 8 crashed six minutes after take-off from Addis Ababa airport, killing 149 passengers and eight crew members. Preliminary information suggests the pilots reported unreliable airspeed and decided to turn back to the airport. It never made it, crashing 60 kilometres away from the Addis Ababa airport. Aviation experts point out that the circumstances leading to the crash appeared similar to the fatal accident involving Lion Air Boeing 737 last October.
After the Lion Air accident, the DGCA had issued advisories to Indian carriers, especially on handling of a new system, to prevent aircraft from stalling. Pilots around the world had complained that they were not familarised regarding its working till after the Lion Air crash. “Pilots control nose pitch and engine thrust to attain safe airspeed as a part of the checklist and we do not know till now whether the Ethiopian Airlines pilots followed the procedure,” said safety expert Amit Singh.
Addis Ababa airport is on elevation of 7,625 feet and standard procedures would have required the plane to climb 2,500 feet to clear obstacles in the path, but the plane’s height was too low after take-off, he said. On Monday evening, the Ethiopian media reported that flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder were found from the crash site and these would be examined to determine the causes of the accident. A panel comprising members from Ethiopian Airlines and regulatory officials has been set up to carry out the probe.