In a show of abundant caution, airlines and regulators around the world have spent the better part of yesterday taking a decision on the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. While we are continuously updating our tracker, to cut a long story short, everyone from the Middle East to Europe to Asia and Australia, except for North America, has placed some sort of restriction on the operation of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in their territory. It might be the same reason as the first aircraft, or it might be something totally else. Given the circumstances of the two crashes looked similar initially, everyone erred on abundant caution.
Except for Indian aviation. With the airspace around India closing up for the admission of the 737 MAX, India was sort of left with no choice to announce a grounding of the aeroplane itself. SpiceJet is currently the only Indian carrier which flies the Boeing 737 MAX, over a dozen of them, and uses the range of the aircraft to fly Delhi – Hong Kong as well. The Hong Kong regulator, till last evening, was okay with the MAX flying but just this afternoon has decided to stop the admission of the aircraft in their airspace.
So, sort of left with minimal options, the DGCA came with an announcement a shade after 11 PM IST last evening, commenting that the 737 MAX be grounded in India immediately. This was an order for India registered 737 MAX aircraft, and not for the ones flying for other carriers into India. The decision was first notified on Twitter at 11:24 PM India time.
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. (2/2)
— Ministry of Civil Aviation (@MoCA_GoI) March 12, 2019
Notice the word “immediately” in this context. The grounding of the aircraft was supposed to be immediate. And just at that moment, the SpiceJet Boeing 737 MAX operated Delhi – Hong Kong flight had just taken off, and there were at least 8-9 aircraft in the air at that moment.
While I expected the aircraft to turn around since they could have gotten a no-go from Hong Kong by the morning when they would have arrived in Hong Kong, lucky for them that the Hong Kong CAA did not change their mind already. They luckily got in and out of Hong Kong safely with the MAX 8.
But the most amusing was that right after the notification came out, there was still a Delhi -Ahmedabad flight taking off as if nothing happened at 11:45 PM IST. Other countries when they grounded, it was just grounded and only airborne planes were going to finish their flights.
Calling the SpiceJet contact centre at that time would have yielded information to you that they had no clue about a grounding and that operations were normal. SpiceJet even issued a confirmation late last night that they had grounded the aircraft shortly after midnight.
SpiceJet statement@flyspicejet has suspended Boeing 737 Max operations following DGCA’s decision to ground the aircraft. Safety and security of our passengers, crew and operations are of utmost importance to us. 1/1
— tushar srivastava (@tushar_yes) March 12, 2019
And then, I continued to track the 737 MAX 8 this morning, and till about 1 PM, there were several SpiceJet 737 MAX was operating.
The tune changed this morning, with the DGCA clarifying that the operation of the 737 MAX was permitted till 4 PM in public interest and to bring planes back to their maintenance bases. They also imposed a ban on the use of Indian Airspace for use of the MAX from any other country as well, at 4 PM IST.
Additionally no B737 Max aircraft will be allowed to enter or transit Indian airspace effective 1600hrs IST or 1030 UTC. The time line is to cater to situations where aircraft can be positioned at maintenance facilities & international flights can reach their destinations.(2/2)
— Ministry of Civil Aviation (@MoCA_GoI) March 13, 2019
But clearly, SpiceJet operating flights like Delhi – Surat – Delhi or Bangalore -Varanasi – Bangalore ringed this claim of bringing a plane back to base hollow.
New advice was issued by SpiceJet this morning, where they claimed they would ground the fleet by 4 PM and cancellations would happen in the schedule consequently.
— SpiceJet (@flyspicejet) March 13, 2019
After this move, I only saw one 737 MAX of the airline in the air.
This is a very interesting situation, because SpiceJet continued to fly the planes even when the regulator demanded an immediate grounding, and they confirmed they had complied.
Did SpiceJet know all along they could get away with breaking the rules? Or did the regulator change the rules post facto after hearing from SpiceJet? We don’t know yet. What do you think happened here?