DGCA lifts ban on Boeing 737 Max aircraft after two-and-half years

The latest Boeing 737 model is equipped with a manoeuvring characteristics augmentation system (MCAS), which is responsible for pushing the aircraft’s nose down when it senses a high angle of attack that may lead to an aircraft stall.

Aviation safety regulator DGCA on Thursday allowed operations of Boeing 737 MAX planes, which were banned almost two-and-a-half years ago following two deadly crashes of this model that together killed 330 people. With India opening up the skies for the 737 MAX planes, China remains the only major aviation market to still have a ban in place.

Explaining the revocation of the ban, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said in an order that 17 regulators worldwide have permitted operation of these aircraft, and 34 airlines with 345 planes of this model were operating currently having operated over 2.89 lakh cumulative hours since the ungrounding from December 9, 2020, “with no untoward reporting”.

It, however, added that the Max planes will be allowed to operate “only upon satisfaction of applicable requirements for return to service”. Following the two crashes, first in October 2018 in Indonesia on a flight operated by Lion Air and second in March 2019 on an Ethiopian Airlines flight, investigations revealed that the main cause was a design flaw in the most modern jetliner.

The latest Boeing 737 model is equipped with a manoeuvring characteristics augmentation system (MCAS), which is responsible for pushing the aircraft’s nose down when it senses a high angle of attack that may lead to an aircraft stall. If an aircraft’s nose is too high, the plane loses speed and is likely to enter a stall — a state in which it loses flight and can fall from the sky like a stone.

The MCAS was designed to prevent such an eventuality. In case of the two crashes, the MCAS falsely misread the plane’s angle of attack during the ascent and forced the nose down leading to the crash. However, it was not just a technical flaw that caused the accidents. During the course of the investigation, several shortcomings were also found out with the processes laid down by Boeing as well as the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Once the probe pointed out all deficiencies, corrective measures started being introduced, including rectifying the MCAS by Boeing and setting up of simulators and training centres to train pilots about the MCAS. Last November, the FAA lifted the restrictions on Boeing 737 Max. Other jurisdictions including Japan, Europe, Canada, Brazil, the UAE, Australia and the UK too approved its return following technical modifications and additional pilot training.

In India the only carrier to operate the aircraft model is SpiceJet. Upcoming airline Akasa promoted by stock trader Rakesh Jhunjhunwala was also in talks with Boeing to launch with a fleet of 737 Max planes. DGCA’s revocation of the ban could lay the ground for the deal to happen.

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