Trouble in the sky

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Trouble in the sky

Wednesday, 13 March 2019 | Pioneer

Trouble in the sky

Modern flights are unbelievably safe, so crashes of the Boeing 737 Max should worry flyers, regulators

A few short months ago, aviation analysts were amazed that there were no fatal crashes of large commercial aircraft in 2017. That seems a long time ago now as 2018 saw several horrific incidents and was punctuated by the crash of a Lion Air plane in Indonesia. Now this year has begun with a bad incident of an Ethiopian Airlines plane crashing soon after takeoff in an accident eerily reminiscent of the Indonesian tragedy. And given that both air disasters involve the relatively new Boeing 737 Max 8 variant, the question that some regulators are asking is whether the new aircraft is safe? In China, one of the world’s largest aviation markets, the regulator has stopped flights of the 737 Max until some answers are found from both the Indonesian and Ethiopian accidents, where over 300 people have died. Questions are being asked whether the Indian civil aviation regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), should also ground the 737 Max in India where 15 of the planes operate for SpiceJet.

Whatever decision they take, the two incidents have shaken traveller confidence in the 737 Max, the fourth-generation of the extremely popular Boeing 737, an aircraft being built since the the 1960s. Boeing had made some modifications to the flight control software of this new iteration because of the fact that this plane had its engine mounted further ahead of the wing than previous versions and this apparently changed some physical characteristics of flying the aircraft. However, it appears in the Indonesian incident, which was steered by an Indian, that the pilots were not trained in some of the changes as these were deemed non-essential given that much of the flying characteristics were similar to the earlier 737 Next-Generation (NG) aircraft. It remains to be seen whether it was a similar case in Ethiopia or something completely unrelated.

Thankfully in both cases, aircraft accident investigators are doing their job well and one expects that answers will be found. Until they are found though, it may be a good idea for the aircraft to be temporarily grounded while pilots are given more adequate training in the changes on the 737 Max. This might send schedules asunder and impact fares negatively but safety of the flight and that of the travelling public is what matters the most and it is time that the DGCA, not a regulator with the best reputation, to step up and take decisive action.