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'Boeing crisis won't impact Indian aviation'

March 15, 2019 08:39 IST

'Indian aviation is having a lesser number of aircraft.'
'Besides the Boeing 737 MAX, you have the A320Neos which Indigo is currently grappling with because of a lack of pilots.'
'This has led to cancellation (of flights) and therefore the prices of air tickets are on the higher side this season although generally in March ticket prices are on the lower side.'

Photograph: Matt Mills McKnight/Reuters

After an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX crashed on March 10 killing all 157 on board, the Boeing 737 MAX has been grounded by all the nations it was in operation, including India.

The Ethiopian Airlines crash was the second crash involving Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in five months.

On October 30, 2018, an Indonesian Lion Air three-month-old Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashed, killing 189 crew and passengers including its Indian pilot Bhavye Suneja.

The grounding of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft -- affecting SpiceJet and the beleaguered Jet Airways in India -- has led to a raft of flight cancellations, airfares heading north and major inconvenience posed to fliers.

Can the crisis be resolved? With the 737 MAX fly again? What should the Indian government do to alleviate the pain for fliers?

"The grounding of these Boeing aircraft will affect global aviation more than the Indian aviation industry," Sankalp Sinha, director of aviation consultant and Indian advisory, research, at Martin Consulting LLC, tells Rediff.com's Syed Firdaus Ashraf.

 

How severe is the crisis facing Indian aviation after the DGCA decided to ground Boeing 737 MAX aircraft?

In the long term, whenever a manufacturer releases a new aircraft in the market, these teething troubles are bound to happen. This has happened to other aircraft earlier too.

This (crisis) is something the manufacturer will have to work with (the airlines).

In the long term, it is not going to affect the industry that much.

When an aircraft is grounded for longer duration, the airline will be compensated (by Boeing), and that is the industry norm.

Now, considering the ground reality, SpiceJet has just come out of the red and Jet Airways is going through one of its worst crises right now, but I don't think it will impact Indian aviation as such.

On a global level, you have 330 or so planes flying and a sizeable number of orders are booked by various airlines as a replacement for (old planes). This will impact the delivery schedule and the impact would be global.

How many of these aircraft are in operation in India?

Five are flying with Jet Airways and because of non-payment they are grounded.

As far as flying is concerned, they are only with SpiceJet. Some 8 to 10 were flying till Wednesday (March 13) and are now grounded.

So I think this will be a short term impact and not impact Indian aviation in the long term.

I feel the grounding of these Boeing aircraft will affect global aviation more than the Indian aviation industry.

This grounding is bound to affect flight schedules, and given that Jet is not flying its full fleet, it can lead to an increase in air ticket prices. Should consumers worry?

Aviation is a seasonal business. Out of four quarters in a year, you have two quarters which are busy.

October-December and April-June have the maximum number of flyers in India because it coincides with the holiday season.

And if you see the pricing trend, then ticket prices are always higher in these six months.

The other six months of January-March and July-August you have less volume of traffic and airlines discount ticket prices in this period.

Right now we are in March so ticket prices should be low, but Indian aviation is having a lesser number of aircraft.

Besides the Boeing 737 MAX, you have the A320Neos which Indigo is currently grappling with because of a lack of pilots.

This has led to cancellation (of flights) and therefore the prices of air tickets are on the higher side this season although generally in March ticket prices are on the lower side.

So will air ticket prices rise further because of this crisis?

This would have an impact over the next three months from the April quarter if this (grounding of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft) continues.

We do not know how soon Boeing would have a fix for this. This may impact the April to June quarter.

Airline ticket prices remain high anyways for the April quarter as it is the holiday season.

And this grounding of Boeing aircraft would have a delta effect (external link), but it would not impact completely.

Can one or two accidents decide the fate of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft across the world? Has this ever happened in the history of aviation?

It (Boeing 737) is a very robust and very sturdy aircraft. It has a history of flying right from the 1960s since the base model 737-100.

This 737 fleet was used by ModiLuft, Damania Airways and East-West Airlines.

It was the best-selling aircraft and the only aircraft which comes close to it is the Airbus 320.

This accident won't impact 737 fleets globally, but I think we should wait and watch how quickly Boeing solves this problem after two crashes.

Yes, but the delivery of new aircraft would be impacted as airlines would demand that Boeing rectify this issue before delivery happens.

The delivery of new aircraft would be impacted, but existing aircraft will see growth.

Can you explain in layman's terms what went wrong with the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft?

The issue is primarily during takeoff of the aircraft.

The flight control, if you switch onto auto pilot, the new software was over-riding the controls which are with the pilots especially during takeoff.

Obviously, when new aircraft types are introduced, the pilots need to be adequately trained. They should have to be familiarised with any changes in the aircraft.

That particular exercise Boeing needs to do to get this glitch rectified as soon as possible.

How could this aircraft come in to use before pilots were well-trained? Are they not doing the testing process well?

This particular design is in operation for the last 60 years.

The aircraft type is not in question. What is actually happening is that recent aircraft modifications have happened more in terms of technology intervention. You have better designed engines which give you better performance.

Technology has played a larger role than the airframe design itself. The airframe design has remained the same as in the 1970s. This is more of a technological fix than a fix on the airframe.

Will the grounded aircraft fly again?

The grounded aircraft will fly once Boeing fixes (the problem) and pilots are certified to fly these planes.

It is not a maintenance issue as such, but it is more in terms of technology and software. So it will be a change in software and once that is fixed, the aircraft will fly again.

Syed Firdaus Ashraf / Rediff.com
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