DGCA guidelines also invite ridicule
The captain of Ethiopian Airlines flight that crashed on March 10, had done 8,000 hours of flying time. Similarly, the two pilots on the Lion Air flight, which went down the Java Sea in October last year, had flown 5,000 and 6,000 hours.
With that kind of experience proving not enough to prevent the crash, both involving the under-investigation Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft, experts have questioned regulator DGCA's guideline that only pilots with a minimum of 1,000 flying hours should be at the controls of the plane.
On March 11, a day after the Ethiopian Airlines crash that left nearly 160 dead, the DGCA issued additional guidelines for the Boeing aircraft. One of them is that the captain operating a Max aircraft should have 1,000 hours of flying time, and the co-pilot 500 hours.
"The 1,000-hour guideline has been issued just to ensure that operations don't get effected. It is silly. How can even a pilot with more experience handle an aircraft failure for which he was never trained?" asked a senior pilot at a private airline.
Apart from this, the regulator has also laid down guidelines for checks and maintenance.
It asked the aircraft operators (Jet Airways and SpiceJet have Max 8) to ensure that the "crew operating B737 Max aircraft have undergone training as advised in the directive issued by DGCA dated 3rd December 2018."
The December guideline was issued after the Lion Air crash.
Industry experts have also questioned the training part. "I’ll be amazed if they can replicate the computer glitch in the simulator as they don’t have this malfunction or ‘non-normal’ condition built into the sim," said a senior pilot.
"What we have is a ‘runway stabiliser’ condition which causes a nose down condition. But, the crashes are caused by a very rapid and uncontrollable nose down command due to an erroneous signal, and taking countermeasures at low altitudes may not work partially or fully," he added.
In both the tragedies, the aircraft crashed within minutes of take-off; and their altitude fluctuated. In the Lion Air crash, investigations showed a malfunction in one of the sensors lead to the aircraft computer automatically initiating a dive. There were concerns that pilots weren't trained for this.
Industry, on the other hand, has asked for the grounding of these aircraft.
In India, Jet Airways has five Max in its fleet, and SpiceJet 13.
Apart from China, Australia and Singapore, many of the airlines have also grounded these aircraft until results of investigations are out.
"They (DGCA) should be grounding the fleet," says Mark Martin, Founder of ]Martin Consulting, an aviation consulting firm. "While it is too early to pinpoint on the reason behind the Ethiopian Airlines crash, the fact is that it was a new aircraft. Most of the countries are also grounding it. It is better to be safe," he added.
Martin drew parallel with the experience of Airbus A320 aircraft, which was "over computerised" and took time for pilots to understand.
In a statement on Tuesday, SpiceJet said:
"The Boeing 737 MAX is a highly sophisticated aircraft. It has flown hundreds of thousands of hours globally and some of the world’s largest airlines are flying this aircraft."
"We are actively engaged with both Boeing and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation and will continue to put safety first, as always. We have already implemented all additional precautionary measures as directed by the DGCA yesterday."
Jet Airways, which has grounded its Max planes, had on Monday said it is in contact with Boeing, and "remains committed to implementing all directives or advisories that may be published by those authorized."World over, there are 387 Boeing 737 Max aircraft being operated by 59 airlines.