India’s decision to join a host of nations to immediately ground the Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft must be seen as a measure of abundant caution because passenger safety is of top most priority. The recent Ethiopian Airline crash, killing 157 people on board including four Indians, has raised questions over safety aspects of this new model of the US aircraft manufacturer’s best-selling 737 series. This is the second mishap in five months involving the aircraft. In October, a Lion Air plane crashed into the sea off the Indonesian capital of Jakarta 13 minutes after take-off, killing all 189 passengers and crew onboard. Boeing needs to undertake urgent improvements to make sure that the best-selling aircraft is safe. While air travel is the safest mode of transport, the mishaps of such nature come as a reminder of the need for constant improvements, technological upgradation and maintenance to ensure passenger safety. The 737 Max 8 upgrade to Boeing’s best-selling jet entered service in 2017 which means that there are not many in the skies compared with the other more established workhorses. Several countries, including China, Australia, Britain, France, Singapore, South Korea and Germany, have grounded the latest model following the Ethiopian airline crash. Among Indian carriers, SpiceJet has 13 jets of the model 8 variant in its 75-strong fleet while Jet Airways has five such aircraft. It is essential that they stay grounded till appropriate modifications and safety measures are undertaken to ensure their safe operations. The passengers and air-crew unions will want to be sure that flights are safe and rightly seek a more precautionary approach.
Surprisingly, the United States has so far refused to take any action against the American aerospace giant’s best-selling workhorse aircraft, despite the two recent crashes and a history of pilot complaints in recent months. In fact, the Federal Aviation Administration has said there were no systemic performance issues to provide a basis for grounding the aircraft. However, preliminary data from the Ethiopian crash appears to capture a brief and erratic flight and further analysis of information from the black boxes would be needed to know what caused the accident. Following the grounding of the Boeing aircraft, the civil aviation industry in the country is set to witness some temporary disruptions, including flight cancellations and surge in airfares. The development has also raised doubts about the planned acquisition of this aircraft by Indian carriers. SpiceJet and Jet Airways are expecting delivery of over 300 Boeing 737 Max aircraft over the next few years. The ban is also likely to have a significant impact on the fortunes of Boeing as the 737 Max is the world’s most-sold commercial aircraft and central to the company’s future.