After a long wait of over two years, the Boeing 737 Max planes will take to the skies again after Indian aviation safety regulator, the Director-General of Civil Aviation, on Monday gave its nod.
The DGCA allowed SpiceJet to restart its Max aircraft for commercial use by passengers after it was grounded around the world following two deadly crashes of the aircraft model that together killed 346 people.
To reinstall passengers' trust in the safety of the aircraft, SpiceJet owners, their families, along with Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia will fly in 737 MAX aircraft today from Delhi to Gwalior.
As the big birds soar again, here’s what happened to the fleet of planes and how it affected airlines across the world.
Accidents lead to grounding
On 29 October 2018, Lion Air Flight 610 — from Soekarno–Hatta International Airport in Jakarta to Depati Amir Airport in Pangkal Pinang — crashed into the Java Sea 13 minutes after take-off, killing all 189 passengers and crew.
The incident was reported to be the first major accident involving a Boeing 737 Max - an updated version of the 737. Incidentally, it became the deadliest accident in Lion Air's history, surpassing the 2004 Lion Air Flight 583 that killed 25, and the second deadliest aircraft accident in Indonesia behind Garuda Indonesia Flight 152.
Nearly five months later, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 took off from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 10 March 2019. Its destination was Nairobi, Kenya. Six minutes after take-off, the plane crashed near the town of Bishoftu, Ethiopia, killing all 157 people aboard.
Both crashed jets were Boeing 737 Max 8s, a variant of the best-selling aircraft in history.
The two crashes led to more than 300 Boeing 737 Max passenger jets being grounded worldwide.
While China and the European Union almost immediately announced their decision to ground the plane, the United States took a bit longer to ground the planes. It was on 13 March, the United States grounded the planes.
In India, the DGCA had banned the planes in March itself.
The decision to ground the 737 Max planes affected airline operators all across the world. Large carriers like United, American, Southwest, Air Canada were affected as they all had the 737 Max in their stable.
In India, SpiceJet was affected as it was the only airline to have the aircraft model in its fleet.
Investigations into the crashes
Investigations were immediately called into the crashes. It was discovered that the main cause of the accidents was a design flaw in the most modern jetliner.
As per the probe, the 737 model's Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System, originally designed to guard against an aerodynamic stall, forced the planes to nosedive, leading to the crashes.
Effects of grounding the planes
The Boeing 737 Max groundings led to several issues, including financial losses and air disruptions.
Many US and international airlines that relied on Boeing's bestselling plane had to cancel thousands of flights. In fact in July 2019, NPR reported that American Airlines had cancelled 115 flights per day, potentially affecting about 23,000 passengers daily.
Similarly, Flydubai, a low-cost Middle East airline serving 95 destinations, had canceled 17 percent of its flying schedule.
The grounding of the planes also saw an increase in airfares.
The cancellation of the 737 MAX also had an effect on Boeing not just in terms of financial losses, but also a loss in credibility. In January 2020, the company estimated a loss of $18.4 billion for 2019, and it reported 183 cancelled MAX orders for the year.
The un-grounding process
Once corrective measures were taken, America's Federal Aviation Administration lifted the restriction of the Boeing 737 Max. In November of 2020, the FAA issued an Airworthiness Directive, which allowed for Boeing 737 Max airplanes to return to service following several tests.
The European Aviation Safety Agency also rescinded the ban on 17 February 2021.
Finally, in August, India's DGCA lifted its ban with immediate effect — a boost in the arm for SpiceJet, which has 13 of the planes in its fleet.
With inputs from agencies