‘Washer’ missing on a Boeing 737 MAX-8 plane of Indian airline: DGCA

Rectification recommended by Boeing carried out before clearing the aircraft for flight operations, says aviation watchdog; inspection for loose hardware completed on 39 of 40 MAX-8 planes in India

January 09, 2024 10:42 pm | Updated January 10, 2024 10:22 am IST - NEW DELHI

Three Indian airlines — Akasa Air, SpiceJet, and Air India Express — operate 737 MAX-8 planes. Image for representation

Three Indian airlines — Akasa Air, SpiceJet, and Air India Express — operate 737 MAX-8 planes. Image for representation | Photo Credit: AP

An Indian airline discovered that a “washer” in the rudder control system of a 737 MAX-8 plane was missing after Boeing ordered a global inspection of the MAX family of aircraft last month, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said on Tuesday, hours after reports emerged that two U.S. carriers, United Airlines and Alaska Airlines, found loose bolts on their MAX-9 plug doors.

MAX-8 and -9 are variants of the Boeing 737 MAX series.

Rectification recommended by Boeing was carried out before clearing the aircraft for flight operations, the DGCA said. It did not name the Indian airline that reported the missing washer. Three Indian airlines — Akasa Air, SpiceJet, and Air India Express — operate 737 MAX-8 planes.

Thirty-nine of the 40 MAX-8 in service in India have been inspected. An aircraft remains to be examined.

The Boeing advisory, issued late December, for one-time inspection of 737 MAX planes for possible loose hardware came after one of its airline customers informed it of a missing nut and washer in the “aft rudder quadrant” during a routine maintenance check.

Also Read | DGCA says Boeing 737-8 Max planes inspection completed satisfactorily

A week later, the MAX family of aircraft found itself in yet another safety crisis after a plug-door (non-operational door) on a Boeing 737 MAX-9 plane of Alaska Airlines blew out mid-flight while it was headed to Ontario in California from Portland in Oregon.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is investigating whether four bolts that were supposed to hold the panel in place were missing when the plane took off. Both airlines have grounded their MAX planes and cancelled hundreds of flights. Alaska has 65 MAX-9 planes and United has 78.

Reports suggest that United Airlines has found loose bolts on as many as 10 aircraft. Alaska Airlines said in a statement on Monday that “initial reports from our technicians indicate some loose hardware was visible on some aircraft”.

Following the U.S. incident, the Indian regulator also asked domestic airlines to check emergency doors on aircraft. The inspection did not yield any untoward findings. Indian airlines only have MAX-8 aircraft and not the MAX-9 that have been grounded in the U.S.

Boeing, in a statement, said, “As operators conduct the required inspections, we are staying in close contact with them and will help address any and all findings. We are committed to ensuring every Boeing airplane meets design specifications and the highest safety and quality standards. We regret the impact this has had on our customers and their passengers.”

Also Read | DGCA revises duty norms for pilots, allows more weekly rest and fewer night flights

Boeing has seen several safety challenges with its 737 MAX and 787 jets in the past. The 737 MAX aircraft were also involved in two deadly crashes in 2018 and 2019 that killed nearly 350 people, leading to its worldwide ban for nearly 20 months. 

Since the return to service, Boeing has managed to expand its narrow-body presence in India and grabbed orders for its MAXs from Air India and Akasa.

Akasa placed an order for 72 Boeing 737 MAX-8 planes in 2021. Air India’s mega 470-aircraft order placed in 2023 also includes 190 MAX jets.

The planes being delivered to Indian players were initially ordered by different customers such as those in China, who halted their deliveries post the crashes. These grounded planes were then reactivated and delivered here.

Vishok Mansingh, founding director and CEO of aircraft leasing company Vman Aero Services, said growing technical problems faced by airlines such as due to Pratt and Whitney engines or 737 Max planes, which have resulted in a large number of groundings, may force airlines to have a mixed fleet comprising aircraft of different manufacturers.

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