India orders ‘Immediate’ Grounding of Boeing 737 MAX, SpiceJet keeps flying them.

In a show of abundant caution, airlines and regulators around the world have spent the better part of yesterday taking a decision on the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. While we are continuously updating our tracker, to cut a long story short, everyone from the Middle East to Europe to Asia and Australia, except for North America, has placed some sort of restriction on the operation of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in their territory. It might be the same reason as the first aircraft, or it might be something totally else. Given the circumstances of the two crashes looked similar initially, everyone erred on abundant caution.

Except for Indian aviation. With the airspace around India closing up for the admission of the 737 MAX, India was sort of left with no choice to announce a grounding of the aeroplane itself. SpiceJet is currently the only Indian carrier which flies the Boeing 737 MAX, over a dozen of them, and uses the range of the aircraft to fly Delhi – Hong Kong as well. The Hong Kong regulator, till last evening, was okay with the MAX flying but just this afternoon has decided to stop the admission of the aircraft in their airspace.

a large airplane parked on a tarmac

So, sort of left with minimal options, the DGCA came with an announcement a shade after 11 PM IST last evening, commenting that the 737 MAX be grounded in India immediately. This was an order for India registered 737 MAX aircraft, and not for the ones flying for other carriers into India. The decision was first notified on Twitter at 11:24 PM India time.

Notice the word “immediately” in this context. The grounding of the aircraft was supposed to be immediate. And just at that moment, the SpiceJet Boeing 737 MAX operated Delhi –  Hong Kong flight had just taken off, and there were at least 8-9 aircraft in the air at that moment. Spicejet 737 MAX Routes

While I expected the aircraft to turn around since they could have gotten a no-go from Hong Kong by the morning when they would have arrived in Hong Kong, lucky for them that the Hong Kong CAA did not change their mind already. They luckily got in and out of Hong Kong safely with the MAX 8.

But the most amusing was that right after the notification came out, there was still a Delhi -Ahmedabad flight taking off as if nothing happened at 11:45 PM IST. Other countries when they grounded, it was just grounded and only airborne planes were going to finish their flights.

a map with a route

Calling the SpiceJet contact centre at that time would have yielded information to you that they had no clue about a grounding and that operations were normal. SpiceJet even issued a confirmation late last night that they had grounded the aircraft shortly after midnight.

And then, I continued to track the 737 MAX 8 this morning, and till about 1 PM, there were several SpiceJet 737 MAX was operating.

a map of the world with blue points

a map of asia with blue pins

a map of india with planes and blue points

a map of india with blue pins

a map of the world with blue points


The tune changed this morning, with the DGCA clarifying that the operation of the 737 MAX was permitted till 4 PM in public interest and to bring planes back to their maintenance bases. They also imposed a ban on the use of Indian Airspace for use of the MAX from any other country as well, at 4 PM IST.

But clearly, SpiceJet operating flights like Delhi – Surat – Delhi or Bangalore -Varanasi – Bangalore ringed this claim of bringing a plane back to base hollow.

New advice was issued by SpiceJet this morning, where they claimed they would ground the fleet by 4 PM and cancellations would happen in the schedule consequently.

After this move, I only saw one 737 MAX of the airline in the air.

a map with blue pins on it

This is a very interesting situation, because SpiceJet continued to fly the planes even when the regulator demanded an immediate grounding, and they confirmed they had complied.

Did SpiceJet know all along they could get away with breaking the rules? Or did the regulator change the rules post facto after hearing from SpiceJet? We don’t know yet. What do you think happened here?

About Ajay

Ajay Awtaney is the Founder and Editor of Live From A Lounge (LFAL), a pioneering digital platform renowned for publishing news and views about aviation, hotels, passenger experience, loyalty programs, travel trends and frequent travel tips for the Global Indian. He is considered the Indian authority on business travel, luxury travel, frequent flyer miles, loyalty credit cards and travel for Indians around the globe. Ajay is a frequent contributor and commentator on the media as well, including ET Now, BBC, CNBC TV18, NDTV, Conde Nast Traveller and many other outlets.

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  1. Considering that it could be deduced from the preliminary investigation report on the first crash that a lack of pilot training was the reason for the crash, with shoddy maintenance and poor airline procedures contributing, it’s no wonder that aviation agencies that can comprehend an investigation report and airlines with properly functioning airplanes and properly trained pilots were reluctant to shut them down. The EU does know how to read an investigation report, but had to pretend something was wrong with the airplane. Having banned all Indonesian airlines from EU airspace in 2009 and allowing each one back in if/when it passed inspection, they suddenly cleared all the remaining Indonesian airlines that were still on the banned list (9 years later!) to resume operations within the EU just 4 months prior to the Lion Air crash. Lion Air itself was banned in 2009 and took seven years to get its act together, finally passing muster and being allowed back in EU airspace in 2016. That report alone would have been quite embarrassing for the EU, but the same day the New York Times published an article that revealed “heaps of parts” in Lion Air’s maintenance shops, status unknown, having been removed from airplanes per incompetent maintenance procedures. Indeed, analysis of the preliminary report shows that a likely good AoA sensor was removed from the airplane and a bad one installed—which triggered a stab trim runaway, revealing inadequate pilot training.

  2. This portrays an immediate lack of interest on part of the DGCA to err on the side of caution. Seems as if “rules” can potentially be manipulated by airlines and the DGCA conforms to such behaviours.

  3. I remember the German tv series on sports in 1980s. .. Telematch. Those teams used to use up the resources upto the last second.. SpiceJet did the same

  4. If they don’t value our lives and have disregard for rules, then it is better to boycott SpiceJet. Anyway I don’t fly with them. Only full service carriers and then Indigo if I’ve no other choice.

  5. This is really pathetic. Human safety in India is valued next to nothing, neither by the corporates nor by the govt itself.

    To me the more shocking thing is that India is one of the last countries to ground this aircraft. And even then, this was mostly done because they didnt have any other options left. And spicejet, grounded max only because DGCA asked them to, otherwise they would have continued to fly them, disregarding value of life over operational costs.

    And then they have the guts to tweet saying “SpiceJet statement@flyspicejet has suspended Boeing 737 Max operations following DGCA’s decision to ground the aircraft. Safety and security of our passengers, crew and operations are of utmost importance to us”

    It should be “SpiceJet statement@flyspicejet has suspended Boeing 737 Max operations following DGCA’s decision to ground the aircraft, not because safety and security of our passengers comes first, but because after DGCA we dont have any other option left” 😀

    • To be fair it’s not just the govt or companies. How many people flout basic safety norms to expand their houses, cross roads in a dangerous manner, wear construction helmets while riding bikes, drive and ride dangerously, lean out of trains, sit on roofs of trains?

  6. They have to fly back where these planes are based. Same happened for China, where planes in the outstations flew back to home base like CX’s BKK to URQ Flight.

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