Lessons From Spicejet’s Flight Simulator Fiasco

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has restricted 90 SpiceJet pilots from operating the Boeing MAX aircraft till they undergo re-training to its satisfaction. The low-cost airline has 650 pilots trained to fly this particular aircraft. While this temporary ban will not affect operations of SpiceJet’s 11 MAX, the incident turns the spotlight on the protocols followed to ensure flight safety.

The need for re-training SpiceJet MAX pilots came to light while DGCA was inspecting a training facility near Delhi. The simulator where the pilots were being trained was found to be “dysfunctional” and since about 90 SpiceJet pilots had been trained at that facility since March, they have been asked to undergo re-training. Service’ training which involves two-day training in the simulator once it is fully functional.

The pilot de-rostering raises the question of how seriously domestic airlines view the safety of the crew, flyers and the aircraft that they operate. The responsibility of picking a simulator that is fully functional and meets the regulator’s requirements lies with the airline.

When it comes to the MAX, this training becomes even more critical. The controversial Boeing aircraft was grounded in March 2019 globally after crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia, killing over 300. It returned to service globally in 2020 and in India in August 2021, after the manufacturers corrected faults in the earlier design.

However, pilot training was one of the key corrective measures put in place before the aircraft was allowed to fly again. At the moment, SpiceJet is the only Indian operator of the MAX. Start-up airline Akasa has ordered 72 MAX aircraft, and is expected to begin flying later this year.

Pilots training on a dysfunctional simulator flying the MAX can, therefore, not be brushed aside lightly. Why did it take a DGCA inspection for the below-satisfaction training standards to come to light? Why didn’t the airline make sure its pilots get the appropriate training? Airlines and the aviation industry as a whole have to ensure that they follow stringent rules, regulations and procedures to ensure that their crew is trained to the highest levels of safety to fly the aircraft.

Safe flying is a collective responsibility. While the manufacturer, Boeing, was responsible for the faulty design of the MAX aircraft, crew training and ensuring safety are the responsibility of the airline flying any variety of aircraft. The regulator has put in place checks to ensure that safety is maintained. India’s aviation safety record, as it becomes the third largest domestic aviation market after the US and China, depends as much on the operators following the protocols strictly.

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