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India and New Zealand join Max suspension

India and New Zealand have become the latest countries in Asia Pacific to ban the operation of the Boeing 737 Max over safety concerns.

In two tweets in the early hours of 13 March, India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation says it has taken the decision to ground the Max “immediately”. The country has 17 of the type – 12 with SpiceJet and five with Jet Airways.

“These planes will be grounded till appropriate modifications and safety measures are undertaken to ensure their safe operations,” it says, adding that it will continue to consult with regulators, airlines and aircraft manufacturers globally to ensure passenger safety.

This is an escalation from an earlier directive issued on 11 March, which only required pilots in command of the Max to have logged a minimum of 1,000 hours and co-pilots 500 hours on the 737NG. The flight crew must also have undergone the necessary training.

It had also mandated that the engineering and maintenance teams to not release the minimum equipment list for aircraft when the dual autopilot and yaw damper systems are not functioning, and when there are faults with the spoiler system.

Checks must also be done on the autopilot system and the stall management and yaw damper system during extended transit inspection, for stored maintenance messages. The angle of attack sensor must also be checked.

Jet Airways says that its 737 Max 8s had been grounded before the ministry's orders were issued, likely due to its ongoing financial difficulties.

New Zealand meanwhile has suspended the operation of the Max into and out of the country, which will only affect Fiji Airways' flights.

“The decision to suspend operations by the aircraft follows recent discussions with other aviation authorities, including the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) which have responsibility for oversight of the design of the aircraft,” says the Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand.

“The CAA’s assessment has taken into consideration the level of uncertainty regarding the cause of the recent Ethiopian Airlines accident plus its review of the aircraft design.”

In South Korea, Eastar Jet, the only operator of the Max there, has voluntarily grounded its two aircraft in the interest of safety.

While aviation regulators and airlines around the world have grounded the Max, the FAA has maintained that it sees “no basis” to order a grounding. The USA remains the prominent outlier among a handful of countries that have not suspended operations with the aircraft after the fatal crash of ET302 on 10 March.

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