A couple of days ago, an Aeroflot operated Sukhoi Superjet 100 crashed in Moscow, engulfed in a huge fireball, while trying to make an emergency landing. More than 40 people died after the Russian-made commercial plane was reportedly struck by lightning. But this was not the only plane that met an ill-fated end. In 2019 alone, 209 people have died in air crashes across the globe, while these numbers stood at 561 in 2018. Interestingly, 2018 was the worst year in the history of aviation. If historical data is to be taken, fatalities dropped from 1,844 in 1996 to just 59 in 2017 and then is on a rise for the past year.
The crash of the Ethiopian Airlines’ Boeing 737 Max 8, killing all the 157 passengers and crew members on-board was the biggest news-maker and the worst incident in the aviation industry in 2019, resulting in the grounding of all the 737 Max aircrafts across the globe. While India too faced the heat of Max grounding, it was overshadowed by the Jet Airways crisis and other operational problems like shutting of Air India ticketing software – SITA.
Here are a few domestic and global crises in the aviation industry from 2019, proving how turbulent this year has been for the aviation industry.
Grounding of Boeing 737 Max 8
2019 will be remembered for the Boeing crisis that erupted post the Ethiopian Airlines crash on 10th March this year. Flight number ET302 flew from Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia but crashed shortly afterwards. The crash involving a newly acquired Boeing 737 Max 8 instantly drew parallels with yet another crash involving a Max 8 aircraft – a Lion Air crash in Indonesia late last year. As in the Ethiopian case, all the passengers and crew dies in Lion Air crash.
Two highly modern planes crashing within a span of 6 months, killing 350 people in total created a huge uproar in the aviation industry and as a result, all the airlines and safety agencies were forced to stop Boeing 737 Max 8 from flying on any active commercial duty. Recent revelations have revealed that Boeing knew about the MCAS software glitch (allegedly responsible for both the crashes) before the Lion Air crash and didn’t disclose it to the airlines.
Whatever may be the real reasons, and only a detailed study can tell what really happened, Boeing’s image has taken a hard hit and it's highly unlikely 737 Max 8 will be flying in the near future. With more than 5500 Maxs grounded, including 18 in India, the industry is facing a lot of heat to consolidate the growing air travellers and reduced aircrafts in operation.
Apart from the biggest crash of 2019 – the Ethiopian Airlines crash, there have been at least 5 more fatal crashes, resulting in the death of more than 100 passengers combined. The most recent one is the crash of Aeroflot Sukhoi Superjet 100 passenger aircraft that caught fire after hard landing at the Moscow airport. According to multiple eyewitnesses and the pilot, the plane suffered an electronic failure after a lightning struck the plane. Since the aircraft was in the initial stage of ascent, it was full of fuel that caused a massive fire to erupt while landing. More than 40 people were reported dead out of 76 passengers and crew that the plane was carrying.
Another plane crash that grabbed headline was that of Piper PA-56 Malibu light aircraft transporting Argentine football player Emiliano Sala. The plane crashed over the English Channel and the body of Sala was recovered 17 days later. Other plane crashes like a crash in Mexico, Iran and Colombia has resulted in the death of close to 50 passengers.
It’s not easy to operate an airline be it India or anywhere else in the world and the burden of the financial crisis fell on the Indian airline carrier - Jet Airways. The Mumbai-based full-service carrier has been battling its biggest financial crisis in history. After facing immense financial pressure and debts, Naresh Goyal controlled carrier announced to temporary shut its operation globally, India being the worst hit market. Not only did the hundreds of planes have to be grounded, a work force comprising pilots, crew and ground staff were also left without a job. This has created a pressure as well as opportunity for rival airlines to accommodate the jet passengers both domestic and abroad. Spicejet even acquired the grounded 737 planes and rebranded for the domestic operations, while Air India decided not to procure the Boeing 777s for international operations after some reports stated otherwise initially.
Hijacking of an airplane is the worst fear of not only the passengers, but the nation as a whole. Increased security, advanced technology and aware passengers have managed to reduce the hijacking instances to negligible, although there have been hoax phone calls every now and then. However, in 2019 itself, the fear of plane hijack came alive for passengers of Biman Bangladesh Airlines Flight 147. The Boeing 737-800 was hijacked 250-km out of Dhaka, enroute to Dubai by a lone terrorist. After performing an emergency landing at the Dhaka airport, the Special Forces shot dead the terrorist and no casualties were reported.
While these are the major incidences that raked up the world headlines, there have been isolated, yet crucial incidences that missed the top news. The skidding of chartered Boeing 737 in St. Johns River, Air India software glitch that left Air India passengers suffering for days, Boeing vs Airbus in WTO – all have been shaping the aviation industry in their own way. And remember, we are not yet half way into 2019. Let’s hope the rest of the year goes incidence free.