New Delhi/Mumbai: Following a global trend of grounding Boeing 737-MAX aircraft, India finally suspended the plane's operations and over-flight permissions on Wednesday evening, even as hundreds of passengers were affected at airports.
The government tried to protect passengers from the double whammy of high fares and reduced flight operations. Advising airlines not to go in for predatory pricing, it said that it will be monitoring key sectors to detect any high fares.
Briefing the media here, after a meeting between Ministry of Civil Aviation officials with airlines' representatives, Civil Aviation Secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola said that all flights operated on Boeing 737-MAX have been grounded before 4 p.m.
In India, SpiceJet and Jet Airways operate 17 Boeing 737-MAX aircraft -- Spice (12) and Jet (5) -- though the latter's fleet was already grounded due to various reasons.
"We have advised the airlines... that they should not use it (grounding) as a reason to hike their fares," Kharola told reporters.
"They have assured us that they will go as per normal routine. The DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) has said that it will be monitoring all the sectors very closely...if it is found that pricing is predatory, advisory will be issued."
Kharola said that SpiceJet cancelled 14 flights, out of the 500-plus flights it operates on a daily basis. The airline was able to take care of passengers on its cancelled flights.
However, according to sector experts, airfares are already high and the current developments may further push them up.
"The shortage of planes and high seat occupancies are expected to push air fares north in the short term. The fares were at least 15 per cent higher this year compared to last year. Owing to the current situation, they are expected to rise further this season," Sharat Dhall, COO (B2C) of Yatra.com said.
According to Aloke Bajpai, CEO and co-founder, ixigo: "Following the ban on Boeing 737 MAX in Indian airspace, international inbound flights have been affected. Post-DGCA announcement, 34 international flights flying into Mumbai and 12 flights bound for Delhi were cancelled."
"Grounding of additional planes will further impact fares which were already high this season. Both domestic and international fares for flights to and from Mumbai and Delhi have seen an average increase of 40-50 per cent and we expect fares to rise further due to shortage of planes."
Earlier in the day, the Ministry of Civil Aviation tweeted: "No B737 Max aircraft will be allowed to enter or transit the Indian airspace effective 1600 hours."
This came as a clarification and in continuation to its late Tuesday decision when the Ministry had tweeted: "DGCA has taken the decision to ground the Boeing 737-MAX planes immediately."
The Ministry added on Wednesday: "B737Max operations will stop from or to all Indian airports. Additionally, no B737 Max aircraft will be allowed to enter or transit the Indian airspace effective 1600 hours Indian time or 1030 UTC."
On its part, SpiceJet said that it is rationalising and optimising the use of its Boeing 737NG and Bombardier Q400 aircraft to address the current situation and minimise inconvenience to its passengers.
"We are evaluating options for augmenting capacity in the coming days through a mix of additional flights & aircraft inductions. We are sure that our operations will be normal very soon," the airline said in a statement.
"Complying with the DGCA directive, SpiceJet has grounded its entire B737 Max fleet. A majority of passengers affected as a result of these cancellations have been accommodated by SpiceJet on alternate flights."
Apart from cancellations, Wednesday's restriction will also hamper fleet augmentation of SpiceJet and Jet Airways with 737-MAX, thereby impacting their international expansion.
They have also placed orders for 355 737-MAX aircraft. Of this, SpiceJet has 205 737-MAX aircraft on order and Jet Airways 150 planes of the same type.
The DGCA has said that the Boeing 737 MAX planes will be grounded till appropriate modifications and safety measures are undertaken to ensure their safe operations.
With the latest action, India joined the UK, Singapore, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Australia and the EU nations in the grounding.
The global grounding of the Boeing fleet follows the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines' Boeing 737-MAX flight on Sunday killing all 157 people on board.