Jet Airways grounds planes

Indian carrier Jet Airways has grounded a further six aircraft amid a deepening crisis.

The beleaguered company has been struggling under the weight of debts totalling more than than $1bn (£750m).

The airline has delayed payments to banks, employees, suppliers and even aircraft lessors.

A pilots’ organisation warned that its members would stop flying for the carrier if their salaries were not paid by the end of March.

In a letter to the National Stock Exchange of India on Tuesday, company secretary Kuldeep Sharma said: “An additional six aircraft have been grounded due to non-payment of amounts outstanding to lessors under their respective lease agreements.”

He said the airline was trying to “improve its liquidity”.

Planes grounded

Jet Airways has been forced to ground planes due to its financial woes.

It has more than 100 aircraft in its fleet, and flies on 600 domestic and 380 international routes.

But at least 50 of those aircraft have been grounded.

Industry regulator the Directorate General of Civil Aviation has asked the airline to refund passengers, or provide alternatives, if their flights are cancelled.

On Tuesday, the National Aviators Guild warned the Jet Airways management that members would stop flying for the airline from 1 April if their salaries were not paid.

They also demanded the implementation of a “resolution plan” for the airline’s financial issues which was announced a few weeks ago.

“If there is no proper clarity on the resolution process and salary payments, by 31 March, we will stop flying from 1 April,” the guild said.

Pilots and other senior airline staff have not been getting their full salaries since December.

Meanwhile, the Press Trust of India reported that the airline’s aircraft maintenance engineers’ union had written to the Indian aviation regulator to say that three months of salary was overdue, and flight safety was “at risk”.

The Jet Aircraft Engineers Welfare Association (JAMEWA) said it had been hard for engineers to meet their own financial commitments, adversely affecting their “psychological condition”.

“Therefore the safety of public transport airplanes being flown by Jet Airways across India and the world is at risk,” it said.

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Indonesian carrier cancels big order for Boeing 737

Indonesia’s national airline Garuda has announced the cancellation of its multi-billion-dollar order for 49 Boeing 737 Max 8 passenger jets after two fatal crashes involving the aircraft in less than five months.

In 2014, Garuda Indonesia signed a $4.9 billion agreement for the delivery of 50 of the Boeing planes, one of which was handed to the company.

The air carrier has now reportedly sent a letter to Boeing to cancel the order for the remaining 737 MAX jets with the representatives of the world’s biggest aerospace group expected to visit Jakarta in late March for “further discussion” of the issue.

‘Passengers have lost confidence’

Off-Duty Pilot Stopped Potential Boeing 737 MAX Disaster One Day Before

One day before a Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet operated by Lion Air crashed into the Java Sea off Jakarta, Indonesia, back in October, killing 189 people, an off-duty pilot flying in the cockpit of that same model of plane on the same airline helped its passengers and crew avoid a similar fate.

According to a report from Bloomberg, the unnamed pilot jumped to the aid of crew members as the Lion Air plane — flying from Bali to Jakarta — experienced difficulties, disabling a malfunctioning flight-control system that is thought to have have caused the fatal crash in Indonesia, and more recently, in Ethiopia, in February.

RELATED: Trump Gives ‘Emergency Order’ to Ground all Boeing 737 MAX Planes in the U.S. After Deadly Crashes

Sources familiar with the incident told Bloomberg that the off-duty pilot instructed the crew to cut the power to the motor in the failing trim system, which was causing the plane’s nose to repeatedly tilt down. The move is part of a checklist all pilots are required to memorize, the outlet said.

Crew-members on the doomed Lion Air Flight 610 reportedly didn’t know how to respond to the same malfunction when it occurred the next day. Three sources familiar with that plane’s cockpit voice recorder recovered as part of the investigation told Reuters on the condition of anonymity that in the minutes before the crash, the crew was heard checking their quick reference handbook for how to handle the emergency situation.

Achmad Ibrahim/AP/REX/Shutterstock
Achmad Ibrahim/AP/REX/Shutterstock

A Lion Air spokesperson did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment on either Bloomberg or Reuters’ reports, but Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT) continues to investigate the Lion Air crash.

Indonesian authorities, who discovered Flight 610’s cockpit voice recorder in the Java Sea back in January, have said it could take up to a full year to publish the complete crash report.

Investigators are also still looking into the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight operating the Boeing 737 MAX 8 that crashed shortly after takeoff earlier this month, killing all 157 passengers on board.

Countries around the world have grounded the controversial Boeing jet, including the United States, the European Union, Australia, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore.

The acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration, Daniel Elwell, announced last week that their investigations had found a potential link between the two deadly crashes. “We are much closer to that possibility and that’s why we grounded the airplanes,” he said on the Today show “We got new information yesterday and we acted on it. It is in our minds now, a link that is close enough to ground the airplanes.”

Str/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock
Str/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

RELATED: FAA Administrator Says ‘New Information’ May Link the Boeing 737 MAX Plane Crashes

Numerous airlines, including U.S. carriers like American and Southwest, use the 737 MAX 8 for their flights, but have temporarily grounded them following the order. According to the FAA, there are currently 74 MAX 8 and MAX 9 planes that were in operation in the U.S. and 387 worldwide.

President Trump has weighed in on the situation, saying he feels planes are now “too complex to fly.”

“Pilots are no longer needed, but rather computer scientists from MIT,” he wrote in a tweet. “I see it all the time in many products. Always seeking to go one unnecessary step further, when often old and simpler is far better.”

Boeing had stood behind the plane it created for several days following the Ethiopian crash, writing in a statement, “we have full confidence in the safety of the 737 MAX.” They have since complied with the FAA’s grounding of the fleet.

According to Boeing’s website, the 210-seat MAX 8, which debuted in 2017 and was first flown by Southwest in the U.S., was designed to be a more comfortable, reliable and fuel efficient way to travel. It’s also the fastest selling plane in the company’s history, accumulating 4,700 orders worldwide to date.

Erdogan and Putin vow closer cooperation on Syria

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a meeting in Moscow on Wednesday vowed to coordinate their actions more closely in Syria.

“Cooperation between Russia and Turkey is a touchstone for Syrian peace and stability,” Erdogan said in translated comments at a joint press conference after their talks, which lasted around three hours.

“With our Russian friends we intend to strengthen our coordination even more.”

“We agreed how we’ll coordinate our work in the near future,” Putin said, calling the talks which included the countries’ defence ministers “effective”.

At the start of their meeting in the Kremlin, Putin addressed Erdogan as “dear friend,” saying that their countries “work on issues of regional security and actively cooperate on Syria”.

Erdogan used the same term for Putin and said “our solidarity makes a weighty contribution to the security of the region”.

The two leaders are on opposite sides of the Syria conflict: Russia provides critical support to the Syrian government, while Turkey has backed rebel groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Despite this, they have worked closely to find a political solution to the seven-year conflict.

– ‘Positive step’ –

Russia and Turkey have agreed to coordinate ground operations in Syria following US President Donald Trump’s shock announcement last month about pulling 2,000 American troops out of Syria.

Putin said that if carried out, the withdrawal of US troops from northeastern Syria “will be a positive step, it will help stabilise the situation in this restive area”.

Turkey has also welcomed Washington’s planned withdrawal, but the future of US-backed Kurdish militia forces labelled terrorists by Ankara has upset ties between the NATO allies.

Erdogan had said on Monday he would discuss with Putin the creation of a Turkish-controlled “security zone” in northern Syria, suggested by Trump.

The US-allied Kurds, who control much of the north, have rejected the idea, fearing a Turkish offensive against territory under their control.

Putin said Wednesday that Russia supports “establishing dialogue between Damascus officials and representatives of the Kurds”.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week said that Damascus must take control of the north.

– ‘Serious concern’ –

The northwestern province of Idlib earlier this month fell under the full control of a jihadist group dominated by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.

The Russian foreign ministry said earlier Wednesday that the situation in the province remained of “serious concern”.

Putin said that the leaders discussed the situation in Idlib “in great detail today.”

“We have a shared conviction that we must continue jointly fighting terrorists wherever they are, including in the Idlib zone,” the Russian leader said.

Erdogan said that the countries will wage a “lengthy fight” in Syria.

Nearly eight years into Syria’s deadly conflict, the planned US pullout has led to another key step in Assad’s Russian-backed drive to reassert control.

Kurdish forces who were left exposed by Trump’s pledge to withdraw have asked the Syrian regime for help to face a threatened Turkish offensive.

The Kremlin hailed the entry by Syrian forces into the key northern city of Manbij for the first time in six years after Kurds opened the gates.

Moscow plans to organise a three-way summit with Turkey and Iran early this year as part of the Astana peace process, launched by the three countries in 2017.

Putin said Wednesday the next summit would be held “in the near future” in Russia, saying the leaders still needed to agree the time and location with Iran.

The last meeting between Putin, Erdogan and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani took place in Iran in September last year with the fate of rebel-held Idlib province dominating the agenda.

Ties between Russia and Turkey plunged to their lowest level in years in November 2015 when Turkish forces shot down a Russian warplane over Syria.

But after a reconciliation deal in 2016, relations have recovered at a remarkable speed with Putin and Erdogan cooperating closely over Syria, Turkey buying Russian-made air defence systems and Russia building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.

Russian Su-25 jets return to Syria as Idlib operation approaches

The Russian Air Force’s Sukhoi Su-25 fighter jets have returned to Syria after a year-long hiatus, new satellite images revealed this week.

The Israel-based Image Sat International group released a new satellite photo of the Russian Hmeimim Airbase on Friday that showed the return of these fighter jets to Syria.

This move by the Russian Air Force comes just days after they launched a heavy attack on Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham’s positions near the provincial capital of Idlib.

It is no secret that the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) is preparing to launch a large-scale military operation to expel the jihadist and Turkish-backed rebels from the demilitarized zone; however, the return of the Russian Su-25s to Syria also signals Moscow’s approval of such an operation.

While Russia is onboard for this Idlib operation, it does not appear that Turkey is fully in support of such an offensive.

Recently, the Turkish military has increased its presence around the demilitarized zone in a bid to deter the Syrian Arab Army from targeting the rebel forces nearby.

Turkey will likely remain the largest obstacle for this offensive because the Syrian Arab Army will not attack areas where the Turkish armed forces are present.