Russia's aviation safety



Crash the latest blemish on Russia’s safety record


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Brendan KennedyStaff Reporter === Thursday, September 8, 2011
The Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash is just the latest blemish on Russia’s aviation safety record — already the worst in the developed world.
“Unfortunately this is just the kind of thing that tends to happen quite frequently in Russia,” said Stuart Barwood, a commercial aviation consultant formerly based in Moscow.
A private Russian jet carrying one of the country’s top hockey teams crashed Wednesday after a failed takeoff attempt, killing 43 people including the team’s Canadian coach. There were only two survivors.
The accident was Russia’s eighth fatal plane crash this year, bringing the 2011 death toll to 120, according to the Aviation Safety Network.
By comparison, seven people have died in three fatal crashes in the U.S. this year.
Last year, Russia and the former Soviet republics combined for one of the worst air-traffic safety records in the world, with a total accident rate almost three times the world average, according to the International Air Transport Association.
Critics say the country’s shoddy safety record is due to regional airlines’ use of aging, Soviet-era planes, lax enforcement of safety regulations for charter operators, and “greedy” airline managers who sacrifice training for profits.
“This tragedy once again shows that no one in Russia really cares about the safety of civil aviation,” said Anatoly Knyshov, a test pilot with more than 40 years of flying experience, who in 2006 wrote a letter to Russia’s then-president Vladimir Putin urging him to improve the country’s airline safety protocols and pilot training.
Knyshov argued that since the collapse of the Soviet Union — when Russia’s centralized airline, Aeroflot, was fragmented and split into a number of smaller airlines — safety regulations have been pushed aside in the name of profits.
“Since 1991, the Soviet system of training pilots, of safety protocols and regulations, has been destroyed by greedy managers,” Knyshov said.
Barwood argued that the country’s larger airlines, which operate international flights out of major cities, generally meet international safety standards. The problem, he said, lies in the lack of enforcement of regional airlines and charter operators like the one involved in the Lokomotiv crash.
The Russian charter operator, YAK Service, had previously come under European safety scrutiny for a number of its planes, including the Yakovlev 42, or Yak-42, involved in Wednesday’s crash.
The aircraft was banned in July 2009 from flying into the European Union due to “major safety deficiencies affecting flight operations,” according to report by the EU’s aviation safety committee.
Restrictions were lifted a few months later, but the plane was to be regularly “ramp-checked to ensure compliance with international standards,” according to the report, which stated that the Russian government was to monitor compliance with safety regulations.
Despite lifting the regulations on the Yak-42, the EU still banned two other YAK Service planes from entering their airspace because they were not satisfied the operator was complying with safety standards.
The Russian Emergency Situations Ministry said the Yak-42 crashed into the shore of the Volga River immediately after leaving the airport near the western city of Yaroslavl, 240 kilometres northeast of Moscow. The plane reportedly did not take off in time, struggled to gain altitude and then crashed into a signal tower, shattering into pieces.
An air traffic controller at the Yaroslavl airport told a Russian TV station that the jet crashed after it failed to gain enough speed to takeoff.
“The captain requested permission for a takeoff; I granted it. After this the captain was supposed to make contact once the plane reached 200 metres, but the plane simply did not reach that height,” Ariy Novik, 38, told LifeNews.
Russia’s Interstate Aviation Committee has opened an investigation into the circumstances and causes of the accident.
The plane in Wednesday’s crash was manufactured in 1993, but the short- and medium-range Yak-42 has been in service since 1980. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had announced plans to take the aging Soviet-built planes out of service starting next year.
Less than 200 Yak-42s were ever manufactured, according to Barwood, who said eight have crashed. “It is an airplane that unfortunately has had a fairly high accident rate.”
Knyshov, however, called the Yak-42 “very reliable,” and said pilot error due to a lack of training was the more likely cause.
With files from Igor Malakho


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