Tuesday, September 13, 2011

CRASH OF RUSSIAN AIRLINER FOCUSES ON AVIATION SAFETY DEFICIENCIES

This week Russia's aviation industry is reviewing the ramifications of last week’s crash that killed 44 hockey players and coaches (September 8) from Yaroslavl. It is the worst sports aviation disaster worldwide in a generation.

Regrettably, Russia now has the world’s worst air safety record. This year, SEVEN airline crashes have killed 121 people in Russia. In the Congo (formerly Zaire), three crashes this year have killed 106 people. Hence, the air crash rate for Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States is now 7.5 crashes per 1 million flights, or three times the world average, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

COMMENT: Last year and so far this year, all of Russia’s fatal crashes have involved Soviet-designed passenger aircraft. Take these Soviet-era planes out of the equation, and Russia’s commercial air accident rate for the last two years falls to zero. The top 10 airliners transport 85% of the country's passengers, overwhelmingly on Boeings and Airbuses. Looking only at Russia’s top 10 airlines, Russia’s current air accident rate again falls to zero.

Sadly, while flights to and from Moscow and St. Petersburg are world class, Russia's 120 regional and commuter carriers function as if the Berlin Wall just fell, with most commercial carriers being Russian-made. These carriers also cut a lot of corners on safety to maximize profits. It is very common amongst these carriers for pilots to be poorly paid and poorly certified. Conversely, pilots with high standards are often fired for using too much fuel, for canceling flights because of inadequate safety standards and not landing on the first try.

Tragically, Yak Service, the operator of the Yak-42 that crashed with Yaroslavl’s Lokomotiv hockey team, was flying with only one-third of its load capacity and only three working engines, not four. The 18-year-old aircraft was scheduled for major repairs later this year, but it was being regularly flown, even though it should have been grounded for major service.

In 2009, the European Aviation Safety Agency ranked Yak Service as the least safe of 35 Russian airlines flying to Europe. That ranking prompted the EU to ban the company from flying to Europe.


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