Russian plane crash highlights concern about Soviet-era jets
A Russian plane crash killed 44 of 52 aboard a Tu-134 today. While the age of the plane was questioned, some experts also point to need for better training and maintenance at smaller carriers.
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Russia's safety record improving
A year ago, in a strikingly similar accident to Monday's disaster, a Tu-154 belonging to the Polish Air Force crashed in Smolensk, Russia, with almost 100 people on board, including Poland's president. A Russian investigation concluded that bad weather and pilot error led the plane to miss the runway and careen into a nearby forest.Skip to next paragraph
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The biggest recent spate of accidents with Tupolev jets has occurred in Iran, leading some experts to speculate that local factors, such as international sanctions that prevent importation of aviation equipment, could be responsible.
Russia had one of the world's worst air-safety records as recently as five years ago. But the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said in a statement this week that Russia has been making progress in improving air safety, though it still has some distance to go.
None of Russia's 13 major carriers has suffered a fatal accident in the last three years, the statement quoted IATA's general director, Giovanni Bisignani, as saying. "But safety concerns remain with the continued operation of some Russian-built equipment that does not comply with International Civil Aviation Organization standards," he added.
Planes' age not the main problem
Some Russian aviation experts insist that the age of the Tu-134 (which entered service in 1967) and the Tu-154 (since 1970) makes little difference. They place the blame for the post-Soviet uptick in accidents on other factors, including corner-cutting on maintenance by small airlines, inadequate pilot training, and deteriorating airport services.
"The main thing is not the age, but the technical state of a plane," says Alexei Sinitsky, editor of Aviatransportnoye Obozreniye, a leading Russian aviation journal.
"Older planes don't get equipped with any new expensive systems, because that is not profitable," he says, which would explain why Russia's aging fleet of Tupolevs fall short of the latest international standards.
"They may be old, but that's no reason to write them off," he says.