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Iran airline crash: What's the Russian jet's safety record?

Ten percent of the 40 crashes by Russian-built Tupolev Tu-154s have been in Iran. But Russian experts say its a reliable jet.

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Experts say it's too soon to pinpoint the cause of that crash.

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No blacklisted aircraft

Last month, the crash of a Yemenia Airways Airbus jet prompted questions of a double-standard because the 19-year old aircraft was blacklisted from French airspace due to unspecified safety "deficiencies" discovered by inspectors.

Yesterday, the European Union released its annual aviation blacklist of some 200 commercial airlines. They are forbidden to land in Europe because of safety deficiencies. Neither Iran Air Tours or Caspian Airlines were on the list.

Russian experts argue that the diverse causes of past accidents in Iran fits a larger pattern of Tu-154 crashes, which they say tend to come down to pilot error, poor maintenance, or just plain freak occurrences.

In the past few years, several Tu-154's flown by post-Soviet airlines have gone down due to a tragic bouquet of unique reasons, including terrorist attack, a bizarre air traffic mistake that led to mid-air collision over Germany, and an accidental shootdown by Ukrainian air defenses.

These are old aircraft

"The Tu-154 has been in service a long time, and is considered to be a really safe plane," says Roman Gusarov, editor of Avia.ru, an industry information service.
"Of course it's old, and it doesn't meet modern requirements for noise pollution, fuel consumption, and ecological standards," which bars it from flying to most Western destinations nowadays. "But still about half of the commercial passenger planes in use in Russia are Tu-154's, and they'll probably be in use for quite awhile to come".

It might just come down to age. Most of the Tu-154's that remain in service in the former USSR, and in dozens of airlines of developing countries around the world such as Iran, were produced in Soviet times.

"The majority of these planes are 30 to 40 years old, and are working at the limits of their potential," says Mr. Gusarov. "Everything has a lifespan."

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