Published on Thursday, August 2, 2007

Russia’s air safety record “worst in the world”

MOSCOW – the International Herald Tribune carries an interesting report on the air traffic safety record of Russia and the other former Soviet republics.

It claims the record was the worst in world last year, with an accident rate 13 times the world average, according to the International Air Transport Association.

Last year, planes flown by Russian carriers were responsible for the deaths of 318 people in two major crashes and eight lesser ones - close to half the world's total of 755 fatalities reported by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

In Russia and the former Soviet republics together, the combined death toll was 466.

After consultations with the Russian authorities, the European Union in late June barred four Russian carriers - Kuban Airlines, Yakutia Airlines, Airlines 400 and Kavminvodyavia - from flying into airports in the region.

Restrictions were also placed on certain aircraft flown by six others: Gazpromavia, UTAir, KrasAir, Atlant Soyuz, Ural Airlines and Rossiya, the airline that operates the Russian presidential jet.

Experts, including pilots who fly the former Soviet skies, say government bodies tolerate practices that are wrecking a once honorable safety record.

In interviews with The Associated Press, they said that regulation was lax, while airlines overworked their crews and fined pilots for using too much fuel.

Many carriers, critics say, also skimp on crew training and cut corners on maintenance of their aging Soviet-built aircraft and secondhand Western planes.

The state-controlled carrier Aeroflot, the privately owned Transaero and some other big airlines have modern planes, skilled crews and world-class safety records, experts agree.

But many smaller carriers, they say, cut corners on safety.

Some airlines allegedly penalize the crews for failing to land on the first attempt - a practice that may have led to the most recent deadly crash in Russia, in March, of a Tupolev-134 whose pilot hit the ground trying to land in fog even though he could not see the tarmac lights.

Six were killed and 20 injured.

After the 1991 Soviet collapse, 500 "babyflots" - offshoots of the Aeroflot monopoly - sprang up. Today there are 182, and the smaller ones are more likely to sacrifice safety to cut costs, critics say.

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