Category Archives: air disasters

EDITORIAL: Say “No” to Sochi because of Russia’s Drunken Skies


Say “No” to Sochi because of Russia’s Drunken Skies

Last week, we reported on how the passengers of an Aeroflot airliner had been forced to take matters into their own hands in order to stop a drunken Russian pilot from taking off and killing them all.  In America, the pilot saves the passengers by skillfully and heroically landing a stricken airliner on a river in the middle of one of the world’s greatest cities. In Russia, it’s exactly the reverse.

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Fly Russia’s Drunken Skies?

Think about this next time you consider getting on a plane piloted by Russians, if you are ever foolish enough to do so. The Moscow Times reports:

When passengers on Aeroflot Flight 315 heard the pilot make his preflight announcement, they knew something was amiss. The pilot’s voice was garbled, barely intelligible — and that was in his native Russian. When he switched to English, it was impossible to understand him at all. “The first thought that occurred to me was, ‘This guy is drunk,'” said Khatuna Kobiashvili, a passenger on the Moscow-New York flight. “His speech was so slurred it was hard to tell what language he was speaking.”

As passengers, including a Moscow Times reporter, related their concerns to the flight crew, they were told to “stop making trouble” or get off the Boeing 767 jet. A passenger who called Aeroflot’s head office received a similar rebuff. “They told me that it was impossible for a pilot to be drunk and hung up the phone,” said the passenger, Tatyana Vorontsova.

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Russia’s Airlines are Crashing

You already know that even in boom times Russia’s airlines were the world’s most dangerous to fly on (see our “air disasters” tag in the sidebar to read all about  it).  How do you think that situation will change now that the airlines are strapped for cash?  The Moscow Times reports:

Aeroflot said Tuesday that profits dropped 55 percent in the first half after prices for jet fuel surged and warned that full-year earnings might be little more than one-quarter of those of 2007.

Net income at the country’s largest airliner fell to $72.2 million from $160.8 million a year earlier. Revenue advanced 28 percent to $2.14 billion as passenger numbers increased 20 percent to 5.4 million, the company said in a statement. Earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortization fell by 34 percent to $216 million. Aeroflot’s fuel expenses jumped 64 percent to $731 million in the half, with operating costs increasing 42 percent to $2 billion. Fuel prices in the country rose 70 percent from November to June, prompting the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service to open price-fixing cases against the five largest oil companies.

“I expected even worse results as high fuel prices have sharply cut profit margins of Russian airlines,” said Alexander Ignatyuk, an analyst at brokerage EnergoCapital. “Aeroflot will only turn the corner when it overhauls its fleet and acquires more fuel-efficient planes, which is still two or three years away.”

The carrier’s shares rose 1 percent on the MICEX, lagging the MICEX Index’s gains of more than 13 percent.

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Special Extra: Another day, another airplane drops out of the sky in Vladimir Putin’s Russia

Wreckage from the scene of the disaster

Wreckage from the scene of the disaster

As we’ve reported before, Vladimir Putin’s Russia is one of the most dangerous places in the world to step on a plane.  In fact, we’ve reported it so many times that we have a specific category under which we aggregate such posts (check out our category list in our sidebar).  One has to wonder how the International Olympic Committee could possibly vest Russia with the 2014 games knowing how perilous it is to fly there (and that’s to say nothing of the horrifically high risk of being killed by fire or automobile). Doesn’t it care at all about the safety of Olympic athletes and fans?

And now, predictably, it’s happened again.

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Exposing the Horror of Russia’s Most Unfriendly Skies

Thinking of boarding a plane in neo-Soviet Russia? Maybe to visit Sochi for the Olympic games? Better think again. The Associated Press reports:

The storm was too massive to fly around, but rather than turn back, Captain Ivan Korogodin decided to risk flying over the towering clouds. The Aug. 22 crash last year of Pulkovo Airlines flight 612 from the Black Sea resort of Anapa to St. Petersburg was officially blamed on pilot error. But safety advocates see it as symptomatic of a much deeper problem with Russian aviation: A burgeoning fleet of small, low-budget airlines, under-trained pilots, weak government regulation and a cost-cutting mentality in which pilots who abort flights and landings are sometimes fined.

Last year, 318 people died in two major crashes and eight lesser ones of planes flown by Russian carriers — close to half the world‘s total of 755 fatalities reported by the International Civil Aviation Organization. The combined death toll in Russia plus the former Soviet republics reached 466 last year. Experts, including pilots who fly the former Soviet skies, say government bodies tolerate practices that are wrecking a once honorable safety record. State-controlled Aeroflot, privately owned Transaero and some other big airlines have modern planes, skilled crews and world-class safety records, experts agree. But scores of smaller carriers, they allege, cut corners on safety. On the flight recorder he is heard ordering co-pilot Andrei Khodnevich to take the plane upward while warning it will be very difficult. The cockpit alarm screams as the plane approaches maximum altitude, and the co-pilot yells “Don‘t kill me!” before the plane hits the ground.

“Naturally no one would admit publicly that flight safety isn‘t the top priority,” said Smirnov, a veteran pilot who was a deputy aviation minister in Soviet times. “But nonprofessionals now in charge of many airlines — former economists, lawyers and even dentists — think only about money.” Anatoly Knyshov, a highly decorated test pilot with 41 years‘ experience, said: “Business managers run for profits and neglect safety.”

Russia‘s civil aviation is overseen by five government agencies, two of which both regulate the industry and investigate accidents, so that blame is invariably pinned on the crew rather than regulatory failures. 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. Low pay is also a safety issue, said Miroslav Boichuk, chief of the Cockpit Personnel Association of Russia. Despite increases in recent years, average pilots‘ salaries of around $2,000 a month are far lower than in the West, and typically depend on how much time they spend flying — a practice, Boichuk said, that can exhaust them and impair their judgment.

Standards at state-run flight schools have declined steeply since the Soviet era. Rookie pilots such as Khodnevich — who was at the controls of flight 612 when it crashed — log about 60 flight hours during training, mostly in old propeller planes. That‘s less than half the minimum of 150 hours in modern planes required by Western flight schools. Only 20 percent of training planes are airworthy and instructors earn less than a tenth of what a commercial pilot earns in Russia. Student pilots, meanwhile, may be distracted from their studies by hunger. The daily food subsidy at government flight schools is $1.90. “Even a police dog gets more,” said Smirnov, the former deputy minister.

Critics say Russian pilots aren‘t being properly trained on the secondhand Boeings and Airbuses in increasing use here. Last year an Airbus A310 skidded off a runway in the Siberian city of Irkutsk and slammed into a row of garages, killing 125 people. The pilot had instinctively worked the controls as if he were flying a Soviet-designed plane, and accelerated instead of slowing down. One more issue, say critics, is a legal system that doesn‘t expose airlines to expensive lawsuits. “Forcing at least one carrier to pay sizable compensation would have a sobering impact on others,” said Vitaly Yusko, whose 10-year old daughter, a sister and her two sons died in the crash. “That would help end their feeling of total impunity.”

Explaining Russia’s Unsafe Skies

UPI reports:

All seven people aboard a cargo plane died when it crashed near Moscow’s Domodedovo’s airport just after takeoff Sunday. The freight plane destined for Siberia lifted off the runway, flew two miles then crashed, bursting into flames, RIA Novosti reported. The plane belonged to the cargo airline Atran. It was built in 1964 and was to be retired in November. The plane’s three flight recorders were found and the crash is under investigation, RIA Novosti said.

The International Herald Tribune outlines five key reasons why it isn’t safe to fly on Russian airlines. Good luck, those of you who intend to fly from Moscow to Sochi for the 2014 Olympics. La Russophobe certainly won’t be doing so (if you think the train might be better option, it’s probably because you haven’t been on a Russian train).

(1) TOO MANY AIRLINES: After the Soviet Union collapsed, state-owned Aeroflot splintered into 500 “babyflots,” of which 182 remain. Smaller ones, struggling to survive, are more apt to cut corners on maintenance and safety. Fleets are aging; many airliners are of Soviet vintage or are bought secondhand from the West.

(2) COMPETITION: Is fierce, and many managements are so attentive to fuel costs that they fine pilots who abort flights or even landings, even when the pilot is acting out of concern for safety. Pilots are paid according to how many hours they are in the air, a practice that can exhaust them and impair their judgment.

(3) REGULATORY BODIES: Russia has five. Duties overlap and at least two both regulate airlines and investigate their crashes. Often the only conclusion they can agree upon is pilot error, leaving the deeper causes of a disaster unexplored.

(4) TRAINING AND SALARIES: State flight schools license pilots who have logged only 50 hours in the air, compared with 150 in the West. Instructors’ salaries are low and trainees’ food allowances are just 50 rubles (US$1.90 or €1.40) a day.

(5) LAWSUITS: Russian courts don’t award large settlements to the relatives of crash victims. After one crash last year that killed all 170 people on board, the airline offered to pay just US$11,500 (about €8,600) for each fatality.

Russia: The World’s Most Dangerous Airways

Reuters reports that if you board a plane in Russia, you take your life in your hands (not that driving a car is any safer, Russia has among the world’s most dangerous highways too).

Russia remains the most dangerous place to fly despite global improvements that made 2006 the safest year on record, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported on Tuesday. Russia and other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) had an accident rate 13 times the global average, IATA said. Improvements in Africa were part of a positive annual report from the Geneva-based trade organisation, which said major global accidents fell to 77 from 111 a year earlier. The industry on average had 0.65 serious accidents per million flights for Western-built jets or one accident for every 1.5 million flights. In the CIS the rate was 8.6 accidents per million flights, or twice the rate of Africa, where the level fell to 4.31 from 9.2. IATA Director General Giovanni Bisignani said the industry’s expected growth of 5 to 6 percent per year would force airlines to continue to do better. “The safety results for 2006 are impressive. Air transport remains the safest form of travel,” he said, but added: “The accident rate must decrease just to keep the actual number of accidents in check. The goal will always be zero accidents.” IATA’s tally of accidents focuses on those which involve the loss of the aircraft. Bad weather, miscommunication and lapses in crew training remain the key factors that cause accidents. IATA, which includes some 250 airlines and more than 90 percent of the world’s scheduled international air traffic, endorses safety through a programme which helps airlines adopt global safety practices and standards. Its latest report underscored the need for tighter safety for cargo airlines, noting cargo accounted for just 4 percent of traffic last year yet 24 percent of the serious accidents.