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Thursday, August 02, 2007

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."


Timothy Post said...

Using your numb skull logic, I guess we should also not drive cars on the freeways in the US of A since a large bridge just collapsed in Minneapolis.

My advice to you, buy all of us Russophiles plane tickets to Sochi on S7 airlines once a month. Perhaps within a year you'll be rid of us.

David Essel said...

What makes the way these "babyflots" operate still more shocking is the fact that most of them got their mini-fleets completely free of charge, simply inheriting the craft from the former Soviet Aeroflot.

They therefore do not have to bear the capital costs of aircraft purchase of normal airlines. It follows that their profit margins must be massive in comparison to an airline of whatever size that actually has to pay for its aircraft through borrowing or leasing.

And of course there are no standards -- either of safety, respect for the lives of passengers, etc -- to ensure decent operational behaviour, just a wild rush to rip off the travelling public.

Yet another illustration of the complete lack of morals in Russia today.

La Russophobe said...


Truth hurts, doesn't it you nasty little Putinoid rat? Sorry about that.

Only an epic moron fails to understand that it is not proof Russian airways are safe that American highways are dangerous. Rather, it's a pathetic neo-Soviet propaganda ploy that will only cause the readers of this blog to sigh with pity at your stupidity. You can't defend Russia's airlines, so you try to change the subject. Lame, lamer, lamest.

America's highways are far safer than Russia's, that's a documented fact, and Russia has a horrifying pattern of air disasters, based on obvious policy failures, you can't hide from and that the world's press is reporting as it should do. You've bet your lot on Russia, the stupidest thing a person can do, and now you are going to pay the price. You can run, but you can't hide, from your mistake, just as Lenin and Stalin could not.

Instead of calling for reform in Russia, you try to cover up the problem, helping more people to get killed. As such, you're far more dangerous to Russia than any foreign "enemy."

La Russophobe said...


Yike! Dare we imagine what would be going on if they had to pay these costs?

And lets not forget that if anyone is lucky enough to survive one of these crashes, he'll have to rescue himself because rescue workers are even more poorly paid and trained, and then when he gets to the hospital he'll have a doctor who spent 6 total years after high school studying to be physician and who can't be sued for malpractice and who gets paid a few hundred dollars a month.