Opinion: Russia’s Checkered History of Aviation Safety (or Lack Thereof)

Aeroflot aircraft tails (Photo: aeroprints.com [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

On Sunday, a Russian Antonov An-148 crashed shortly after takeoff from Moscow Domodedovo International Airport. The crash killed all 65 passengers and 6 crew members onboard. The flight was supposed to be on a routine domestic flight from Moscow to Orsk. The cause of the accident is still under investigation.

The accident is just the latest in a long history of aviation disasters in the Russian Federation. A majority of these accidents happened when Russia was still the Soviet Union, and as such very little is known about them. The governments of the Soviet Union wanted to hide the details of these accidents from the outside world keeping the facts away from the general public.

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russian aviation safety has improved dramatically. This is mainly due to an influence in Western technology and aircraft into the new federation. In the same time span, Aeroflot, the state-owned flag carrier, has improved its safety record from its Soviet Union days. However, serious flaws still remain with the Russian aviation industry.

Kids at the Controls

In 1994, four years after the fall of the Soviet Union, an Aeroflot A310 crashed halfway through a flight from Moscow to Hong Kong. Initially, the crash left investigators baffled as the aircraft was less than three years old and the flight crew was considered to be well experienced.

However, after the cockpit voice recorder was recovered, the investigators discovered a serious violation from the flight crew. The captain had allowed his two children into the cockpit and allowed them to maneuver the controls.

The accident occurred due to the captain’s son maneuvering the controls in such a way that disconnected only part of the autopilot. The crew’s lack of familiarity with the Western aircraft, and slow reaction time to the disturbance lead to an unrecoverable situation. The crash led to the death of all 75 people on board. As well as a call to improve Russian pilots familiarity with the new Western technology.

Crew Rest

Fourteen years later, on the outskirts of Perm, Russia, an Aeroflot-Nord Boeing 737 crashed while on approach to Perm International Airport. Investigators found multiple issues with the flight crew that led to the crash. The primary cause was spatial disorientation by the crew, who were not used to the Western attitude indicator in the Boeing aircraft.

A secondary cause was that the flight crew had insufficient rest before the flight, and that alcohol had been found in the captain’s tissue.

Pressing the Brakes During Takeoff

Three years later another tragedy struck due to insufficiencies with the crew. A Yak 42 crashed on takeoff from Yaroslavl. Onboard was the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team on their way to their opening game in Belarus. The entire team and staff were killed, with only one flight crew member surviving.

Investigators found that the captain was pressing on the brakes during the takeoff roll causing the aircraft to stall on takeoff. Further, the investigation found that the captain had falsified records about his medical condition so he could continue flying. The charter airline operating the flight had previously been banned from operating flights into Europe due to safety concerns. The European Commission had also been investigating the airline since 2009 due to concerns with the safety of their aircraft.

The most recent crash is another black mark on the overall aviation safety record in Russia. It is too early to speculate on the cause of the crash and a thorough investigation will likely provide the cause. However, a pattern has developed in Russian aviation. The safety record has improved for Aeroflot over the years, but other operators have not always been able to keep up.

The most recent accidents in Russia have been by independent Russian carriers. These incidents show that there is still multiple issues with flight crews in Russia, as well as struggles with Russian made aircraft. For a country of nearly 150 million, a major overhaul of safety oversight is required.

Daniel Morley

Daniel Morley

Daniel has always had aviation in his life; from moving to the United States when he was two, to family vacations across the U.S., and back to his native England. He currently resides in South Florida and attends Nova Southeastern University, studying Human Factors in Aviation. Daniel has his Commercial Certificate for both land and sea, and hopes to one day join the major airlines.
Daniel Morley