Saratov Airlines Ordered to Cease Operations in Wake of Fatal Crash

A Saratov Airlines An-148 jet (Photo: Anna Zvereva from Tallinn, Estonia (Saratov Airlines, RA-61701, Antonov An-148-100B) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Russian regional carrier Saratov Airlines, the airline involved in February’s fatal accident outside Moscow which resulted in the deaths of 71 people, has been ordered to cease operations by the Russian Transport Ministry due to continued discrepancies in its flight operations.

The accident occurred on Feb. 11 when Saratov Airlines flight 703, an Antonov An-148, crashed shortly after departure from Moscow Domodedovo Airport. Investigations into the crash indicate a combination of human and instrumentation errors as being the likely cause.

It was claimed by Russian media that the captain declined to de-ice the aircraft, despite the local temperature being below freezing, at around -5°C. In addition, routine ground checks were not carried out, resulting in pitot tube heaters not being activated, meaning speed indicators were unreliable.

In the immediate aftermath, the airline grounded its fleet of An-148s to carry out complete technical inspections of the aircraft, though operations were resumed five days later with no major issues having been discovered.

However, it has become apparent in the last week that Saratov has been negligent, perhaps to a criminal degree, in systematic failings with regards to its operations since the fatal accident.

‘Violations are Continuing, and are of a Systematic Nature’

The Russian Transport Ministry released a statement on May 31 to confirm that the airline’s certificate of operation has been cancelled with immediate effect.

Following the crash, the Russian Transport Ministry made a series of recommendations to Saratov in order to satisfy all necessary safety requirements. The airline was required to implement these corrective measures within 90 days – the maximum time allowed under Russian aviation law – or face the order to cancel all operation.

The statement indicates that Rosaviatsiya conducted a random inspection on May 26-27 of documents such as flight assignments, flight books, and crew schedules. Within these, it was found that there were still “violations in the airline are of a systemic nature”. The following points were identified:

  • Staff scheduling is made without considering normal working hours and allowing sufficient time for crew to rest
  • Members of flight crews are shown to deliberately not observe the working and rest time, and there is no proper control by the airline
  • The records of working hours are unreliable, meaning flight crew are often exceeding the recommended number of hours they should work
  • Pilots are not receiving the appropriate medical evaluation.

The statement concludes with highlighting the importance of crew fatigue, saying it “reduces the vigilance of the pilot, can cause inadequate monitoring of the orientation and position of the aircraft in space, misjudgment of the situation, erroneous understanding of the operation of control systems, and as a result – making the wrong decision.”

Saratov Airlines has not given any substantial response, saying only that now “there is one less airline in Russia.” Considering the gravity of events and the negligence shown by the airline, it’s perhaps a miracle that no other accidents have occurred in the three months since the crash of flight 703.

Andy Nelson

Andy Nelson

Andy flew regularly from a young age on family holidays, but his interest in aviation really began when he saw Concorde flying over his grandparents' house on final approach. A Power Engineer by profession, his hobbies include writing, playing guitar, and taking a beating at squash.
Andy Nelson