A white-knuckle ride: Ageing aircraft, lax safety standards imperil passengers

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Lost luggage least of worries while flying Russian skies A white-knuckle ride: Ageing aircraft, lax safety standards imperil passengers: MOSCOW - The wretched state of the aviation industry in what Russians sometimes call the Commonwealth of Independent States shows no signs of improving. An Ilyushin Il-86 ploughed into a forest seconds after taking off from Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport on Sunday, killing 14 of the 16 crew on board. The day before, a Sukhoi Su-27 fighter plane crashed at an air show in Ukraine, killing more than 80 spectators. Even when the planes don't crash, passengers find much to complain about. Inflight service is non-existent, their seats won't move and the movie systems and toilets always seem to be on the blink or clogged. Cabin crews routinely ignore complaints, leading some passengers to take the law into their own hands. On a flight from Georgia, one man who was unhappy with his seat assignment punched a female flight attendant squarely in the head before sitting where he wanted. Flying in the former Soviet Union has always been a joyless, white-knuckle experience, but it is getting worse. In the case of the Moscow crash, eyewitnesses say the four-engine Pulkovo Airlines Il-86 went almost vertical, its nose high in the air, before turning over sharply to the left and plunging back to the earth. Russian investigators offer two possible explanations for the accident: The pilots applied too much power as the wide-body passenger jet, which was ferrying employees to St. Petersburg, took off; or they were unable to compensate when the rear stabilizer suddenly and inexplicably shifted nearly a metre as the aircraft left the ground or soon afterward. Although Antonov An-12s and An-18s and Ilyushin Il-76s are frequent killers, the Tupolev Tu-154, the workhorse of Russian civil aviation, may be the country's most dangerous aircraft. Sixty Tu-154s -- underpowered copies of the Boeing 727 with three engines at the rear of the aircraft -- have had accidents, 34 of them resulting in fatalities. A Tu-154 crashed in Siberia last year while another en route there from Israel was shot down by an errant Ukrainian missile. At least 220 people perished in these incidents. Other Tu-154s have caught fire or broken apart in recent years while taking off or landing at Dubai, St. Petersburg, Khabar-ovsk in Russia's Far East and the Arctic island of Spitzbergen. Russian aviation may have hit its lowest point eight years ago when the pilot of an Aeroflot Airbus A-310 en route from Moscow to Hong Kong allowed his teenage son and daughter to sit at the controls while he and his co-pilot chatted at the back of the cockpit. According to voice recordings and the airplane's black box, which were found near Novokuznetsk in Siberia, the boy inadvertently disengaged the auto-pilot and put the aircraft into a steep dive. Fighting the incredible G-forces this event triggered, the pilot reportedly managed to bring the nose of his aircraft up just as it smashed into the ground. He died, along with his two kids, his wife and the 70 or so others on the plane. Almost every Russian airfield is littered with scores of wrecks and derelicts. But many aircraft that do not appear to be airworthy continue to fly. Part of the problem is that when the Soviet Union collapsed, Aeroflot, which claimed to be the world's largest airline, was broken into more than 250 pieces. Aeroflot kept most international routes, leased some Western aircraft and attempted to instill some Western ethics and safety procedures. Most of the Babyflots have not done so. Although often the pride and joy of local despots in Russia's vast hinterlands, these smaller airlines are seriously underfunded and saddled with aircraft that are at least 30 years old. Most of them fail new Western noise standards and are in desperate need of spare parts, which are expensive and hard to find. The Russian and Ukrainian air forces face similar problems. Money is so short fighter pilots only fly once or twice a month. Western fighter pilots usually fly a couple of times a week or more. The Russian media reported this week Ukraine is so hard up it had not ordered any parts from Russia for its Su-27s since the Soviet Union collapsed 11 years ago. Although service on most Aeroflot internal flights remains abysmal, the airline has spiffed up its international flights, for which it uses Western aircraft. Smoking on board was finally banned a few months ago and flight attendants of both sexes occasionally manage a smile when not hiding for hours behind curtains in the galley. But breaking some old habits remains harder. On an overbooked Aeroflot flight from the Caucasus spa town of Mineralnye Vody to Moscow not so long ago, check-in clerks were openly taking dollar bribes in return for boarding passes. Not to be outdone, the pilots of the Tupolev Tu-134 offered to squeeze a latecomer without a seat into the cockpit with them in return for a "gift." ******* link: http://www.nationalpost.com/world/story.html?id={E8C60D50-44E7-4020-888A-4BF312F35916}
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