An Olympic Torch in Space, But There’s No Money for Flight Safety

November 26, 2013
Photo by Roskosmos

This month was marked by two headlines in Russian aviation — the flight of the Olympic torch into space, and the crashing of a passenger flight, a Boeing 737, that killed all 50 people on board. As the editorial below suggests, written by the always-controversial Yuliya Latynina, Russia has the most dangerous air travel out of any country in the world. The only country that has more fatal airplane crashes is the United States, but the U.S. has dramatically more flights, with 815.3 million out of the world’s 2.9 billion scheduled passengers in 2012. – Ed.


Who says Russia is not a country of great technical achievements and amazing triumphs which no one else has scored or, at least, no one would ever think of scoring? We’ve even taken the Olympic flame up into space.

A week after that tremendous PR achievement, a Boing passenger flight crashed in Kazan. Among those on board were the son of the president of Tatarstan and the head of the local department of the FSB [Federal Security Service].

Planes crash all over the world. But in Russia, they crash outrageously often, which is inexcusable for a development country. They crash as often as they do in Uganda. In Russia, it’s a real danger to fly on planes.

Almost all the airplane crashes in Russia have as their explanation the extreme technical backwardness of the country and criminal cost-cutting by putting people’s lives at risk. They are the consequence of a combination of several factors, usually the medieval equipment at airports and the insufficient training of pilots.

In Petrozavodsk (on 20 June 2011), a plane crashed because there wasn’t a modern instrument landing system at the airport. The plane approached using the near and far radio beacons, something like during Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s “Night Flight”. Furthermore, the airport’s landing capacity minimum had been increased; that is, planes were unjustifiably being allowed to land under conditions that even a month before had not been allowed. Worse, apparently the dispatchers even simply reported that the weather was passing at a minimum, but it wasn’t passing; an hour before the Tu-134 crashed, even the SU military flights had been suspended due to weather conditions. Dispatchers at small airports, where there are one or two flights a day, often do this. As a result, a tired pilot mistook highway lights for runway lights – with all the ensuing corpses.

In Perm (on 14 September 2008, 82 corpses), the first pilot was simply drunk and the second didn’t know how to land the Boeing. He simply didn’t know how to do it. The transcript from the black box is filled with swear words used by both pilots as they exchanged opinions about the ground services, like “WTF button do I push?!” “This one!” “No, that one!”

Using data punched into the computer at the start of the flight, perhaps they could have landed the plane, but when the dispatcher asked them to make a “box” over the airport as he landed another foreign airliner, this turned out to be above their intellectual capacities. They kept pushing various buttons for a long time, because the Boeing is a sturdy machine and didn’t fall, but in the end, they managed to break the bird.

In recent years, the only accident that was related to insurmountable technical conditions was the crash of the Tu-204 from the Red Wings company at Vnukovo (29 December 2011).

The Tu-204 is a relatively new (or to be more accurate, rarely manufactured) airplane, and it had a rare technical defect. With a light load and a strong side wind, the retractable landing gear didn’t descend – that is, to put it crudely, the plane didn’t know that it was landing. So the brakes didn’t kick in.

In the jar of spiders which our government has become, airline disasters immediately become an excuse for the most negative decisions by lobbying groups.

For example, just three (!) days after the crash in Petrozavodsk, Dmitry Medvedev suddenly up and…prohibited the use of the Tu-134. Not a single one of the numerous reasons that led to the disaster – the lack of the instrument landing system, the criminal increase in the landing minimum, and simply the minimizing by the dispatchers of the level of cloudiness –  had any relationship to the fact that this was a Tu-134. It would have been smart to demand that the airports be outfitted with the modern instrument flight landing systems, but Medvedev banned the Tu-134 instead. It was a decision undoubtedly made for lobbyists who earn gigantic sums by putting in our Russian market all kinds of foreign aviation trash – it’s enough to say that the Boeing that crashed in Kazan had already managed to fly [for companies in] Uganda, Brazil, Romania, and Bulgaria.

On the other hand, after the Tu-204 crash, which occurred for strictly technical reasons, no one banned the use of the Tu-204, even before the defect was removed, but then Red Wings happened to get gobbled up, thanks to the fact that it belonged to Aleksandr Lebedev, a businessman who fell from favor.

Will Medvedev ban the use of Boeings in Russia, at least those that have rusted to the state of trophy Zhigulis? Ha-ha.

Tired pilots are tired because they are not paid normal wages. Skimping on flight simulators shows above all when the plane gets into the slightest non-standard situation. It turns out that a pilot has the skill of navigating a plane through a calm sky, but he has not practiced difficulties on a simulator. Overtime, blind landings by radio beacons “in the times of the Ochakov and Crimean victories” [i.e. wars, a line from Woe from Wit] – that is the real face of the Russian sky.

And this harms not only mere mortals. In Irkutsk, the head of the local FSB office was killed. On 4 December 2010, the son of the president of Dagestan died after a hard landing; the pilots were flying junk, and also forgot to pump in the fuel. Now the son of the president of Tatarstan and the head of the local FSB have died as well in Kazan.

But meanwhile, our cosmonauts have flown into space, with an unlit Olympic torch, and Variant-999, Ltd. which manufactures furniture at a secret defense factory, received more than 200 million rubles for 16,000 large gas lighters. But evidently there was no money left over for instrument flight landing at the airports.