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Friday, 5 October, 2001, 10:05 GMT 11:05 UK
How safe is the Tu-154?
Tupolev-154 graphic
By Paul Duffy Russian Editor, Air Transport World

The Tupolev-154 has for 25 years been the backbone of Russia and the Soviet Union's air transport system.

It has carried half the number of all passengers flown by Aeroflot and its successors in that time, with that number peaking at 137 million per year in 1990.

A total of 923 have been built, and approximately 530 remain in service in Russia.

The aircraft entered service in 1972 and was "modernised" in 1986, with new engines and equipment to improve its fuel consumption and flight operations.

History

The aircraft that crashed at Irkutsk was one of the first Tu-154Ms - the M indicating its modernisation - and was sold to a Chinese airline in August 1986.

The Chinese Government decided late last year to withdraw the 154 fleet from its airlines by 1 July, and so this and several others were sold back to Russia.

It returned to the factory where it had been built, in Samara, and received a complete overhaul, although it is not yet clear whether this covered the engines.

Since its service entry, some 28 154s have been lost in accidents, a figure about normal for the quantity, years of service and technology of the type.

Difficult conditions

The accident record of the 154 compares quite well with the 68 727s lost of over 1,600 built.

However, the comparison is not totally valid - a 727 generally flies more often than a 154, and the 154 flies in a region with not so good air traffic control and navigation equipment, and in very difficult weather conditions.

The 154 accidents include several that have little relation to the aircraft.

In 1982, an aircraft landing at Omsk in Russia in a heavy snowstorm - normal for Russian winters - hit six snowploughs that had not been told to leave the runway as the aircraft landed.

Freak accidents

And about five have been shot down by enemy or terrorist attacks in Lebanon, Georgia and Afghanistan during the civil wars in those countries.

One landed safely in a field after its cargo of cigarettes caught fire but was completely burnt.

Another ran out of fuel five miles short of the runway when the state airline of an almost bankrupt country decided to carry less fuel from its base, where the price was high.

This may be the third accident involving technical failure, if the engines prove to be the cause.

But the 154M is likely to remain in service in Russia and the CIS for another 10 or 12 years.

See also:

04 Jul 01 | Europe
'Engines failed' on Russian plane
01 Nov 00 | World
Air disaster timeline
03 Jul 01 | Europe
Russia's shaky air safety record
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