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Monday, 29 July, 2002, 20:20 GMT 21:20 UK
Russian air safety in the spotlight
Crash near Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport
Sunday's crash near Moscow was blamed on a technical fault

In the past, the East-West separation meant that the Soviet Union paid little attention to the opinions of western media and did itself a disservice by ignoring any requests for information about aviation safety.

In fact, throughout the 1980s, safety in the Soviet Union - measured in terms of accidents per 100,000 flights and fatalities per million passengers carried - was below the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) average level.

It also was equal to or better than those statistics for the United States in all years except in 1986.


In the West, display pilots now require a special licence. Last Saturday's horrific accident at an air show in the Ukraine will put pressure for this to be introduced in the CIS also

The Soviet Union came to an end in 1991, and so did the organised system of monitoring the operations and technical work in civil aviation of the former Soviet countries.

It took a while to rebuild the structures, and safety followed the countries' morale to lower levels in the first few years.

US intervention

An accident in 1994, when the pilot's son was at the controls of an Airbus that crashed in Central Siberia, forced the Russian Government to ask the US Federal Aviation Administration to audit Russian civil aviation.

It found that Russia "met international standards, but only just", and issued recommendations to ensure safety improved.

Amazingly, despite serious budgetary shortages, the money has always been found to monitor operational and technical aspects of, initially, scheduled passenger flights and later cargo and charter flights.

Saturday's crash at an air show in Lviv, Ukraine
Military budgets have come under great pressure

A result of this action was that Russian civil aviation suffered no casualties from 1997 until mid 2001, when there were two accidents - one due to training breaches, the other to an overloaded cargo aircraft.

And the Interstate Aviation Committee (MAK), which oversees to varying extents civil aviation in the Commonwealth of Independent States - most of the former Soviet republics - has provided back-up training and supervisory services wherever required to member states lacking in some monitoring capability.

ICAO requires each state to comply with international and operational norms, but allows it to use specialists from other countries where necessary, and ICAO and the MAK have established a regulatory training centre in Moscow to meet these needs.

Military strain

Military training is a separate responsibility. Here budgets have come under severe strain, and both pilot and technical training have suffered, as has the number of hours flown to keep crews up to proficiency.


Sometimes its aircraft are not as comfortable as Western models, but they are built to withstand twice the strain of western aircraft in order to cater for the tough winter conditions

In the West, display pilots now require a special licence. Last Saturday's horrific accident at an air show in the Ukraine will put pressure for this to be introduced in the CIS also.

That incident and two other recent tragedies - the collision of two aircraft over Germany in early July and last Sunday's Ilyushin Il-86 airliner crash - all had very different causes. They will serve to focus attention on aviation operations and training.

After the collision over the Swiss border, Russia has at last begun to tell the world that its civil aviation is of international standards in safety.

Sometimes its aircraft are not as comfortable as Western models, but they are built to withstand twice the strain of western aircraft in order to cater for the tough winter conditions, and the not very well equipped airports where they operate.

See also:

01 Nov 00 | In Depth
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