Russia's flying workhorse may be banned after deadly crash

In response to a mysterious plane crash on New Year's Day, Russia is considering grounding its entire fleet of Tupolev-154s, the medium-range jetliner that was the workhorse of Soviet aviation.

Nearly 200 Tu-154s are still in use across Russia and the former Soviet countries, but the model's future is now in doubt. In the most recent incident, the engines of a Tu-154 belonging to the small regional company Kogalym Avia caught fire as the jet was taxiing for take-off at a Siberian airport last week. The plane was evacuated, but three people were killed and 39 were in hospital.

Already, the country's aviation authorities have banned all flights by the 154-B model, the older type which was involved in last week's accident. President Dmitry Medvedev ordered Russia's Transport Minister to investigate the incident, and said in televised remarks that he could not rule out a full ban on the use of all remaining Tupolev-154s.

The country's national carrier, Aeroflot, has phased out all Tu-154s, and the company now uses only Western aircraft on all short and medium haul routes. The Tu-154 is mostly used by smaller air companies, of which there are dozens in Russia. Many of them have only a handful of planes and run only one or two routes.

There have been several crashes involving the aircraft in the past year. Last month, a Tu-154 belonging to Dagestan Airlines lost power in all three engines after taking off from a Moscow airport. The pilots managed to bring the plane down at a different Moscow airport, but in the crash-landing two people were killed and dozens injured. The emergency exit slides did not work either, meaning that injured passengers had to be tossed out from the plane to rescuers waiting below.

The most high-profile recent crash involving the Tu-154 was last April, when the presidential Tupolev of Poland's leader Lech Kaczynski crashed on approach to the runway at Russia's Smolensk airport, killing everyone on board, including Mr Kaczynski, his wife, and dozens of Poland's political and intellectual elite. That crash appears to have been caused by the decision to land in poor visibility conditions, rather than a fault with the plane.

Russian aviation experts claim that the plane is safe and that most incidents are due to pilot error, poor maintenance, and the challenging weather conditions in which the plane often operates. But they admit that it is extremely fuel-inefficient, as well as noisy, and that means the craft is banned from some European airports.

"The Tu-154 is a whole epoch in Russian aviation, for both pilots and passengers," wrote Mikhail Vasilenko, the chief executive of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport in his blog yesterday. "It's clear that this plane already can't compete with modern Boeings and Airbuses in safety, noise levels or comfort... But to ban the use of 154s in the current climate would be a crushing blow to regional airlines, who would in some cases have to change their entire fleet."

But flying on a Tu-154 today is rarely a pleasant experience, partly because most of the planes have outdated, shabby interiors. The plane is divided into two salons, and a bizarre flaw in the heating system often means that the front cabin is roasting hot while the rear cabin is freezing cold. The overhead bins often open during takeoff and landing, depositing bags on passengers' heads.

"I'm not a nervous flier, but every time I get on one of those things I feel like it could be the end," says one Western businessman who frequently uses Tu-154s to fly to western Siberia. "They are the only planes that fly where I need to go, and I'd be absolutely delighted if they were taken out of service forever."

The plane truth

54 The number of crashes to involve the Tu-154 since it entered flight service in 1971.

2,860 The number of deaths that have resulted from those crashes.

431,200 Flights the Tu-154 makes for every fatal accident. In comparison, the Boeing-737 has a fatal accident every 2,680,000 flights.

900 Tu-154 planes have been produced. About 250 remain in service, mostly with small airlines. Aeroflot has none now.

137m Passengers who flew on Tu-154s during 1990, its year of greatest use, equivalent to 244 billion passenger kilometres.

$45m Typical cost of a Tu-154 in 2008. The most modern Boeing 737s cost about $85m.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas