In the aftermath of the latest fatal Boeing 737 crash in Kazan, the pressing air safety-related issues have once again become the focus of discussions in the boardrooms of carriers and regulative institutions across Russia and the entire CIS. The most frequent culprits named in the case of the crash claiming all 50 lives on-board included the age of the aircraft as well as poor pilot training and technical maintenance standards. One thing is clear, though: despite the fact that the official investigation is still in process, there are numerous issues that must be address regardless of the final verdict.
According to various statistical data, aviation incidents world-wide happen approximately once in half a million of commercial flights. At the same time, the statistics for Russia and the CIS is far gloomier, as currently approximately one of 280.000 flights end up badly. Many of such accidents result in the deaths of at least several passengers or aircraft crew members.
“The public upheaval and the related discussions regarding air safety following the recent tragedy in Kazan are only natural. As are, in fact, some of the speculations on the possible reasons behind the accident. For example, a lot of people tend to emphasize the age of the infamous Boeing 737, which made its first flight back in the 1990,” says Kestutis Volungevicius, the Head of FL Technics Training. “These speculations have reached the official legal levels, as some of the authorities are seriously considering banning Western-built aircraft of more than 20 or even 15 years’ old from operation in the region. To my (and many industry specialists’) belief, such threats are not unlike a witch hunt, which will definitely bring no positive or tangible results as concerns air safety.”
According to aviation experts, if any of the aforementioned projects ends up being approved, the Russian aviation industry may face challenges that in the long run it may not be able to overcome. For example, Boeing forecasts that in the next 20 years air traffic to and from the CIS region will continue to grow at a rate of 4.8 percent annually, with the demand for up to 59 aircraft a year. However, the inability to lease or buy older aircraft will mean that the region will have to rely on its own capabilities, which, according to the most optimistic prognosis, will not surpass the number of 30 aircraft per year anytime soon.
“Despite the fact, that attributing the tragedy to the age of aircraft is indeed a deep misunderstanding of the concept of aircraft airworthiness, the need to look at the legal matter may in fact be necessary and prove to be productive,” states Kestutis Volungevicius. “Taking into account the more pressing issue related to the lack of properly qualified technical personnel in the Russian aviation industry (especially when it comes to Western-built aircraft) we must not be hasty to mistake the symptom for the source of the problem.”
Russian aviation specialists have been continuously complaining that a large share of aircraft operating in the territory is currently maintained in accordance with the outdated standards. For example, the exploitation of many Boeing 737CLs in the region is conducted in accordance to the standards of 1992, since that is the year of certification of the aircraft, although the standard itself is no longer legally valid within the region. Therefore, although the maintenance procedures of the aircraft may be performed thoroughly and on schedule, these procedures are not as strict as they are required to be under the current law.
“If this is in fact true, what Russia is faced with in reality is a lot worse than a mere lack of certified specialists. The necessary specialists may be hired or, as it has been proven by several countries in the Asia-Pacific region, re-qualified rather quickly, with a little help from the side. But if in the main issues revolve around the legal sector, all of the qualification in the world will not help to reach the necessary safety levels, as the hands of the specialists will be almost literally tied,” concludes the Head of FL Technics Training.