Safety Rules Threaten Russian Airlines

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The Russian domestic airline industry says recently announced safety requirements are impossible to achieve and an unusually frank report in the Moscow Times suggests fares will double if they're implemented as planned. By January, aircraft used for scheduled service have to have TCAS and ground proximity warning systems, which have been standard equipment for airliners in much of the rest of the world for decades. However, the workhorses of the Russian fleet are aircraft like the An-24, rough, rugged and conceived in the 1950s. The estimated cost of a retrofit is $350,000, far more than most airlines paid for the twin turboprops. "Where will we find so much money?" wondered Valery Fisher, whose Katekavia operates 14 An-24s. What's more, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev recently called for the accelerated decommissioning of the An-24 fleet after a fatal crash on July 11.

In that accident, an Angara Airlines An-24 ditched in a river after in-flight engine problems. Seven people died. Medvedev has also targeted Tu-134 twinjets for decommissioning after a June 20 accident. Of the 52 people on board, only five survived, but the airplane might not have been the problem. Like a lot of Russian crashes, this one occurred during heavy ground fog. Medvedev is likely to face some political pushback from his safety measures. There are no realistic indigenous replacements, foreign replacements are out of the question financially and even the retrofits on the existing fleet will push fares out of reach for most people who depend on the aging aircraft to get out of remote areas, some of which don't have road or rail access. At the same time, the Times says Russia is keen to make life under its sphere of influence as pleasant as possible for those areas to ensure their continued political loyalty. It appears the workaround is that much of the service to those areas is considered charter rather than scheduled and the new rules apply only to scheduled service.