Russia's rotten Soviet legacy is falling apart

Russia's rotten Soviet legacy is falling apart. 44898.jpegA series of disasters occurred in Russia in the summer: the Tu-134 crashed in Petrozavodsk, the AN-24 on the border of Ugra and Tomsk region, the ship Bulgaria sank on the Volga. After the plane crashes, President Medvedev spoke about the need to suspend the flights of these types of planes; after the tragedy of the ship on the Volga - about the need to suspend operation of similar vessels. So far they will be suspended until a comprehensive technical inventory. In the case of the planes, the ban applies to the use of the aircraft Tu-134 on regular flights starting in 2012, in case of charter and other flights it can be used only after retrofitting and the installation of some modern security systems. " I propose to extend the same approach to the AN-24," said President Medvedev in the Kremlin.

It is not ruled out, however, that the inventory and re-practice means that we would have to say goodbye to the old Soviet passenger aircraft as well as the old Soviet river fleet. "We have a whole fleet of "Bulgaria,"" exclaimed a commentator of the terrible accident. He is confident that the vast majority of used vessels will not pass the actual inventory.

The situation is bleak for the aircraft fleet as well. The AN-24 was produced in the USSR from 1959 to 1979. Its birth place was the Kiev State Aviation Plant that, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, switched to making trolleys. Of more than a thousand of the AN-24 manufactured, a few hundred of these planes are still in operation at more than 20 airlines in Russia.

The Tu-134 was manufactured from 1965 to 1984 at the Kharkov Aviation Plant. During this time 972 planes were manufactured. In 2008 Aeroflot completely abandoned the use of the Tu-134. A number of airports in Russia imposed a ban on receiving this type of aircraft. It was originally planned that the operation of the Tu-134 will be completely discontinued in 2015. However, after the disaster in Petrozavodsk Dmitry Medvedev instructed the Transport Ministry to consider a complete withdrawal of the Tu-134 airliners from regular flights in 2012.

To date, up to a hundred of the Tu-134 aircraft discontinued in 1984 are in the fleets of various Russian airlines. There is a good reason to believe that their re-equipment will be more expensive than abandonment, especially considering the ban on the use of aircraft on regular flights.

This means that in the near future Russia will lose several hundred of heavily used, albeit on domestic flights, aircraft. This is an entire fleet of medium-sized country. The problem is very serious: on the one hand, these machines are not without reason called "flying coffins". On the other hand, withdrawal of these aircrafts from the operation creates significant problems for passengers and airlines.

A simple example of a reaction of the Tyumen newspapers to the president's initiative: "The An-24, while outdated, is irreplaceable for the Tyumen North where there are still dirt airfields. Tyumen region is not ready for decommissioning of this aircraft." "If airlines refuse to use the AN-24, they will have to abandon, inter alia, the flights to such locations of Yamal as Tarko-Sale and Krasnoselkoop," a newspaper quoted the Director of Tyumen Airport Roschino Vladimir Polyakov.

The Tu-134 and AN-24 are objectively obsolete and do not meet modern requirements, but, among other things they are simply cheap. This is an important factor for small regional airlines that may want to renew their fleets (there are, for example, European analogues of the AN-24 capable of landing on unpaved airfields), but financial issue come first. Even major federal airlines are not always able to acquire new planes in the West. At the same time it is worth thinking twice before purchasing the clunkers that would last 10-20 years at a bargain price.

There are three sides to the problem. First, further operation of obsolete aircraft is impossible simply for security reasons. At the same time, the entire transportation sectors will be left unattended and many settlements can theoretically lose air service, and this is the second part of the problem. This argument, however, could not be considered seriously - while there is a need to transport people, this should not turn into a Russian roulette. Finally, the third problem is the objective need to update the regional airline fleets in parallel with the decommissioning of the obsolete equipment. That is, immediately before 2012.

Independent airlines will not cope with such a massive upgrade. This means that it is time to start an aviation analogue of "cash for clunkers," a national project in which the decommissioning of old aircraft will be accompanied by subsidies for the purchase of new ones. Otherwise we risk being left without regional aviation.

Anton Ponomarev

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov