Sunday, July 09, 2006

Flying high in the Russian sky

I'm tracking news reports of an Airbus crash in Siberia a few hours back, killing 200 people. Tragic news, I'm so upset it's difficult for me to write a news digest about it. I'm angry in a way.

This is Siberian (Sibir) Airlines' 3rd major crash in 5 years. Repeat: 3rd crash. Maybe it was a terrorist attack, so Sibir gets a clean slate. But the other 2 Sibir tragedies were crashes, and nasty ones. After so many tragedies how can they still be in the air? All I can say: Avoid Sibir Air and save your life.

Maybe they are better than what I give them credit for. But for a major Russian airline, this is a sorry safety record. A black eye on their face.

Airbus takes a hit with this news. Just two months ago, an Airbus belonging to an Armenian airline crashed in Russia, killing 113 people. Before crashing this Airbus, Sibir crashed two Tupolev jets, a Boeing/Airbus alternative promoted by Russia.

Tupolevs may be safe, but Ilyushin and Antonov jets/turboprops still operated by airliners in Russia and other countries (mainly poor or ex-communist countries) are somewhat dangerous. These planes are old, shake while moving and feel generally unsafe. I've flown Russian flights and some feel like roller-coaster rides.

The Antonovs are especially bad. One AN-24 flight felt like a roller coaster ride. After landing at the destination, I kissed the ground and thanked god for being by my side.

Seven Antonov planes crashed in 2005, and 1 has gone down in 2006. The Mongolian national airline, MIAT, phased out the Antonov turboprops -- used for internal flights -- last year. A friend described MIAT turboprops as being like buses, crowded and passengers being treated like cows herded.

Though old, some dating back to the 50s, the Antonovs can be fixed easily, he said, like a jeep, which is why they were preferred. Boeings perhaps take a whole specialty technical staff. Mongolians have little money to buy new Boeings anyways, so they may keep the Antonovs until it completely runs into the ground.

Like MIAT did, money-sapped airliners may opt for Tupolevs. Though more robust than Antonovs and Ilyushins, a Tupolevs difference from, say, a Boeing can be felt right away. A Tupolev flight to Bishkek felt shakier and noisier, but it didn't feel unsafe.

Though Tupolev has a good safety record, the way the planes go down is disturbing. In 2001, A Sibir Airlines Tupolev plane exploded in the air and just disappeared. In 2004, two Tupolevs crashed simultaneously. The Russian gov't said the planes were attacked by terrorists, not yet proven.

Tupolev recently launched a new model -- the PSC -- which it says will be used for cargo. It is still pursuing a Concorde alternative. I hope it performs well, like the Boeing's Dreamliner or Airbus' superjumbo A380. Both planes attract lots of curiosity and I can't wait to sit in them.

Back to work...


Anonymous Hiren said...

Comprehensive write up. There are so many cheap airlines in India these days that one wonders about they adhere to all the safety norms or not. Compeition may reduce cost but do not always ensure a better service from all perspectives.

12:22 AM  
Anonymous downunder said...

A great thing to write two weeks before I embark on my travel!

2:53 AM  
Blogger Khakra said...

allie, don't worry, you ain't flying a russian plane! and i've got cycling across the GG Bridge all planned out, only if the weather is good. no russian bikes for any of us!

10:06 AM  
Blogger Id it is said...

What a shame! 200 lives come to an unnatural end and it's ok; nothing is expected to change! The price tag on human life varies across national boundaries; something I've figured out in my travels. It may help to carry more Americans on those Russian airlines.

12:06 PM  
Blogger Khakra said...

The final toll ended up being 120. There's something scrupulous about the way they cover up stuff because their reputation is at stake. The day I start trusting ITAR-TASS is the day I believe democracy has reached Russia. But that's the mystery of it, how news just disappears, and how they cover it up. Humanity? All bull.

10:28 PM  

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