Russia Second in Fatal Crashes

Russia Second in Fatal Crashes

Published: July 4, 2012 (Issue # 1716)


MAXIM STULOV / VEDOMOSTI

Russia holds second place in the number of fatal air crashes since 1945 with 273. The U.S. is in first place with 653 crashes.

MOSCOW — Russian civil aviation’s reputation for safety took a hit in the post-Soviet period, reaching a low in 2011 after a number of fatal crashes. But there were also years without any fatal crashes at all.

So how safe is it to fly in Russia?

Determining the comparative safety of civil aviation in Russia, or in any country, is a difficult task. There isn’t a single world organization that regulates all airlines, sets standards, tracks compliance and rates performance.

Looking at the number of fatal air crashes since 1945, Russia is in second place with 273 accidents. The United States is in first place with 653 fatal crashes. That statistic, however, conceals the huge number of flights and the preponderance of small-craft accidents in the United States.

A glance at statistics on hull-loss crashes — accidents in which the airplane is destroyed or must otherwise be written off — per million flights is slightly more revealing. But the agency that provides those figures only counts Western-made aircraft, so the Russian rating is often misleading.

People can look at country statistics, but each country has its own definitions of such key indicators as “incidents,” which makes cross-country comparisons problematic.

The head of the Federal Air Transportation Agency, Alexander Neradko, recently said that the accident level in civil aviation had dropped by a factor of 10 in the last 20 years, from 111 accidents in 1991 to 13 or less today. While that is good news for frequent flyers, it still puts Russia about midway between the safest and the most dangerous countries for flying.

The biggest problem is the “human factor,” with about 90 percent of the accidents in Russia caused by pilot error.

“In the Soviet Union, there was comprehensive, multi-level training of pilots. A pilot only started flying long-distance flights at the age of 35 or 40, when he had a lot of experience,” said Avia.ru editor Roman Gusarov. “Today, someone graduates from flight school, and if he passes test flights and exams, he immediately starts flying a major aircraft.”

Anatoly Guzy, a specialist in aviation safety and a consultant for Transaero, placed the ultimate blame on the oversight agencies, saying the country lacks a coherent, comprehensive safety system.

So how can passengers improve their odds for a safe flight?

Guzy has this advice for nervous flyers:

Choose your airline. Fly one of the airlines listed in the annual Jet Airliner Crash Data Evaluation Center Index of the 60 safest airlines (Transaero and Aeroflot made the grade in 2011) or an airline that is a member of the International Air Transport Association. The four leading Russian airlines — Aeroflot, Transaero, S7 and UTAir — are all members.

Choose your airport. Check aviation-safety.net or airport.airlines-inform.ru to see the number of accidents and incidents at an airport, read traveler reviews, or ask your travel agent.

A Class 1 Russian airport, which has more than 7 million passengers per year, is much more likely to be safe to fly in and out of than a Class 5 airport, which serves less than 100,000 passengers a year.

Fly an airline with regularly scheduled flights, not a charter. The accident rate for charter flights is about three times higher than for regular flights.

Fly off-season. The peak of accidents in Russia coincides with the peak in the travel season, when pilots and ground crews are more likely to be overworked and excessively tired.

And remember, Guzy said, that flying in Russia is still statistically safer than walking around Moscow.

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