Russian aviation meets global safety standards

October 15, 1994|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- Russian aviation boasts some of the world's smallest airlines, dirtiest planes, best pilots, worst weather conditions, remotest airports, most confusing bureaucracy, and best-trained but overstretched safety inspectors.

Added up, it means that Russia meets international safety standards -- but barely -- according to a joint U.S.-Russian air safety report released yesterday.

It means that flying in Russia is not quite so dangerous as some organizations, such as the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, had suggested.

Yesterday, Ambassador Thomas Pickering said he was partially lifting the ban that had prevented U.S. government employees from flying within Russia.

That ban, imposed in the wake of several air crashes, had forced diplomats here to resort to the Russian railroads for most of their travel.

It meant that geologists with the U.S. Geological Survey could no longer get to see the volcanoes in Kamchatka, a peninsula on the Pacific Coast that is only reachable by air.

And it meant that Mr. Pickering had to drive to Archangel this summer, a trip of 699 miles -- each way -- over roads that make Aeroflot seem to be not half bad by comparison.

But no one should relax, the authors of the report said. Russian air safety could easily slip over the brink unless significant

measures are taken soon.

As Anthony Broderick, associate administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, outlined yesterday, Russia has been in the throes of huge upheavals which have not left aviation unscathed.

From a single government-run umbrella organization -- the old Aeroflot -- there have emerged three government agencies and 396 airlines.

The number of new airlines was sudden, but should not be a problem, Mr. Broderick said. He noted that in the United States there are about 3,500 to 4,000 air companies, not counting agricultural fliers.

What Russia does need, he said, is a law straightening out who is responsible for what, and insuring that the Department of Air Transport is independent enough to insist on tight safety standards.

Then it needs money to beef up its inspection staff.

Vadim Zamotin, director of the Department of Air Transport, said that ideally Russia should spend 6 trillion rubles on air safety equipment and training by 1995 -- about $2 billion.

"But practically," he said, "that's impossible," so Moscow will settle for spending $170 million instead.

Mr. Broderick said the United States was prepared to commit aid money, but no one has decided how much.

The report was prepared by a team of about 50 experts, Russians and Americans, who visited 13 cities in seven regions, looking at flight operations, aircraft maintenance and certification, airworthiness, air-traffic control, accident investigation and air law.

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