Staunton, Sept. 24 – Almost every week in recent months has brought news of the crash or hard landing of a regional carrier in the Russian Federation. But these accidents are only the tip of the iceberg of a problem that is imposing increasingly serious costs on the country and the linking together of its far-flung and relatively unpopulated regions.
In Soviet times, officials liked to claim that one could fly from every village to every other, but the depopulation of rural areas has killed off that even as it has forced the closure of numerous airports. And as a result, where flights still originate, it is often necessary to fly thousands of kilometers via Moscow to get from one place to another not that far away.
(For background, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/04/almost-like-in-soviet-times-aeroflot.html, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2012/12/window-on-eurasia-more-than-half-of-all.html, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/05/moscow-closes-44-more-airports-in-north.html, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2018/11/russia-has-fewer-than-half-as-many.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2018/04/only-one-of-eight-soviet-era-airports.html.)
Russian regional aviation is collapsing, experts tell Saniya Yusupova of the Sibreal portal. Without massive subsidies, it can’t survive and even with subsidies there are serious problems with aging planes, the inability of regional carriers to find pilots, and the lack of modern GPS location systems (sibreal.org/a/pochemu-regionalnye-perelety-ubytochny-i-opasny/31468922.html).
As a result of the last, pilots have to work much harder than they do in larger planes which not only have positional devices but also automatic pilots. Those working for regional carriers generally are on planes that lack automatic pilots and therefore have to fly the plane from takeoff to landing without any break.
Worse, the Russian government has so dramatically increased the number of rules for their behavior that if there is an accident, pilot error can always be found, something that protects the carriers and the government but not the aircraft crews and importantly not the passengers who rely on them.
The contraction of regional carriers is leading to truly horrific outcomes, the experts say. “For example, there are direct flights between Magadan and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky each week, a distance of 867 km. On other days, one must go via Vladivostok – 5,000 km – or even Moscow –21,500.” And the cost of tickets is so great that people fight over seats.
As airports have contracted both in number and size, it is increasingly difficult to service regional planes. Indeed, it can now cost more to service a 50-seat plane in Sakha than a 200-seat jet in Moscow airports. Something must be done, but as of now, regional carriers and the cities they serve have heard only promises and not seen any real commitment.
In the words of one expert, “land transport cannot possibly connect enormous spaces in Siberia and the Far East. Only regional carriers can, but they face problems with aging equipment and inexperienced pilots. One can only hope that the human factor will not lead to disaster and that someone passengers will get to their destinations without a hard landing.”