An absolutely awful week for Russian aviation

Christmas week left the Russian aviation community very little to celebrate. A trio of incidents in the past week saw two crashes (including fatalities) plus the grounding – albeit brief – of of the Sukhoi SuperJet. Here’s the details.

Crash #1

On 19 December an Ilyushin IL-18 prop carrying 39 members of the Russian military crashed in Siberia. One version of the story called it an emergency landing rather than a crash and 32 of the 39 souls on board were hospitalized, with some air-lifted more than 2,000 miles to Moscow or St. Petersburg for further care. Further details on the cause of the crash have not come forth.

Crash #2

A Tupelov Tu-154, also flying for the Russian military, crashed into the Black Sea on Christmas Eve; all 92 on board are believed to have perished in the incident. The plane was en route from Sochi to Syria and was carrying members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, the Russian Military choir, who were set to entertain members of the military serving in Syria. Officials expressed skepticism that terrorism could be in play, focusing instead on pilot error or mechanical failure of the aircraft.

And a Grounding

While the military incidents are unfortunate, the grounding of the Sukhoi SuperJet SSJ100 fleet is arguably the most significant of the incidents. This is the first new Russian aircraft to see commercial operation in decades and the company is working hard to make inroads against Embraer and Bombardier to bring the type to broader success. Sukhoi wants to be a player in the commercial space but also believes its product could support private aviation uses such as sports team transport.

The type was grounded after IrAero, a regional operator in Russia with three of the SSJs in service noticed metal fatigue in a tail component. The company is quick to point out that the defect was in a part that has redundancy and that failure should not be critical to the aircraft operation. Still, it is cooperating with authorities regarding the inspection directive:

As part of a routine inspection of an SSJ in Russia, a defect was detected in an element of the tail stabilizer in an area not critical to the aircraft operation. The element has a multi-level redundancy system and was design with a stability margin far exceeding its service loads.

The element was designed and tested in accordance with the Russian and European airworthiness requirements of IAC AR (Interstate Aviation Committee Aviation Register) Type Certificate and its validation by EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency).

SCAC together with operators is performing inspections of the SSJ100 fleet in operation; a Technical Decision on Continued Airworthiness of SSJ100 Aircraft was issued.

The impact thus far appears to be relatively limited: A couple days of additional inspections led to some flight cancellations but no major disruptions. At least not yet. CityJet, InterJet and Aeroflot are the primary operators of the type and all are doing their best to accommodate the additional inspections while canceling as few flights as possible.

A CityJet Sukhoi SSJ100 sits on the static display at this year's Farnborough International Air Show
A CityJet Sukhoi SSJ100 sits on the static display at this year’s Farnborough International Air Show

Until the company can determine why that particular component showed accelerated wear it may remain a challenge to get past this hiccup to sign new customers. And it is not like the market has been clamoring for new Russian aircraft recently to begin with.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


    1. To be fair, most of the mentioned accidents aren’t caused by the aircraft’s design. Many are CFIT, maintenance deficiencies, and/or ATC errors. TU-154 safety record is comparable to similar aircraft of that era, e.g., B727.

  1. I did ask Superjet about the grounding and sent me the same press release. It really can’t help sales one little bit. But as you say airlines aren’t exactly lining up to buy these aircraft

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