In terms of the number of accidents, 2021 was a sad record for Russia: almost fifty accidents in the sky. Including more than thirty accidents that claimed the lives of over a hundred passengers and pilots. These were different planes: commercial and private, piston and jet … Helicopters fought. There is only one question: when will the endless airport stop? We are looking for an answer with Sergei Melnichenko, Director General of the International Consultative and Analytical Agency “Flight Safety”.
Sergey Alexandrovich, has the past year become a black stripe for our aviation?
Sergey Melnichenko: According to experts, over the past five years, comparative annual data on the number of fatalities in plane crashes relative to the number of passengers carried in Russia is more than 100 times worse than in the United States. At the same time, the Americans carry 10 times more passengers every year.
But last year, flight safety in Russia became the worst in the world. Absolutely all accidents with aircraft certified to carry 14 or more people in the European and North Atlantic regions of ICAO occurred in our country. This is 40% of the total number of tragedies with human casualties. For the rest of the regions, the figures are as follows: Asian – 20%, African – 30%, North American – 10%. In civil aviation alone, we were almost twice ahead of Africa in the number of deaths!
Towards the end of the year, another tragedy occurred: in Udmurtia fell helicopter Mi-2. The pilot and passenger survived but were seriously injured. There was only one thought: would they have time to save? We didn’t have time: the pilot died. Service passenger is in serious condition. They were looking for ten hours.
Why so long?
Sergey Melnichenko: This is not the only question that immediately arises. There are others. According to preliminary information, the signal from the emergency radio beacon disappeared to the place where the helicopter crashed. Why? Investigators will figure it out. According to AOPA, an interregional public organization of pilots and citizens who own aircraft, out of dozens of air crashes, emergency radio beacons have been triggered a couple of times. And then they searched for weeks. One problem is that if the antenna comes off on impact, the emergency beacon becomes as useful for searching as a brick.
If the situation repeats itself from time to time, then why is there no solution?
Sergey Melnichenko: Experienced private pilots believe satellite trackers are the salvation. Aircraft are found immediately using them. But the experts need to be heard by the big bosses. Otherwise, we will continue to ask the eternal questions: why and for how long? In the competition between economics and flight safety, there is always one winner – and this is not flight safety.
Now about other plane crashes. The largest one happened on July 6 in Kamchatka: An-26B-100 of the Kamchatka Aviation Enterprise crashed into the rock. None of the 28 people on board survived. And, unfortunately, this is not the only commercial aircraft tragedy. In the same place, in Kamchatka, in the area of the Ozerny cordon of the Kuril Lake on August 12, a Mi-8T helicopter of the Vityaz-Aero company crashed. The radio beacon did not work here either. Of the 16 who flew, including the crew, only eight survived. And exactly a month later, on September 12, an L-410 of the Aeroservice airline fell near Irkutsk, killing four people.
Sergei Melnichenko: According to world statistics, more than half of the tragedies over the past five years are associated with the loss of control in flight. Photo: from the personal archive of Sergei Melnichenko
Major aviation accidents also occurred with aircraft of state aviation. About a third of the accidents occurred in private jets and helicopters.
So what’s going on? Have the pilots forgotten how to fly? Is it the technician’s fault? Did the weather let you down?
Sergey Melnichenko: Most of the plane crashes of the year are still under investigation. But where the work has already been completed or is close to completion, the reasons are obvious: it is mostly a pilot’s mistake. By the way, according to world statistics, more than half of the tragedies over the past five years are associated with the loss of control in flight. It is no coincidence that this factor is given special attention in the ICAO Global Aviation Safety Plan.
Is the age of the car a serious risk? For example, the Mi-8T that fell in Kamchatka, according to the IAC, had more than a solid work experience – 36 years 8 months. The An-26 had a resource of 39 years 1 month. And there were just less than two months left before its completion. Two more crashed aircraft were also built during the Soviet era.
Sergey Melnichenko: The age of an airplane or helicopter is not a criterion for its suitability. The three crashed cars were generally new. The criterion for aircraft equipment is airworthiness. There is an American C-130 Hercules aircraft, which has been in operation for 50 years. So, the Americans were not afraid to announce that they are extending their “Hercules” resource until 2030. But, of course, for this they have undertaken to do a lot – to modify the engines, avionics, and create a powerful diagnostic system.
Australia is one of the leading countries in the implementation of modern concepts and methods of prevention of aviation accidents. There, for example, many turboprop aircraft have an extended service life of up to 18-20 years, but with good maintenance this did not lead to a deterioration in flight safety. Moreover, the country’s main airline is the only one in the world that has not lost a single aircraft in its entire history. The experience deserves the utmost attention.
Are we going to continue to count the loss of air?
Sergey Melnichenko: One of the global postulates of safety: “first persons” should be engaged in the prevention of aviation accidents, not entrusting this responsible work to anyone else. Until this happens, until absolutely all the causes and factors contributing to the tragedy are identified, until absolutely everything is established, through negligence or deliberately violated flight laws, until order is brought in order in professional selection and preparation, a mournful list of serious incidents and disasters will be continue.
In our country, the algorithm of aviation accidents develops as if according to a certain scenario: violation of flight rules (rarely – equipment failure), emergency, payment of money to relatives (not so big), aviation investigation and criminal investigation, revealing certain reasons and factors, then safety recommendations, which are not always carried out, sometimes the punishment of the guilty – and the next tragedy.
How many we talk about violations in private aviation – they have simply stuck in my teeth. And everything is like a carbon copy?
Sergey Melnichenko: This is the problem. Look here. On April 23, an N-65 aircraft belonging to a private person crashed in the Irkutsk region. Two people died. It has already been established: the most likely reason was the commander’s mistake. But attention: due to the absence of a flight book and other documents confirming flight activities, the pilot’s flight in the final report is given by investigators according to the testimony of third parties!
Or let’s take the January 8 disaster: two “private” aircraft collided in the sky. One collapsed, killing the pilot and two passengers. Another was lucky: everyone survived. What turned out? After takeoff, the commander of the deceased aircraft performed a maneuver that did not correspond to the standard takeoff pattern. That is, again, the human factor. And again the pilot had no certificate, no flight book, no obligatory documentation for the plane. Where is the control?
Each serious incident differs from a disaster only in its outcome, and it must be investigated as a failed disaster.
How can you change the situation for the better?
Sergey Melnichenko: We are constantly talking about the urgent need to implement predictive methods of disaster prevention for proactive risk management in accordance with ICAO standards. First of all, it is the identification of areas where tragedy can occur. These methods are not new: collection and analysis of information on flight safety, including voluntary and confidential messages; risk assessment; taking proactive measures to completely eliminate or minimize them.
Three main ICAO documents that address proactive methods: Annex 19 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation – Safety Management; Global Aviation Safety Plan and Safety Management Manual adopted every three years. The last document should have long become a reference book for aviators around the world. And he did, but not with us. Four editions have already been published, in which the world experience is decomposed on the shelves. There is a law. It takes practice to apply it.
Why is the truth written in the blood of aviators forgotten: catastrophes are almost never the result of any particular cause?
Sergey Melnichenko: When they remember that flight laws were written in the blood of the dead, I always think: in those days when these laws were adopted, there was probably no one to foresee the risks and threats that arose, that is, the predictive method for identifying threats, which we are talking about today, was absent then. Therefore, the inability of those who wrote the laws to look ahead turned, however cynical it may sound, into the lives of many people. Now there are laws, but the tragedies continue. What’s this? Failure to recognize old and emerging threats, or a basic lack of security oversight?
Alas, something else is forgotten: every serious incident differs from a catastrophe only in its outcome, and it must be investigated as a failed catastrophe. An illustrative example. The same commander of the Mi-8T helicopter that crashed in Kamchatka, as it turned out, had already had an accident six years ago. And there were also mistakes that led to a collision with the mountainside. The helicopter collapsed, but then there were injuries.
This is all that remains of a light-engine aircraft that belonged to a private person in the Leningrad Region.
The human factor is responsible for 80% of accidents. However, psychologists were not and are not involved in investigations. There is not a single specialist in the “human factor” either in the staff structure of the State ATM Corporation, or in the IAC, or in the Federal Air Transport Agency, or in the State Research Institute of Civil Aviation! Until now, a single digital bank of information on the “human factor” has not been created on a national scale.
To prevent an impending disaster, every leader must be aware of the chain of recurring adverse events in his area of responsibility. We are not keeping pace with the world. What to talk about, if we have not yet really implemented even the state program for ensuring the safety of civil aviation.
Was it approved fourteen years ago? ..
Sergey Melnichenko: And over the years, it has not undergone absolutely any changes and additions. But back in 2012, an important article was introduced into the Air Code of the Russian Federation: the implementation of the state flight safety management system is ensured in accordance with ICAO international standards. Superedit! From that moment on, Russian civil aviation had to strictly follow international rules, and not fictitious home-grown ones. What has changed?
If there is no political will of the aviation leadership, commitment to adherence to Russian and international aviation legislation, then the repetition of aviation incidents and accidents will not be long in coming. Which, in general, was clearly demonstrated by the previous year. Moreover, the reasons are repeated, but, unfortunately, there are no signs that the situation will change for the better. So are we going to step on the same rake? Although, perhaps, this is not a question, but a statement.
But new risks associated with cyber threats have already announced themselves. This is a serious hazard for both manned and unmanned aircraft. And it also requires the most proactive and concerted action.
And at this time
The first air tragedy of 2022: on January 7, in the area of the Pavlovka settlement of the Republic of Bashkortostan, a private helicopter AS-350 RA-07295 crashed. According to available information, there were a pilot and two passengers on board. The passengers were killed.
On January 10, in Belgorod, a Red Wings Sukhoi Superjet 100-95LR aircraft that arrived from Moscow skidded off the runway during landing. There are no casualties.