Russia, once a global aviation power, has become the most dangerous country in which to board an airliner.
Investigations of nine commercial plane crashes this year, including one that killed an entire professional hockey team, found a raft of gross violations and errors, such as drunk or sedated flight crews, forged safety documents and panicked pilots. In one crash, the navigator used the wrong guidance equipment and aimed his jetliner at a tree, far from the runway.
...Russian fatalities and crashes, adjusted for air-traffic volumes, this year exceed those in less developed countries with longstanding safety problems, including Congo and Indonesia, according to aviation consultants Ascend in London.
Eight of the nine crashes involved Soviet-era planes. But many safety experts say the real problem isn't aging equipment but ineffective regulation, inefficiently small airlines and poorly trained pilots not following modern safety procedures.
Just two years ago, Russia appeared to be an air-safety success story. Following a string of crashes early last decade, the government in 2006 accepted international help to boost safety at its biggest global carriers like Aeroflot and Transaero. By 2009, Russia had no fatal crashes. Since then, accidents have surged amid rising traffic at small, domestic airlines that were largely overlooked by the safety campaign.
- This Business Insider article notes that the Russian government imposes "huge taxes on the import of foreign airplanes" as part of an effort to force Russian airlines to buy domestic planes." Coincidentally, every crash described in this graphic that accompanies the WSJ article involves a plane that was domestically produced. The article makes no note of this.
- The article describes the crash of a Boeing 737 operated by an affiliate of Aeroflot crashed in September 2008 in the Ural Mountains, attributing it to poorly-trained pilots. It also notes that Aeroflot subsequently sold its stake in the airline. Unmentioned, however, is that Aeroflot is majority-owned by the Russian government, and is thus far from a capitalist institution.
- Perhaps most notably, foreign airlines are prohibited from competing in Russia's domestic airline market (recall that Russia has nine time zones, making air travel a particularly important part of transportation in the country). This means that Russian consumers cannot avail themselves of airlines that incorporate best practices and Western know-how. Again, zero mention of this fact in the article. Just as competition from McDonald's resulted in a vast improvement in the state of restaurant bathrooms in Hong Kong, the introduction of foreign competition in Russia would surely lead to similar quality improvements and help shake up the country's airline culture.