Friday, Feb. 14, 2003. Page 5
Safety Board Says Il-86 Unsafe
By Lyuba Pronina
No Ilyushin-86 had ever crashed until Pulkovo Airline's plane went down last year.
The Ilyushin-86 could soon be grounded over fears that it is unsafe, a move that would cost airlines millions of dollars in losses and wreak havoc on the peak summer tourist season.
The State Civil Aviation Service, which certifies planes for commercial use, must decide Friday whether to let the Il-86 fly after the Interstate Aviation Committee, or MAK, recommended suspending the plane earlier this week.
MAK -- an aviation regulatory body for the Commonwealth of Independent States -- ruled Wednesday that the crash of a Pulkovo Airlines Il-86 shortly after takeoff from Sheremetyevo Airport on July 28 may have been due to technical malfunction, Oleg Yermolov, MAK's deputy director, said Thursday.
The crash -- which resulted in the deaths of 14 of the 16 crew -- was the first ever in the Il-86's 20-year history. No passengers were aboard.
MAK's decisions usually serve as the basis for certification rulings by the State Civil Aviation Service.
However, all but one representative of the 12-member MAK commission -- Valery Luchinin, deputy head of the State Civil Aviation Service's flight safety department -- said the crash was due to crew error.
Yermolov said MAK could not ignore Luchinin's opinion but that the State Civil Aviation Service must decide whether to ground the Il-86. He added, though, that another investigation has been ordered and it could take a month or more to complete.
State Civil Aviation Service officials, including Luchinin, said they do not understand MAK's decision and will hold a "serious" meeting Friday afternoon that is to involve representatives from the Ilyushin Design Bureau, airlines operating Il-86 and the Russian Aviation and Space Agency, as well as MAK.
"Their [MAK's] decision came as a total surprise for us," Vladimir Rudakov, deputy head of the State Civil Aviation Service, said Thursday. "The Il-86 is the safest aircraft, and we don't see any reason why it should be suspended."
Rudakov said Luchinin had come to his conclusion in the hopes of eliminating some of the Il-86s shortcomings but did not want the craft suspended. He said Friday's meeting will come up with "some decision" and did not rule out that the aircraft could be suspended.
A source in the State Civil Aviation Service said that if the service does not ban the Il-86 it will be acting against the law and will be held responsible if the craft crashes again.
Rudakov said the State Civil Aviation Service could not make a decision until it saw the resolution of MAK's investigation.
With the flight recorders severely damaged, the exact reason of the crash has not been identified and likely will never be, Rudakov said. After the crash, the horizontal stabilizer -- thought to have malfunctioned -- was checked on all the airplanes and performed normally, he said.
Russian carriers operate 41 Il-86s with a dozen more flying in other CIS states. The craft was considered the most reliable plane in service until the crash. Ilyushin was not available for comment.
Airlines operating the craft lambasted MAK's decision and said they hope the Il-86 will not be banned.
No. 2 airline Sibir, which operates 14 Il-86s, said the ban would entail millions of dollars in losses.
"This is one of the safest aircraft in the world. ... MAK's decision is not adequate and is unlikely to be supported by the State Civil Aviation Service," said Mikhail Koshman, Sibir's deputy general director. If the Il-86 is banned "the state should allow the import of foreign craft."
The Il-86 is irreplaceable for Russian airlines, said Svetlana Volodina, spokeswoman for Boris Abramovich, general director of No. 4 KrasAir, which operates four Il-86.
Two Tu-154s would have to be used to make up for one Il-86, which would hit operational costs and ticket prices, she said. With tickets sold in advance and summer schedules planned, the flight program would be disrupted and passengers would face delays.
Banning the IL
-86 would be as stupid as banning the MD
-80, if indeed there was a horizontol stabiliser malfunction. This sounds like alot of senseless bickering to me.