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Decommissioning of aged aircraft by 2017 would be hard to accomplish, experts say

November 21, 2013, 16:48 UTC+3 Zamyatina Tamara

MOSCOW, November 21. /ITAR-TASS/. A bill has been introduced to Russia's State Duma on Wednesday aimed to ban the use of civil aircraft older than 20 years. Experts find this task not an easy one at all.

Infographics History of the crashed plane

History of the crashed plane

Illustrated history of Boeing 737-500 that crashed in Kazan airport. ITAR-TASS Infographics
The legislators put forward this initiative following the crash of a 23-year-old Boeing-737-500 during an attempt to land at the airport of Kazan that killed fifty on November 17.

The explanatory note says the ban may take effect from 2017.

“Clearly, such a large-scale reform is impossible to make overnight,” one of the bill's authors, State Duma member from the ruling party United Russia, Igor Igoshin, said.

The average age of all aircraft used in Russia is 16.3 years against the world’s average of 11.9 years. This brings to mind the ironic saying about the average temperature in a hospital - 30-40-year-old flying aircraft are still frequent in Russia. According to the Federal State Statistics Service (Rosstat), the longest life cycle of an aircraft is 30 years. About 30 percent of Russian passenger planes are older.

Such aircraft fleets are typical of regional airlines, including state-owned ones. According to the agency AviaPort specializing in air industry news, the largest domestic airlines Aeroflot’s subsidiary Aeroflot NordAvia has two 41-year-old aircraft An-24, as well as ten 22-year-old Boeing-737 aircraft. Among other owners of old aircraft is VIM Airlines with nine 22-year-old Boeing-757s.

Major airlines making both domestic and international flights also use aged aircraft, AviaPort reports, adding that one of the companies still operate nine 23-year-old ATR-42s.

In last year's report on the condition of the Russian aircraft fleet to President Vladimir Putin a governmental commission said Russian major airlines Aeroflot, Transaero, Rossiya and Sibir had stopped planning purchases of Russian-built aircraft, as they are uncompetitive economically and technically.

So far Russian airlines have preferred to buy cheaper used planes in order to pay less on the border. Aircraft imported to Russia are subject to duties that may reach 40% of the price irrespective of age.

Currently, modern Russian planes make up only 7% of aircraft used in Russia, while their contribution to the total passenger traffic is even less — 4%, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has said recently.

One of the reasons for such a strong demand for foreign aircraft is insufficient domestic production - fourteen civil aircraft in 2009 and seven in 2010. By 2013 foreign-built aircraft accounted for 80% of medium-haul planes against only 2% in 1994.

The bill proposes financial support for the airlines using Russian aircraft and preferences for carriers leasing new Russian planes. However, experts warn that giving priority to Russian aircraft may clash with the requirements of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Russia joined recently.

“If they undergo maintenance on time, aircraft may fly 30 years and more,” the former head of the Moscow Aviation Institute, Yury Ryzhov, told Itar-Tass, thus agreeing with Rosstat’s data.

According to the expert, the problem is rooted not only in the aircraft's age but also in the conflict of interests within the Interstate Aviation Committee (IAC).

“The IAC is in charge of issuing licenses for using aircraft and the same organization investigates crashes. But then the question arises why the Boeing that crashed in Kazan, which six or more times changed owners, including some in Africa, was eventually certified to fly in Russia?” Ryzhov wondered.

Ryzhov believes that to uproot corruption there should be two separate authorities issuing licences and investigating accidents.

“Otherwise, investigators tend to blame incidents not on the technical condition of aircraft, but on crew errors, on the human factor,” Ryzhov said.

The expert believes the current economic decline in Russia complicates the decommissioning of aircraft older than twenty years by 2017, which will require systematic overhaul and considerable financing.