Sputnik News recently posted the following headline The Russian Federal Agency for Air Transport (Rosaviatsiya) may ban Russian airlines from flying the Boeing 737. That sensational statement is based on the early stages of the investigation of the FlyDubai B-737 crash at Rostov-On-Don. The suggestion has been repeated by other media.
What is the basis of this news story and is it likely that the Russian media company’s prediction will really happen?
Russian Civic Chamber Committee (Общественная палата) chairman, Artyom Kiryanov, sent a letter to Federal Air Transport Agency (Rosaviatsiya) head Alexander Neradko, as well as Interstate Aviation Committee (IAC) chair Tatiana Anodina requesting that the airworthiness certificate of the B-737 (all series?) be suspended/revoked. The basis of this complaint by Kiryanov was the crash of the FlyDubai on approach to Rostov-On-Don’s airport.
The first step is to sort out the parties and determine what each’s authority is.
- The Civic Chamber Committee was created in 2005 as a state institution with 126 members. Its function is only to analyze draft legislation and monitor the activities of the parliament, government and other government bodies. The extent of the Committee’s authority is to provide oversight and to consult within the Federation government.
- The Federal Air Transport Agency is the equivalent of the FAA. Its authority includes managing the national aviation assets, controlling the airspace and regulating all aspects of the safety of its aviation industry. Last November, Rosaviatsiya suspended the B-737 TC, until it was convinced that the plane’s elevator was airworthy. Soon thereafter, the certificate was restored
- The IAC is the NTSB of the Federation. Its chair is Tatiana Anodina and she is well qualified for the position. Her CV is impressive:
- a degree of Doctor of technical sciences
- author of over 100 research papers on aeronautical engineering specializing in communications
- a State Prize of the Soviet Union for the development of a novel radar systems for air traffic control
- Edward Warner Award from ICAO “in recognition of her eminent contribution, as scientist and researcher”
- General of the Army in recognition of her aviation achievements
- owns 3% of stake in Transaero and her son is the main shareholder of that Russian airline, the fleet of which was primarily B-737s
- she quickly asked Rosaviatsiya to reverse the TC suspension
The idea that a political body, Civic Chamber Committee, is expressing its consultative powers to ask both the investigating agency, the IAC, and the regulator, the FATA, to suspend a TC is very odd to begin with. The precarious ethical status of the IAC chair makes it even more suspect. Add to that unusual (perhaps normal for Russia) intergovernmental request, the fact that the IAC has not had time to make even preliminary determinations of what happened and this troika of agencies/ethics/premature action becomes more dubious. [Though never good to speculate, there is one plausible scenario which points to pilot issues. The New York Times reported that the transcript of the CVR indicates that one of the pilots turned off the auto pilot in heavy turbulence and soon thereafter the plane crashed]
The last and perhaps most telling point is that the US FAA has greater knowledge about the airworthiness of the B-737 and carefully regulates, on a continuing airworthiness basis, the global fleet of 8,920 aircraft being operated by 500 airlines. By all accounts, its safety record is exceptional. The FATA would be wary about questioning the competence of its US counterpart, unless the evidence supporting the unairworthiness of the B-737 is absolutely solid (clearly, such a claim would be premature presently). The two agencies have a Bilateral Airworthiness Safety Agreement between them which defines what each may do. Action by FATA would place this important relationship at risk.
This seems to be more Putinesque propaganda than fact-based statements and after the noise diminishes, the Russian B-737 aircraft will continue to operate safely.