Discourse Turns Divisive as SSJ100 Crash Probe Nears End

 - May 31, 2019, 9:43 AM

The May 5 crash-landing of Aeroflot SSJ100 that left 41 out of 78 people on board dead has sparked heated controversy among Russian industry professionals and state officials. As of May 31, more than 213,000 people signed an electronic petition demanding the grounding of the Superjet fleet until all persisting technical problems get resolved.

During the last week of May, Aeroflot issued several statements reacting to various quotes in the media about recent findings and conclusions on the crash of Flight SU1492. On May 30, the flag carrier drew attention to the fact that the official investigation remains incomplete, and that drawing conclusions not only is premature but punishable by law if the speaker has access to the findings discovered by the investigation team. “Speculations...only give rise to the social tensions,” asserted Aeroflot in its statement, almost immediately after a leading expert with the International Aviation Committee (MAK), Vladimir Koshman, suggested that pilot error caused the accident. “Everything is clear now: the catastrophe took place because of the rough touchdown,” he said. Aeroflot described the quote as “an attempt to manipulate public opinion, which is not appropriate for the investigation team members.” With that, the carrier demonstrated its willingness to object to any accusations of insufficient crew training, notably that for SSJ100 pilots in the use of so-called direct law mode associated with type’s fly-by-wire flight control system.

In a pair of statements issued May 29 and 30, Aeroflot demanded either an apology or a disclaimer from the governor of Siberia’s Khabarovsk Region, Sergei Furgal, for telling local press that “the human factor bears 100 percent responsibility” for the crash. Apparently, he based his opinion on a letter from the Russian civil aviation authority (Rosaviatsiya) dated May 17 that contained a caveat asserting its contents did not constitute a finding or a result of the ongoing investigation. Rather, said Aeroflot, Rosaviatsiya distributed the letter only to update airlines on recent developments and regulations involving flight safety. In Aeroflot’s view, Furgal’s misuse of the information “creates a prejudiced attitude in the society.”

Meanwhile, sharper and more critical analysis of flight safety in Russia came on May 29 from General Attorney Yuri Chaika. “The recent crash of the Aeroflot jetliner at Sheremetyevo airport has again highlighted the serious issues with the airline industry, the very same ones that this office has been demanding to resolve from the state establishments and companies involved for several years," he said. As an illustration, Chaika said that inspections performed by his office found that more than 400 aircraft in the national air register bore changes in their factory standard performed without the necessary research and certification procedures.

The General Attorney further said that the May 5 crash “reveal very serious problems in the aviation industry,” adding that the current national program on flight safety approved by the Russian government does not meet modern international standards, including that in ICAO’s Convention on International Civil Aviation. In particular, authorities have issued no clear definitions and qualitative assessments to a “passable level” involving flight safety in the country, he said.

Chaika also criticized the transport ministry for its delay in preparation of legislation involving certification of aircraft, manufacturers, and personnel training procedures.