RUSSIA: In a tragic incident on a cloudy Tuesday afternoon, a plane crash in Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula killed all passengers on board the An-28 aircraft.
But in hindsight, the awful accident has brought forth a much bigger problem — the nation’s deteriorating aviation safety record and woes of the gigantic Far East region that faces depopulation despite its mineral riches, experts say.
All 22 passengers and six crew onboard the An-28 aircraft, including two children, died in the plane crash. Russian prosecutors say that possible causes of the crash could be a pilot’s error, technical glitch or bad weather. However, no official statement has been made as to what triggered Tuesday’s crash.
Probing the crash
A probe into the incident indicates a larger problem of small Russian airlines operating decades-old planes that need better equipment, to ensure the precision of flights.
Newer equipment would utilize each airport in bad weather – termed in aviation as a ‘meteorological minima.’ “This will give a chance to increase the meteorological minima when safe takeoffs and landings are possible,” Oleg Panteleyev, a Moscow-based expert with the Infomost Consulting agency, told Al Jazeera.
Russia holds one of the world’s worst safety records. According to a 2018 report by the Interstate Aviation Committee, a group that oversees air safety standards in the post-Soviet Union states, pilots’ errors contribute to 75% of aircraft crashes and other accidents in Russia and other ex-USSR states. The Soviet-era plane type, still used for military and civilian flights in some countries, has been involved in dozens of deadly crashes since its service of 50 years, as reported by Reuters.
Regional climate: Woes of Russia
Kamchatka, a United Kingdom-sized peninsula with a population of mere 320,000, can rely on only planes to move around the region.
Kamchatka’s mountainous terrain, numerous rivers and Siberian climate make human civilization a challenge. “There are no roads and land [transport] infrastructure as such, they’re minimal only in the coastal areas,” Moscow-based air safety expert Roman Gusarov told Al Jazeera. “That’s why they operate small regional planes, mostly with turboprop engines, that are capable of landing on small airports with sort airstrips,” he told the publication.
Kamchatka demonstrates these typically Russian conditions and why the eastern part of the nation of 143 million faces a catastrophic depopulation. Demographers predict, by 2050, there could be fewer than four million people living there.
Owing to such peninsular woes, planes and helicopters of all kinds play a key role in the Soviet Union’s effort to make the resource-rich region livable. Communist Moscow has developed an aviation network to help transport people, food, drugs, medical equipment and even hay.