Superjet crash: Huge blow to Russia's aviation industry

By Pavel Aksenov
BBC Russian

Image source, AP
Image caption,
The Sukhoi Superjet 100 disappeared from radar screens 50 minutes after taking off in Jakarta

The Sukhoi Superjet 100 is one of the few passenger aircraft to have been designed and built mainly by Russian companies.

Most other Russian airliners were designed before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Moscow has been keen to present it as evidence of the revival of Russia's aviation industry, which has been hit hard by the collapse of the USSR.

Experts have criticised the aircraft on some minor counts - but there was never any real doubt about its safety or performance.

The main concern has always been that the Superjet needs well-prepared airfields - which are few and far between in Russia.

The Superjet made its maiden flight in April 2011. Since then, it has experienced some minor failures mainly associated with the landing gear.

Preparation problems?

Image source, AP
Image caption,
Wreckage was spotted on the side of a cliff near a dormant volcano

The crash in Indonesia occurred during an Asian promotional tour of the Superjet.

It will certainly be a massive psychological blow to the entire Russian aviation industry.

Industry professionals are not yet using the crash in Indonesia to draw conclusions about the aircraft as a whole. Too little is known about what really happened there.

Few in Russia are doubting the competence of the crew, either. The aircraft was piloted by professional and experienced pilots.

Magomed Tolboev, one of Russia's best known test pilots, told Russian media that the crash may have been linked to problems with flight preparation. The flying display took place in extremely difficult mountainous terrain.

But former test pilot Mikhail Makarov believes that it is too early to conclude that it was poor flight preparation that caused the crash.

"You can find irregularities in any case," says Mr Makarov "and no-one is capable of considering all the options, especially if the weather is uncertain and you're flying over mountainous terrain."

Experts are also drawing parallels between the crash of the Superjet and a similar case with the Russian aerobatic team Russian Knights.

In 1995, three fighter jets from this unit were returning from an air show in Malaysia. They were coming in to land in Vietnam - at Russia's military base there - and crashed into a mountain.

At the time, investigators said that the accident occurred because of poor flight preparation.

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