Editor’s comment: Design flaws, lightning strike, pilot error? Just wait for the report…

LARA editor Glenn Sands provides a summary of the latest happenings across the low-fare airline and regional aviation industry.


The fiery crash of Aeroflot SSJ100 Superjet Flight SU-1492 at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport (SVO), after the aircraft made an emergency landing due to ‘technical malfunctions’ highlighted the gruesome reality of commercial jet flying going wrong. Tragically 41 people lost their lives on the 5 May, including one of the cabin crew who died trying to assist passengers from the rear of the aircraft.

As usual in the aftermath of such events, speculation is rife as to the cause of the catastrophe. The Sukhoi Civil Aircraft bureau stated that: SSJ100 serial number 95135 rolled off the production line in August 2017 and underwent its first maintenance flight in April this year.

Sources within Aeroflot have revealed that the SSJ100 (RA-89098) had flown three incident-free passenger flights earlier in the day. During the fourth, allegedly ‘malfunctioning avionics’ and other failing onboard systems forced the Superjet to perform an emergency landing. The crew aborted their first attempt and performed a circuit before finally touching down, when the aircraft skidded off the runway and caught fire.

While the courageous actions of the crew and the quick reaction of SVO’s emergency services saved many lives, the accident could not have come at a worse time for Sukhoi as they seek additional sales of the jet.

The most recent order from Kom Airlines is for six examples. Letters of intention (LOIs) have been signed by S7 Airlines, Aero Mongolia and Peruvian Airlines among others.

Perhaps the most significant operator is Aeroflot with 50 in service and a deal signed for an additional 100 examples for delivery between 2019 and 2026. Russia has long been keen to fill the ranks of its premier airline with Russian-built aircraft.

In contrast to the Boeing 737 MAX airliners, Russia’s transport ministry has decided against grounding the Superjets, saying there is no obvious sign of a design fault. But why would an apparent lightning strike knock out the aircraft’s communications and start a series of technical malfunctions? Modern airliners are designed to withstand storms.

While both the 737 MAX and Superjet accidents tragically cost the lives of hundreds of passengers. Each manufacturer has already begun investigating the cause of the accidents. But far too quickly Boeing appeared to conclude pilot error may have been a cause into the MAX crashes. Boeing’s CEO Dennis Muilenburg alluded to this on 29 April, in that the pilots ‘did not completely follow the necessary procedures’.

Sukhoi concluded that pilot error was the cause of the 2012 crash of a Superjet in Indonesia. But, the Superjet is known to have on-going reliability issues. An Aeroflot internal document dated February 2018 classed the type’s safety level as ‘average’, whereas the airline’s Airbus and Boeing jets had a ‘high’ safety rating.

Let’s hope that in each case the manufacturers are not overlooking any kind of fundamental design safety issue in order simply to get their products into service sooner.

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