Tupolev crash in Russia raises safety issues

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MOSCOW — In April an amateur video of a distressed Tupolev Tu-154 jet flying low over the city circulated on the Internet and the craft became known as the Dancing Airplane, as it appeared to waltz in the air — because of equipment failure, officials said. The plane, which the pilots astonishingly managed to land safely, was being flown to a repair shop and was not carrying passengers.

It provided yet another chapter — and, for once, a happy ending — to a long, horrifying chronicle of disaster involving Russia’s Tupolev jets in which the crash of a Tupolev on Monday was a more typical example.

The cramped, needle-nosed and noisy machines — sometimes referred to as flying Ladas, after the notoriously unreliable Russian cars — are a mainstay of the former Soviet skies even today, 27 years after the last Tupolev-134 rolled off the assembly line. Yet if the planes had not been banned throughout most of Europe for their noise, they would almost certainly be banned for their safety record.

A total of 1,728 Tupolev 134s and 154s came into the Soviet fleet, mostly in the 1970s and 80s. Of these, 94 were destroyed in accidents, according to Ascend, a London-based aviation consultancy that advises the insurance industry — a little over 5 percent. By comparison, only about 3 percent of the about 7,280 Boeing 737 midrange planes tracked by the agency were lost in accidents.

Many of the Tupolevs are reaching the end of their service lives. The Tu-134 that crashed Monday was made in 1980. And the entire Tu-134 line, which entered service in 1966, ceased production in 1984....

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