Russia grounds fleet of newest aircraft over safety issues

A Sukhoi Superjet at an aviation show. Going by passenger chatter, the chubby Superjet is not many travellers' first choice.
A Sukhoi Superjet at an aviation show. Going by passenger chatter, the chubby Superjet is not many travellers' first choice.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MOSCOW • The Russian aviation authorities have grounded the country's fleet of its newest model of civilian airliner, the Sukhoi Superjet 100. The move came after metal fatigue, a problem usually associated with older airplanes, was discovered in the tail section of a new Sukhoi plane, according to Rosaviatsia, the regulator.

The grounding last Friday is the latest setback for the Russian aircraft. The plane model is important as a test of whether Russia's military aerospace prowess can translate into a successful civilian product. The manufacturer, Sukhoi, is best known as the maker of military jets flying over Syria.

Most other Russia-made civilian planes, once a workhorse fleet of wide- and narrow-body craft, are flown only by regional airlines, and the ageing planes are plagued by safety problems.

Rosaviatsia ordered the Sukhoi planes grounded pending inspections after a regional carrier, IrAero, reported finding metal fatigue in a component in the tail wings of one plane, according to Regnum, a non-governmental Russian news agency.

The agency grounded the fleet to determine whether similar problems were appearing in other planes, most of which have been flying for only a few years.

After the latest announcement, Russian national airline Aeroflot, a major Sukhoi customer, last Saturday cancelled 21 flights scheduled on domestic routes during the holiday season.

Sukhoi said in a statement that it was conducting inspections of the entire fleet "to support airworthiness of the civilian Sukhoi planes". The defect "of one element of the tail portion" could not cause a crash, but "all the same airlines must check this model of aircraft", the company said.

After the latest announcement, Russian national airline Aeroflot, a major Sukhoi customer, last Saturday cancelled 21 flights scheduled on domestic routes during the holiday season.

Aeroflot said in a statement that flights on Sukhoi jets had been cancelled for "technical reasons".

Although Aeroflot is Russia's flag carrier, it has been a reluctant customer of the country's domestic airplane manufacturers, instead flying mostly Boeing and Airbus planes. But the company has come under political pressure to support domestic manufacturers.

As of March, Aeroflot had 29 Sukhoi planes. The flag carrier has also ordered 50 planes of a new mid-range Russian model still under development, the Irkut MS-21, which is made by United Aircraft, also a Russian company.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 27, 2016, with the headline 'Russia grounds fleet of newest aircraft over safety issues'. Print Edition | Subscribe