Russia plane crash: Metrojet has chequered record

Egyptian servicemen approach a piece of wreckage of the Russian MetroJet Airbus A321.
Egyptian servicemen approach a piece of wreckage of the Russian MetroJet Airbus A321.PHOTO: EPA

MOSCOW (AFP) - The Russian airline whose Airbus plane crashed in Egypt killing all 224 people on board has a chequered history including another fatal accident and has not paid its staff for two months.

Kogalymavia - which flies charter flights to popular destinations such as Turkey and Egypt - on Monday (Nov 2) blamed "external" factors for the crash and said its jet was in "excellent" condition.

But the firm - which started out in 1993 transporting oil workers in provincial Russia and now boasts nine Airbus planes - is no stranger to tragedy.

The airline has hit the headlines before with several serious incidents.

In 2010, one of its Tupolev planes leased to an Iranian carrier made a hard landing and broke up and caught fire, injuring 46 passengers.

In 2011, three people died after one of its Tupolevs caught fire on the runway in the Russian Far North on New Year's Day. The plane was 28 years old.

The airline stopped flying Tupolevs later that year and in 2012, it rebranded itself as Metrojet, although the company's name officially still remains Kogalymavia.

The 18-year-old Airbus plane that crashed in Egypt on Saturday had previously been flown by a string of other airlines: Lebanon's MEA, Turkey's Onur Air and Saudi Arabian Airlines, the Russian business daily Kommersant reported.

The company - which is reportedly part owned by a Turkish transport magnate - also appears to have been hit by Russia's economic crisis, which has seen the number of tourists heading abroad drop significantly.

The employment watchdog Rostrud said in a statement on Monday that the airline had not paid salaries for two months.

GOOD REPUTATION

Despite the chequered past and financial issues, Mr Yury Barzykin from Russia's tour industry union told AFP that Kogalymavia "has a good reputation on the tourist market, the biggest tour agents work with it".

Russia has a dismal air safety record, and while larger carriers have begun upgrading ageing fleets, the crash has raised issues about the large number of smaller carriers.

Small airlines have been responsible for many recent accidents and a leading pro-Kremlin politician called for them to be closed down.

"Disasters of the last five to 10 years as a rule involve... small firms, with five to 10 planes, which were rented out for charter flights," Mr Alexei Pushkov told Russkaya Sluzhba Novostei radio station.

"The companies extracted maximum profit while spending the minimum," said Mr Pushkov, who heads the lower house's international affairs committee.

"This is a sphere where the state should intervene."

But Mr Jean-Paul Troadec, former director of France's BEA aviation investigation agency, said Russia has upgraded its fleet recently and got rid of old planes that had the worst safety record.

"The Russian air fleet has been modernised. The average quality of the fleet is much improved compared to the planes made in the Soviet era," he told AFP.

An AFP employeee who flew with Kogalymavia last year said that she had vowed never to fly it again, noting the "battered" interior of the plane.