MOSCOW • 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 also not paid its staff for two months, according to reports.
The revelation came as Egypt's civil aviation ministry said yesterday there were no facts to substantiate assertions by Russian officials that the airliner broke up in mid-air.
But spokesman Mohamed Rahmi confirmed that no distress call had been received before the crash. "The probe could be a long process and we can't talk about the results as we go along," he said.
Kogalymavia - which flies charter flights to popular destinations such as Turkey and Egypt - started out in 1993 by transporting oil workers in provincial Russia and now has nine Airbus planes.
It is no stranger to tragedy, however, having hit the headlines before with several serious incidents.
In 2010, one of its Tupolev planes leased to an Iranian carrier made a hard landing, broke up and caught fire, injuring 46 passengers.
In 2011, three people died after one of its Tupolevs caught fire on the runway in Siberia 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 last 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.
Despite the chequered past and financial issues, Mr Yury Barzykin, from Russia's tour industry union, said 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.
"The companies extracted maximum profit while spending the minimum. This is a sphere where the state should intervene," said Mr Alexei Pushkov, who heads the Lower House's international affairs committee.
But Mr Jean-Paul Troadec, former director of France's BEA aviation investigation agency, said Russia had upgraded its fleet recently and got rid of old planes that had the worst safety records.
"The Russian air fleet has been modernised. The average quality of the fleet is much improved compared with the planes made in the Soviet era."
But an Agence France-Presse employee who flew with Kogalymavia last year vowed never to fly it again, noting the "battered" interior of the plane.
Further exacerbating fears over Russian carriers, state airline Aeroflot said yesterday it had replaced an Airbus A321 aircraft on its Moscow-St Petersburg route because of technical issues in its cockpit.
Aeroflot said the fault on the A321, the same model as the Kogalymavia plane that crashed last Saturday, had been identified while the plane was still on the ground. No other A321s were affected.
Analysis of the "black boxes", which could solve the Egypt plane crash, was expected to begin yesterday according to Egyptian officials. Russia's government commission overseeing the probe is also due to meet.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS