Support: August 1, 2002


Russian helicopter pilots have warned riders that "if you knew what you were flying in, you'd walk." The dangerous mechanical condition of their rotor wing fleet not only effects operations in Chechnya, but also around the capital as well.

On 16 July, Russian news agencies released the sensationalized report that, due to frequent accidents involving Mi-8 helicopters, the Moscow Military District recommended that they not be used for transporting people when other types of transportation could be used. Only 25 to 35% of the District's fleet were fit to fly, the rest worn out. The District's press service quickly denied the report and with almost nostalgic "Soviet-style" logic, noted that there were currently only five Mi-8 helicopters on combat standby duty and all were flying in the district.

The Russian system (inherited from the Soviets) dictated that one-third of the helicopter fleet should consist of completely new aircraft, one-third of medium age, and the other third aircraft that have served for 10-15 years. However, at least 80% of the helicopter fleets falls into this last category and only a third of these elderly machines are in working order (a helicopter *should* be good for 20 years). 

One imaginative stop-gap solution is also part of the maintenance problem, in that a huge number of unofficial, unlicensed aircraft repair enterprises have been set up across Russia. Run by former aviation chiefs now providing their services to former colleagues for a pittance, they usually involve cannibalizing one engine from three nonworking ones and then carefully covering up the maintenance scam by falsifying the engines' technical maintenance logs. - Adam Geibel


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