Polish President Lech Kaczynski dead in plane crash

My thoughts are with the family of President Lech Kaczynski at this time as they come to terms with their loss due to a plane crash near Smolensk. Also reported among the dead are Polish Army chief of staff, General Franciszek Gagor, National Bank President Slawomir Skrzypek and Deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Kremoer.

Accidents happen, we all know that.  But there are some sensible precautions that can be taken to reduce risk.  Which is why, when investigations are carried out into the aircraft to determine what caused the crash, questions will surely be asked about the Polish Air Force’s  use of two Soviet era Tupolev Tu-154M aircraft (as below) for VIP flights by the Polish President and Prime Minister.

Image from W-Wa Jeziorki blog

The aircraft has a less than impressive safety record.  The Wikipedia entry for the Tu-154 aircraft tells readers that:

There have been 63 serious flight incidents with Tu-154s, including 36 hull-losses with human fatalities.[17] Six of those incidents resulted from terrorist or military action including an intentional shootdown by Israel, an accidental missile shootdown by Ukraine, several from poor runway conditions in winter (including one which struck snow ploughs on the runway), cargo overloading by airlines in the lapse of post-Soviet federal safety standards (several cases), and mid-air collisions due to faulty air traffic control or mis-communication. Other incidents have resulted from mechanical problems (two cases prior to 2001), running out of fuel on unscheduled extended route, pilot error, and cargo fires. According to the BBC and aviation experts[who?], the Tu-154 has an average safety record considering its length of service (and heavy use in the most demanding conditions), and few accidents appear to have been due to technical failure.[18]

Why would Poland continue using such an aircraft for its head of state when not only has LOT Polish Airlines long since retired its Tupolev fleet and replaced it with a mix of Boeing and Embraer aircraft?  Even Russia’s Aeroflot has decommissioned its Tu-154 fleet.

Polish Tu-154M of the 36th Special Air Transport Regiment at Warsaw

Given Russian threats to Poland about the previously planned siting of interceptor missiles, the tangle with the EU as President Kaczynski tried to avoid signing the Libson Treaty, the desire of many for a re-alignment of Polish politics and the recent excitement over the possible production of a large volume of shale gas that could reduce dependence on Russian gas, there will no doubt be any number of conspiracy theories about this crash, especially as it happened inside Russia.

But realists won’t need to look much further than reliance on a ageing aircraft with a less than reassuring safety record.

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