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Medvedev demands 'radical' aviation reform after Yak crash

Russian president Dmitry Medvedev underlined a need to cut the number of carriers operating in the country in the wake of another fatal accident, after a chartered Yakovlev Yak-42 crashed on departure from Yaroslavl.

Medvedev said Russia needed to "drastically reduce" its number of airlines - a legacy of the break-up of the Soviet-era Aeroflot - to give operators the economic power and resources to modernise and attract qualified staff.

The measures needed to be carried out "in a very short time", Medvedev added.

Russia's federal transport supervisor Rostransnadzor suspended Yak-42 services after the 7 September crash wiped out the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl ice-hockey team bound for Minsk. One player and the flight engineer survived among 37 passengers and eight crew.

Yaroslavl's regional administration said the jet, operated by Yak Service, failed to climb and struck a navigation aid before crashing into the Tunoshenka river, which feeds into the Volga, 1.4nm (2.5km) west of the airport.

While Medvedev stressed he was not pre-empting the inquiry, he said there was a "big problem" with civil aviation safety in Russia. Despite allocation of funds and renovation of airports, he said, the situation "remains troubled", with several accidents this year.

Investigation results should serve as a basis for "radical change" including acquisition of modern aircraft "regardless of country of origin", he said.

Medvedev said there had been frequent discussion on mergers and the enforced closure of airline companies which did not meet certain standards.

Rostransnadzor said 16 airlines in Russia operated 57 Yak-42s and the fleet would undergo precautionary inspection of fuel systems and engines. The aircraft involved in the Yaroslavl crash (RA-42434) was 18 years old.

Europe's air safety committee, which governs the blacklisting of carriers, imposed partial restrictions on the Yak Service fleet last year.

Russian authorities informed the committee in June 2010 that Yak Service had been prohibited from operating into European Civil Aviation Conference airspace since 18 May.

The measures were among a series designed to improve oversight of certain carriers following an "increasing number of findings raised during ramp checks having an impact on safety", it was stated in the European Union's Official Journal in July 2010.

These operating restrictions on Yak Service were, however, removed on 11 August 2010 after Russian authorities cited "satisfactory results" from oversight activities.

However, the European Commission said in November it was not satisfied that Yak Service's fleet was entirely fitted with mandatory ICAO-standard equipment necessary for international commercial air transport, despite re-certification of certain systems by Russia's Interstate Aviation Committee.

As a result, the air safety committee opted to ban two Yak-40s (RA-87648 and RA-88308) from operations in EU airspace.

"Member states will continue to verify the effective compliance of Yak Service with the relevant safety standards through the prioritisation of ramp inspections to be carried out on aircraft of this carrier," the committee added.

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