The Russian air force command wants to bring back into service its trainer variants of the Tupolev Tu-134 airliner that were grounded by a presidential order last year, saying there is no suitable replacement for training its bomber pilots and navigators. It also has appealed to defence minister Sergei Shoigu for additional funding to return the 50 aircraft to use.
All Tu-134s were ordered grounded by then-President Dmitry Medvedev following the crash of a civilian RusAir example outside Petrozavodsk in June 2011. An investigation determined that the accident was caused by pilot error and that technical factors were not involved.
The air force grounded its UBL-variant aircraft used for pilot training, and Sh-model navigator trainers in line with the decree, and despite an exemption for operations needed to maintain combat readiness, Tu-134 operations all but ceased in 2012. The service has been forced to employ Antonov An-24 and An-26 turboprops as an interim measure, although they lack the correct navigation and avionics equipment, Russia's Izvestia newspaper reports.
The service had identified a derivative of the Tu-204/214 as a potential replacement for its trainers, but found that the aircraft was unlikely to be ready before 2016.
"It's possible they gave this order to ground them in order to buy foreign planes," says a former air force general quoted by Izvestia.