By the time this comment hits the newstands, Poland's delared week of mourning will be over, and the recriminations about the fatal presidential flight will be in full flow. Or if they are not, they should be.

There are masses of questions that need answering. The most obvious one - why was almost the entire governmental, military and church leadership of a major European democracy put on a single flight? - is not strictly an aviation issue. But one overarching question hangs over all the aviation-specific anomalies that need examination: how much was the trip's dire operational planning and execution affected by the historically stony relationship between Poland and Russia, with its inevitably stultifying effect on communications between them? The fact that this shock accident looks as if it may, with supreme irony, cause the regeneration of the relationship between the two nations for the first time since the Second World War should not lead anyone to forget how bad relations have been

Polish presidential Tu-154 crash
 © Sipa Press/Rex Features
Was the pilot put under pressure to attempt the landing?

The reason for the flight was the Polish President's visit, accompanied by a delegation of nearly 100 of the nation's leaders, to the site of the Katyn massacre of Polish soldiers by Soviet forces 70 years ago in the Second World War. Moscow was going to play a subdued official part in the event, but it cannot have been easy for the two sides to talk about the planning for it.

The fact is that almost all operational aspects of this fatal flight appear to have been affected by poor planning, probably the result of the two sides not discussing arrangements in detail. If that were not the reason, and it was a consequence of simple incompetence and lack of attention to detail, it is even worse.

The most obvious question is why the pilot decided to attempt an approach in visibility way below the minimum for a non-precision approach, and why then he descended through his minimum descent height instead of going around, thus causing the crash on short final approach. One question must be whether unreasonable pressure was put on the captain to bend the rules, and if so by whom and when. If pressure was applied during the flight by senior political or military figures, unless the conversation has been captured on the cockpit voice recorder we will never know.

Less obvious, but still puzzling, is why Smolensk was so poorly equipped when it was to receive such a high-profile flight. The Russian military could have temporarily deployed tactical navigation aids there if they were asked to. But no-one seems to have asked.

Source: Flight International