NEWS

Safer Skies over Russia

By John Barham, International Editor

Moscow Times reports today that the Transportation Ministry has published a list of customer service standards that carriers must meet, starting next week.

Airlines must provide hot meals every four hours, make baby-changing facilities available, and offer hotel accommodation for passengers affected by long flight delays. Sanctions range from small fines to cancellation of a carrier’s operating licenses and even liquidation. 

Improving passenger rights is part of a broader improvement in Russia’s poor flight safety standards, according to Aviation Safety Network, a Washington, D.C., organization that compiles data on air travel. Emily McGee, ASN spokesperson, said, “Airlines are definitely improving their air safety in Russia. We look at broad trends in passenger safety instead of just looking at annual accident numbers, and we are noting a trend toward improvement in Russia.” ASN's database shows there have been four air accidents this year in Russia, killing 13 people. Last year, 242 people died in four accidents.

Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States grouping of post-Soviet republics had the most dangerous carriers in the world last year, according to IATA, the airline industry association. It reported 8.6 serious air accidents per million flights in Russia and the CIS countries in 2006. That was twice the rate for Africa and 13 times the global average. A string of crashes in Congo and Angola has made Africa the most dangerous continent for air passengers so far this year. 

IATA also says Russian carriers are safer and better managed than before. It says half of the 13 carriers in Russia and the CIS have completed standardized IATA safety audits assessing airline operational management and control systems.

Even if Russian carriers are becoming safer, world-class cabin service is still rare. Moscow Times quotes Artur Akopov, a spokesman for airline S7, as saying, “We are not afraid of losing customers." He added, " This is one area in which S7 excels."

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