Publication: Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 215

The mid-air collision in India on November 12 of a Saudi Boeing 747 and a Kazakh Il-76 is but the latest in a string of recent air disasters involving the plethora of air carriers that have sprung up in the former Soviet Union. The Ilyushin cargo jet was on a charter flight from Chimkent in southern Kazakhstan to New Delhi for a Kyrgyz company. It was carrying 38 people. The airline had a history of financial problems. (Reuters, November 12)

In their quest for hard currency, many of these outfits seem to be ready to deliver anything anywhere for anyone. Often, the fitness of their pilots, planes, and maintenance are suspect. In January, a cargo plane owned by Moscow Airlines carrying a Russian crew but leased to a Zairian company plowed into a crowded market after take-off in Kinshasa, Zaire. In August, a Tu-154 belonging to Vnukovo Airlines and carrying a group of coal minters crashed while landing on the Arctic island of Spitsbergen. Earlier in the same month an Il-76 belonging to Spaair of Yekaterinburg crashed near Belgrade en route to Malta with a cargo that included 744 kilograms of explosives. It was under charter to a Yugoslav firm. (Interfax-Eurasia, November 8) Even an episode with a happier ending illustrated the dubious nature of some of these charter missions. In August the 7-man Russian and Tatar crew of an Il-76 cargo transport escaped with its plane from Afghanistan after being held captive for more than a year by Taliban rebels. The plane, owned by a company in Kazan, had been leased to one in the United Arab Emirates to carry Chinese-made ammunition from Albania to Kabul.

Certainly, not all of the air carriers in the CIS are of the fly-by-night variety. One of the most successful is Volga-Dnepr Airlines. It boasts a fleet that includes 6 giant An-124 "Ruslan" air freighters, and provides one of the best and safest heavy-lift air freight services in the world.

Russia Resuming Military Assistance to Georgia.