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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 August 2004, 11:12 GMT 12:12 UK
Tu-154: The backbone of Russian fleets
By Paul Duffy
Russian editor, Air Transport World

The Tupolev-154 has for more than a quarter of a century been the backbone of Russia and the Soviet Union's air transport system.

Tu-154 infographic
It has carried half the number of all passengers flown by Aeroflot and its successors in that time, with that number peaking at 137 million per year in 1990.

About 1,000 have been built, and many remain in service in Russia.

The aircraft entered service in 1972 and was "modernised" in 1986, with new engines and equipment to improve its fuel consumption and flight operations.

The Chinese government decided in 2001 to withdraw the Tu-154 fleet from its airlines and so this, and several others, were sold back to Russia.

Difficult conditions

Since its service entry, some 28 Tu-154s have been lost in accidents, a figure about normal for the quantity, years of service and technology of the type.

The Tu-154 operates in regions with not very good air traffic control and navigation equipment, and in very difficult weather conditions.

The Tu-154 accidents include a number that have little relation to the aircraft.

In 1982, an aircraft landing at Omsk in Russia in a heavy snowstorm - normal for Russian winters - hit six snowploughs that had not been told to leave the runway as the aircraft landed.

Freak accidents

About five have been shot down by enemy or terrorist attacks in Lebanon, Georgia and Afghanistan during the civil wars in those countries.

In 2001, a Tu-154 crashed into the Black Sea after being hit by a Ukrainian missile fired during exercises.

One landed safely in a field after its cargo of cigarettes caught fire but was completely burnt.

Another ran out of fuel five miles short of the runway when the state airline of an almost bankrupt country decided to carry less fuel from its base, where the price was high.

And Swiss air controllers have accepted full responsibility for a mid-air collision between a Tu-154 and a cargo plane in July 2002.

Few of the Tu-154 accidents appear to have involved technical failure.

The aircraft is likely to remain in service in Russia and former Soviet republics for another decade.

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