An agency that oversees civil aviation in Russia on Thursday suspended the airworthiness certificate for all Boeing 737 aircraft in Russia. However, 737s continue to fly in Russia as the Russian Federal Air Transport Agency disputes the safety agency’s authority.
The agency that oversees civil-aviation safety in Russia and other former Soviet states — the equivalent of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in the U.S. — issued a letter Thursday seeking to ground all Boeing 737s in Russia, according to government-owned Russian news agency Tass.
However, Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency — the equivalent of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the U.S. — denied that the safety agency has the authority to ground the planes.
Russian airlines are allowing the roughly 200 Boeing 737s in the country to continue to fly “until receipt of an official instruction,” Tass reported.
Boeing spokesman Doug Alder said Thursday the company doesn’t know why the safety agency issued a letter suspending the 737’s airworthiness certificate.
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“We’re looking into it,” he said, adding that Boeing representatives will meet with Russian officials Friday to discuss the issue.
The safety agency’s action is thought to be related to the 2013 crash of a 737 in Tatarstan, Russia, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.
However, the agency’s technical commission concluded in 2014 that there was no evidence of any technical issue with the airplane in that accident, according to a detailed account at the Aviation Herald, an air-transport accident database.
According to Tass, the suspension of the 737’s airworthiness certificate was ordered in a letter issued by the Interstate Aviation Committee (IAC), a civil-aviation safety agency regulating the air space in 11 former Soviet Union republics, including Russia.
Tass quoted the IAC letter as saying that Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency has been “in correspondence” with the FAA “concerning urgent improvements of Boeing-737 aircraft rudder control system.”
Tass said the letter states the suspension will stay in effect until “receipt of a joint notice of the Russian Federal Air Transport Agency and the FAA that Boeing 737 type aircraft operating in Russia are in condition supporting their safe operation.”
After news of the suspension broke, however, the press office of Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency said the IAC lacks authority to halt operation of Russia’s 737s, Tass reported.
“Airlines will be bound to stop flights of Boeing 737 only after receiving the official letter from Russia aviation authorities,” Vladimir Tasun, president of the Russian Association of Air Transport Operators, told Tass.
He said many Boeing 737s in Russia are registered in other countries, including Ireland and Bermuda, so “the Russian state is not responsible for them from the standpoint of maintaining airworthiness.”
“It is not a simple matter to stop over 200 aircraft,” Tasun added.
According to sources with knowledge of what’s behind the move, the timing of the IAC letter seems to be related to the imminent release of a report into the crash of a Tatarstan Airlines Boeing 737-500 in November 2013.
Crash report imminent
That Tatarstan Airlines jet took off from Moscow but crashed on landing at its destination, Kazan Airport.
The pilot had attempted a landing, then pulled out to do a “go-round,” but the plane stalled and fell nose first, killing all 50 people aboard.
Preliminary investigation by the IAC showed the two pilots were relatively inexperienced and might have suffered from “spatial disorientation,” according to the Aviation Herald account.
In September 2014, the IAC technical commission reported that no technical fault with the airplane was found.
The IAC technical investigation was completed in April and a final report was being drafted and translated into English for comments, with its release expected soon.
Meanwhile, at Boeing Field on Thursday morning, a 737 newly built for Russia’s Aeroflot airline landed after a test flight and parked amid the other new 737s.