Tragedy struck on Sunday when a Russian plane crashed into the Black Sea, leaving no survivors. Plane crashes require an large amount of investigation whenever they happen, but specific questions have come up this time surrounding the plane itself. Is the Tu-154 still safe, several decades after it was developed by Soviet engineers?
The Russian plane that crashed into the Black Sea on Sunday carrying the grand majority of the Alexandrov military choir was a Tu-154, which was designed in the 1960s and is still in use in the Russian military. While the fleet of Tu-154s first went into production in 1971, the specific plane that crashed this time was built in 1983 and repaired in 2014, the New York Times reports.
According to one airplane safety rating list based on numbers of crashes per hours flown, the Tu-154 is in a four-way tie for fourteenth place in terms of the safest airplanes, averaging about one crash per million hours of flying. To put that into perspective, the second safest airplane, the Boeing 777, averages one crash per 18 million hours flown. The safest one, the Airbus 340, has about the same number of hours flown as the Boeing 777, but it has never crashed. On the other hand, the least safe airplane rated, the Early 737-200, averages one crash per 500,000 hours flown, and 517 of them are still in use. There are still about 230 Tu-154s in operation, and their production began just a few years after that of the Early 737-200.
While the Tu-154 remains quite popular among the crews that fly it, it most certainly has a spotty safety record. According to Irish news agency RTE, there have been seven crashes involving the Tu-154 since 2001 alone. The most well-publicized of these by far was the 2010 plane crash carrying Polish President Lech Kaczynski and a number of other top officials in the Polish government. 96 people perished in that crash, a similar number to the 92 who have lost their lives in this one, but some of the other crashes had a much higher death toll.
Another point relevant to the safety of the Tu-154 is the fact that the main Russian airline, Aeroflot, has recently been rated one of the safest in the world. They only received this rating, however, after they retired their fleet of Tu-154s. As Russian authorities have said, retiring the whole military fleet of Tu-154s is perhaps a bit premature. However, given that it has been rated the tenth least safe airplane in the world by AirlineRatings.com, it could be worth considering the possibility.