Russian President Demands Air Safety Improvements

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday called for a sharp reduction in the number of domestic airlines and said the country may have to resort to buying foreign-built aircraft to improve its shaky air safety record. Medvedev made the comments after visiting the** crash site of a Yak-42** about 150 miles north of Moscow that killed 43 on Wednesday, most of them members of a Russian ice hockey team.

"We must support our own people. If we are unable to sort it out, we must buy foreign aircraft,” Medvedev said on Thursday. “I am giving the government an order and they will have to find the money. It will be a big program.”

Medvedev did not give details, but his remarks could signal a shake-up of Russian aviation as the country aims to bring its safety record up to the standards of the rest of the developed world. Many small private air companies have popped up in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, with most relying heavily on Soviet-era fleets.

Medvedev also acknowledged that previous efforts to improve safety have been unsuccessful.

"The number of air companies must be radically reduced and we need to do it very quickly," he said, speaking at the crash site near Yaroslavl's Tunoshna Airport.

The three-engine Yak-42 took off for Minsk at 4 p.m. local time on Wednesday when it crashed into river bank in clear weather. There were two survivors among the dozens of passengers, many with ties to the NHL.

Built in 1993, the Yak-42 belonged to a small Moscow-based air charter company called Yak Service. The short- and medium-range Yak-42 has been in operation since 1980.


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