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Russian aviation agency to check airlines that operated crashed An-148

Major owner of Saratov Airlines Arkady Yevstafyev. Photo: lenta.ru

The Russian Federal Air Transport Agency (Rosaviatsiya) will carry out an unscheduled inspection of the Saratov Airlines (SA), whose An-148 crashed in Moscow Region on February 11.

It also became known yesterday that the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications (Roskomnadzor), the Ministry of Transport and Rosaviatsiya are considering the issue of suspension of the carrier's license. Yesterday, the SA office was searched, investigators confiscated documents of the company.

It is not the first time when the Saratov Airlines came under fire of criticism by passengers and became the focus of attention of inspection authorities. At the forum of the airlines’ customers, one can find a lot of negative reviews about the old fleet, low flight safety standards and poor service. In 2015, Rosaviatsia revoked the SA license for international flightsafter it became known that during a flight to Antalya a 22-year-old daughter of the general director of the airline Igor Tretyakov was in the pilots’ cockpit, registered as a service passenger.

The company was established in 1994 on the basis of the Saratov United Air Squad state enterprise. Now 55.55% of the Saratov Airlines belong to Soyuz Invest company owned by Arkady Yevstafyev. He also is the general director of ZAO Investment Holding Energy Union, which controls a 26.63% stake in SA, and the owner of ZAO Bank Agroros and Togliatti Transformer.

Yevstafyev is known for having worked as a press secretary and assistant to Anatoly Chubais from 1992 to 1995. In 1996, Yevstafyev cooperated with Boris Yeltsin's election headquarters and was involved in the ‘Xerox box’ scandal (he was detained when taking out boxes with $538,000 from the government headquarters. He later ran for the State Duma, representing Mikhail Prokhorov, and in 2011 was elected head of the regional branch of the Pravoye Delo party.

The company's fleet, according to Rosaviatsiya, numbers five An-148 aircraft, two Brazilian Embraer ERJ 190, and six Yak-42 aircraft. In 2017, Saratov Airlines transported 768,000 passengers. The base airport of the carrier is "Saratov Central", planned to be closed after the construction of a new airport in Saratov Region, which has already received the name of Yuri Gagarin.

The crashed An-148 was relatively new (the aircraft was only eight years old), it was leased from the Rossiya Airlines. However, the aircraft of this type, according to the head of the Federal Air Transport Agency Alexander Neradko, had significant shortcomings, and after the commencement of their commercial use, the planes were repeatedly sent for refining. According to the latest information, the engines of the crashed An-148 wee operating until the last moment, the plane crashed when it hit the ground.

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