Reuniting Europe

Many questions are raised around the means of transport of polish president Lech Kaczyński who died today in a plane crash together with 95 people. As a Bulgarian journalist, I am as familiar with those Tu-154, as with my first car, a GDR-made Wartburg. The only difference is that I got rid of my smelly Wartburg as soon as I could, in the early 90s, while some of our the East European leaders still use those Tupolev.

Crazy me. I must have taken the Bulgarian presidential plane Tu-154 (call-sign BTZ) at least one hundred times. The call-sign is important, because it reveals that the plane was already in use under Communist dictator Todor Zhivkov. For some reason, those letters (Bravo, Tango, Zulu) remained unchanged. Their initial meaning was “Bravo Todor Zhivkov”.

In January 2008, BTZ, same model as the one in use by the late Polish President, was carrying the Bulgarian president Georgi Parvanov and his delegation on route to Mexico, for an official visit. The plane landed for refueling in the Azores, as scheduled, but then had to return back, because the landing gear did not retract. So the plane ejected all the fuel, took a risky landing back on the island, and the Mexico visit was canceled.

I read now that the plane is scrapped and will be plunged in shallow waters in the Black Sea, as an attraction for divers.

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  1. First of all, let me express deep condolence to the families and friends of those, who died today in Polish presidential jet as well as to people of neighboring Poland.

    To the article: Regardless who used to fly with Tu-154 (whether Todor Zhivkov or anyone else from the group of former communist leaders), Tu-154 had become the most successful jet made in USSR and later Russia. It could be characterized as reliable and fast airplane; running without any major problems caused by its construction and installed technologies. All in all, this makes Tu-154 very competitive jet also nowadays, in contrary to Wartburg among the cars… So, I would not call Tu-154s “flying coffins”, not at all.

    Well, today I’ve read that the crash happened while the pilot was trying to land for the third time. Some civilian pilots commented for newspaper that this could mean the jet was OK and the accident was caused by ugly weather and subsequent very poor visibility. In combination with lack of navigation technologies at the airport of Smolensk, unfortunately, it happened what happened. The pilots also said that there is an unwritten rule that after the second unsuccessful attempt to land, jet leaves the area and flies to another most near airport. Before the flight, each jet gets enough fuel to do such maneuvers in case of need.

    Anyway, we can discuss the possible reasons, why Mr. Kaczynski’s plane crashed, but only the two black boxes and professional investigation would reveal, what happened today later in the morning.

  2. I did some research on the TU-154, aside from successfully surviving flying
    on them, as a passenger.

    It appears, dear Mr.Gotev that your title and comment is skewed and
    oriented for scoring some “points” as a relentless armchair fighter of the
    Communism. Possibly you will be noticed by the “Endowment for Democracy”
    and given a stipend. This is not a creeping corruption naturally.
    This is a “paying forward” scheme.
    The “Wartburg” was indeed poor, but Bulgarian tomatoes were better. Than.

    When this stipend materializes, please target the “real” corruption, and score
    points with your own current establishment. Hope your will be equally courageous.

    GJD

  3. Dear George, I am not applying for a stipend by ‘The Endowment for Democracy’ : )
    But I agree with you that the Bulgarian tomatoes were better.
    And I am sorry that when you go on the market in Sofia, what you get is very poor quality imported tomatoes from Turkey.

  4. The crash rate for Tu-154 is the same as any other aircraft. Quick wikipedia check shows that Boeing 747 had been involved in 48 hull loss accidents compared to Tu-154’s 37. There was roughly 1400 747s built versus 1000 Tu-154s. They’ve both been used roughly since the 1970. So if Tu-154s crash more than other aircraft, the difference is marginal. It must be kept in mind that Tu-154s were also used in extreme conditions and temperatures in northern Russia.

  5. I’m not sure what the original comments by Georgi Gotev were intened to imply or why he even wrote it. The Polish presidential plane crashed because it tried to land in fog on a small military airfield. It had already been warned both by the airfield controllers and by another Polish delegation crew (in an Antonov) which had landed earlier, that conditions were NOT suitable for a large plane to land. The plane was in perfect working order and all engines were operating normally at the time of impact. Considering where it flies and how it is used (often in minus 50C and on gravel or ice airstrips with little or no service facilities) the Tu-154 has a good safety record according to all the sources I’ve seen. Other planes of this size cannot even operate in such conditions, let alone safely. The 154 has been in service for over 40 years,1025 were made, and their accident rate is nothing unusual. Some have been lost in wars, some in mid-air collisions due to traffic controller errors and quite a few in freak accidents that had nothing whatsoever to do with the plane. Before 2001, only 2 fatal crashes were attributed to mechanical failure. That’s a much better record than comparable Boeing jets of the era.

  6. nice post which same model as the one in use by the late Polish President, was carrying the Bulgarian president Georgi Parvanov and his delegation on route to Mexico, for an official visit. The plane landed for refueling in the Azores, as scheduled, but then had to return back, because the landing gear did not retract. Thanks a lot for posting.

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