Monday, July 10, 2006

Russian Airbus Crash

(A picture-free post!)
Seeing reports of this Russian airplane crash with so many dead, breaks my heart. I've always felt that airplane crashes were a particularly tragic way to die. Not sure why, but my heart always jumps when I hear of airplane crashes. It might be because of the years I worked in the airline industry.

Back in the olden days, at the tail end of the Soviet Union era, I was working at Delta Airlines in Atlanta. This was before all of the present US air line troubles. (I hate seeing Delta going through bankruptcy.) This was around 1990-1991.

As the Soviet Union lost it's grip on its member countries and regions, the US state of Georgia and the Soviet state of Georgia started a good will exchange. They would send representatives back and forth, some of whom were average citizens, to promote peace and whatnot. I always got the impression that the Soviet Georgia was just celebrating a little new found freedom and reaching out the world a bit. It was big news in the Atlanta Journal-Constipation when they would have a group go there or come here.

On the first mission to the US from Soviet Georgia, their plane of course landed and stayed at Hartsfield Airport in Atlanta.

I was working on the day the Russian Aeroflot airplane, the 'official' Russian airline came in. And as soon as I had a little break time, some of us rode our tugs, the little tractor thingies we pulled the baggage carts with, over to the concourse where the Aeroflot plane was parked.

We were pretty much horrified. You know they probably sent the best jet they could for such a mission, but this was the ricketiest looking jet we had ever seen. I remember us talking about what a job it must have been to keep that rascal air-worthy.

I'm not cutting down their mechanics. I know that they probably were good at their jobs. Had to have been to have kept this thing in the air. They just didn't have much to work with.

The most stark thing I remember was how worn the tires on the plane were.

(A note about US jet plane tires. These things are incredibly well made and incredibly tough. They have several layers of rubber and steel belts. Like a good car tire, just more layers of each. At the time, I've been out of the industry a while now, US air lines were required to change the tires after a certain amount of the first steel belt layer was in view. Sounds creepy, but remember, they have several layers of steel belts and rubber.)

This Aeroflot plane's tires were showing SEVERAL layers of steel belt. We were remarking that we couldn't believe one or more of them didn't pop under the stress of landing.

So when I heard of this Russian jet landing, but not being able to stop in the rain and running out of runway, I thought of that old Aeroflot's tires.

Now you have to understand that an Airbus brand jet is much, much better than a Soviet era, state-built Aeroflot plane, but still, that old Aeroflot plane is what I pictured in my mind when I read about this crash the other day.

With the pressure on ALL the world's air lines to cut costs, frankly, I'm amazed there aren't more crashes. I'm glad there aren't more than there are, but the pressure to cut costs at airlines does eventually increase the risk of mishaps.

I was always so proud of Delta. When their planes came in, and I hope this is the case today, the departing pilot would come down to the ground and walk around the plane to check for any problems. Our mechanics would do the same, plus they would work on any issues that particular plane might have while we buzzed about loading and unloading the aircraft. Then the new pilot would do a walk around of the plane before leaving on the next leg of the plane's day.

In short, a lot of eyes were checking in detail before each leg of each flight. Very little went unnoticed. We were even instructed to keep our eyes open for anything that might be amiss, like a small puncture in the fuselage or whatever, and let a mechanic or our supervisor know, just in case. When a plane arrives at an airport, especially a hub like Atlanta, the plane is inundated with people and equipment being driven up to and touching the plane. Lots of opportunities for damage that could impact the integrity of the aircraft. We ALL had to be diligent.

Anyway, that's my story, and I really do hate hearing about plane crashes. I can't help but think of that old Aeroflot plane when I hear anything about Russian air lines or planes. I would have loved to have had a camera there to take pics of it with. Oh well.

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