Airline from Soviet era has controversial safety record


KAZAKHSTAN denied yesterday that the disastrous mid air collision over India could have been caused by language problems, stressing that the Kazakh pilot spoke good English.

Mr Rustem Bekturov, president of Air Kazakhstan, said the pilot of the Kazakhjetliner which collided with a Saudi jet on Tuesday "was very competent and had more than 1,000 flight hours, and such pilots speak foreign Ianguages very well".

"All the members of the crew of this plane have a certificate proving that they speak foreign languages," he said. A foreign ministry spokesman also said it was impossible that pilots on such flights do not speak English".

The denials came in response to comments by a leading Indian aviation expert and former Indian Air Force pilot, Mr Unni Kartha, who said the Kazakh pilot had probably misunderstood instructions from air traffic control, pointing out both parties were communicating in English, their second languages.

It appears the Kazakh pilot had language problems and hence did not comply with the instructions," Mr Kartha said. "At this point the finger points to the Kazakh pilot and his understanding of English."

But a transcript of the radio conversation between the pilots of both planes and New Delhi's air controllers shortly before the collision indicated that both parties understood each other.

Meanwhile, it transpired that the Kazakh cargo plane belonged to an airline with huge debts and a controversial safety record.

Flight 1907 was the latest of many from the economically depressed former Soviet Union to meet disaster in recent years. Cash shortages and cut throat competition have been blamed for falling airline safety standards across Moscow's old empire.

The Kazakhstan state airline has been dogged by financial problems. It was formally closed down in August after being criticised by the government for falling safety standards.

The crashed Ilyushin Il-76TD freighter, registeied number 76435, was chartered from Kazakhstan National Airways, known as KazAir, by a firm in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, a Kazakh transport official said.

In August, Kazakhstan National Airways, one of hundreds of "babyflots" spawned by the break up of Aeroflot as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, had been closed down formally after running up $149 million (£95 million) in debts.

The Almaty government announced a new national airline Airazahstan, would take over KazAir's operations. An official inquiry had criticised its management, saying its planes were badly serviced and close to failing international safety norms.

Some airlines from Kazakhstan are reported to have had difficulty obtaining international insurance cover because of safety fears.