‘Pilot Error’ or Time to Scrap Tupolev Fleet?

Russian officials are eagerly towing the line that ‘pilot error‘ was to blame for the plane crash in Karelia that killed 44 of its 52 passengers yesterday – just as they did following the Smolensk plane crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski eighteen months ago.  Unlikely, say both Reuters and the New York Times today, that pilot error was to blame in either case – the Tupolev model involved in both crashes has too much of a history with error, faulty flights, parts dropping off during takeoffs, and equipment failure for this excuse to really fly (pardon the pun). 
The government has frequently blamed pilot error for the crashes rather than mechanical failure, but experts say it is a distinction without a difference. The age and obsolescence of the aircraft, which have always been notoriously finicky to fly, greatly increase the frequency and severity of errors.

A total of 1,728 Tupolev 134s and 154s came into the Soviet fleet, mostly in the 1970s and 80s. Of these, 94 were destroyed in accidents, according to Ascend, a London-based aviation consultancy that advises the insurance industry — a little over 5 percent. By comparison, only about 3 percent of the about 7,280 Boeing 737 midrange planes tracked by the agency were lost in accidents.

Many of the Tupolevs are reaching the end of their service lives. The Tu-134 that crashed Monday was made in 1980. And the entire Tu-134 line, which entered service in 1966, ceased production in 1984.
Read the full New York Times piece here.