The plane, in which the Polish delegation together with president Lech Kaczynski was flying to Katyn, is an old Russian construction. It was withdrawn from the PLL LOT fleet long ago. Only two machines remained, which were left to be used exclusively by the national authorities.
One of those two planes marked as Tu-154M Lux crashed on Saturday morning in
BBC correspondent in Warsaw, Adam Easton, stresses the fact that the plane in which the Polish delegation was flying was a Tupolev 154 designed in the 60s.
The 36th Special Air Transport Regiment, which is in charge of the flights of the highest country authorities, apart from two medium-range planes Tu-154, is equipped with several other smaller, very worn out, planes.
According to the preliminary reports of Russian media, the president’s
machine crashed about 500 meters away from the runway. This suggests there might
have been a break down. Technical faults of the government air fleet had
disturbed the president’s and prime minister’s flights before.
This happened, for instance, during the travel of the president Lech Kaczynski in the Far East in 2008. There was a problem with the part used for defrosting the wings. Not much later, the plane hit strong turbulence during the landing in Seoul.
As The New York Times states, Tu-154 was introduced to the market in 1968; the planes took part in 66 accidents, in which 2 725 people were killed. The last great catastrophe in which this type of plane was involved happened in Iran in July 2009. One of the Caspian Airlines machines crashed and nearly 170 people died.
Both of the Tu-154s, in which the most important people in our country flew, were unavailable during the last months. One of the machines had a major fault and it was serviced in Moscow at the end of 2009. The other was overhauled at the same time. Then, the national delegations used the JAK-40 models, which are, however, designed for short-distance flights.
In January the governmental Tu-154 was used by the Polish rescue team helping the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. At that time the machine broke down too, and the team had problems coming back to Poland.
The air apple of discord
The air fleet of the Polish authorities has long been the apple of discord among various political options. The president’s and prime minister’s offices have often argued as to who should use the machines at a given moment. The most extraordinary situation took place in October 2008, when the governmental and the presidential delegations argued as to who should attend the UE summit in Brussels. The lists of both offices were later compared to establish who had been the first to book the plane for the delegation.
The need of a replacement of the governmental planes has been discussed for
several years. The last tender for six new planes which had been announced in
2006 was called off in June 2006 due to mistakes in the conditions of the
tender, which was accused of favouring Embraera Legacy 600.
After the political wheeling and dealing over the purchase of new planes, in January this year leased Brazilian Embrears were to be finally added to the Polish fleet.
Prime minister Miller’s accident
The problems in the Polish government air fleet concerned not only planes. In December 2003, a helicopter Mi-8 with the former prime minister Leszek Miller on board crashed near Piaseczno. The crew was taken to hospital, but fortunately no one died.