Ural Airlines A321. Courtesy, U6

Two Russian carriers—Ural Airlines (U6) and Kuban Airlines (GW)—announced they will stop using Soviet Union-era aircraft on regular flights.

Ekaterinburg-based U6 said Monday it removed a Tupolev Tu-154M from its fleet after its last flight Sunday from Yamburg (Western Siberia) to Ekaterinburg. When the airline was launched in 1993, it had 11 Tu-154Bs; in 1994 it bought four more Tu-154Ms. As of this month, U6 operated three Tu-154Ms that were allowed to fly to Europe.

According to CEO Sergey Skuratov, the company is planning to sell its three Tu-154Ms. In November 2006, U6 took delivery of its first Airbus A320, which started its fleet renewal program. Now the airline operates 13 A320s and five A321s. In 2012, the carrier is planning to acquire four more A321s.

Krasnodar-based GW said Tuesday it will use eight Yakovlev Yak-42s only on charter flights and as reserve aircraft during its upcoming winter schedule. After the Yak Service Yak-42 crash Sept. 7 in Yaroslavl, media reports and some experts in Russia blamed old Soviet-made aircraft for being unsafe (ATW Daily News, Sept. 8).

Russian Flight Safety Foundation International chairman Evgeniy Shaposhnikov objected to these conclusions. He noted that during the last 20 years, Russia has lost 50 aircraft. While 44 were Soviet-built aircraft, he said technical defects were responsible for just 16% of the accidents.

The main reason U2 and GW are retiring the Soviet-era aircraft is their low fuel efficiency. Also, GW is consolidating with LCC Sky Express, optimizing its route network and canceling several destinations in its winter schedule (ATW Daily News, Oct. 18). The combined carrier now owns three A319s and five Boeing 737s.

The replacement of Soviet-era aircraft began in the Russian market in 2005-2006. Through their renewal program, the biggest Russian carriers—such as Aeroflot, S7 Airlines and Rossiya—have already removed the older aircraft from their fleets. However, UTair, the fourth-biggest carrier, still operates 21 Tu-154s; UTair-Express has 28 Tu-134s and 25 Antonov An-24s.