Russian authorities are planning to amend federal aviation regulations to increase the required minimum number of aircraft operated by an airline.

Russian Transport Minister Igor Levitin announced during a meeting with airline CEOs that, beginning in 2012, carriers operating scheduled flights with aircraft of more than 55 seats must have at least 10 aircraft of the same size to obtain an air operator’s certificate; this could eventually increase to 20. Airlines operating aircraft of 55 seats or fewer must have at least three aircraft of the same size. Charter airlines will be required to have at least five aircraft.

Russian regulations currently require any airline to operate at least three aircraft of the same size.

Russian transport authorities said the new measures will help to improve flight safety. There have been four aviation accidents in  Russia in 2011 in which one or more passengers have died (excluding accidents with helicopters).

On Jan. 1 in Surgut, Western Siberia, three people died when a fire started on a Tu-154B on the taxiway (ATW Daily News, Jan. 5). On June 21, 44 passengers and crew members died when a Tu-134 crashed during landing at Petrozavodsk, North-West of Russia. On Aug. 3, 12 people died when an An-24 crashed during landing near Igarka, Eastern Siberia. On Sept. 7, a Yak-42D broke up during takeoff at Yaroslavl, killing 45 passengers and crew (ATW Daily News, Sept. 8).

Airline market experts say that the Transport Ministry initiative is aimed at reducing the number carriers and to make it almost impossible to start a new airline.

The Russian Ministry of Economic Development said the Transport Ministry had not proved that fleet numbers are related to airline safety. It said the number of Russian carriers operating commercial flights since 2000 has decreased from 296 to 146, but the total number of accidents has been steadily increasing. There were 24 crashes in 2010—higher than the 21.2 per-year average over the previous 10 years.