Russian Threat to Ground Boeing 737s Fizzles as Agencies Feud

  • Government regulator faces off interstate body over 2013 crash
  • Boeing says fleet will continue ``operations as usual.''

Russian airlines are shielded from a threat to ground Boeing Co.’s top-selling jet as the country’s civil aviation regulator refused to bow to demands from an interstate oversight body questioning whether the single-aisle 737 aircraft are safe, following a 2013 crash.

The Interstate Aviation Committee, a body based in Moscow that investigates accidents in the former Soviet republics, withdrew the airworthiness certificate for all Boeing 737 models following exchanges with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency over the plane’s altitude-control system, according to a statement on its website.

Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency has refused to budge, saying it alone is empowered to halt foreign aircraft operations in the country and the committee, known locally as MAK, lacks the authority to issue such a ban. The agency’s chief, Alexander Neradko, said MAK revised its earlier statement on the Boeing 737, and Russian authorities see no reason to call for parking the single-aisle planes.

The bureaucratic dust-up surrounding the 737, a workhorse model on short-haul routes, caught the planemaker and U.S. regulators by surprise on Thursday. The single-aisle 737 is one of the world’s most widely flown jetliners, with Russian operators including Aeroflot and UTair.

“Boeing is pleased that Russian aviation authorities have confirmed that the Russian 737 fleet fully complies with all U.S. and Russian type certification requirements, and the fleet will continue operations as usual,” Doug Alder, a Boeing spokesman, said in an e-mail.

After a meeting with aviation officials in the capital Friday, 737 operator S7 also said flights would continue.

The Interstate Aviation Committee said it hadn’t recalled its letter, RBC media group reported on its website, citing spokesman Vladimir Chkhikishvili. There was no answer on his office phone or the committee’s general number when called by Bloomberg.

The safety regulator said on its website Friday, before the meeting, that its mandate doesn’t include granting permission or prohibiting flights of Russian airlines. The committee said it won’t interfere with the competence of the Federal Air Transport Agency or its decision.

NTSB Equivalent

The aviation committee plays a similar role to that of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board in handling accident investigations for 11 former republics of the Soviet Union. The Russian transport agency is the counterpart to the FAA and has regulatory authority over the airline industry.

A Boeing 737 was involved in a 2013 crash that killed all 50 people on a Tatarstan Airlines aircraft. In a preliminary report, the aviation committee cited errors by the flight crew, not a technical fault with the plane. That was the last major accident in Russian aviation before the loss of the Metrojet plane -- an Airbus Group SE A321 -- carrying 224 people from Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

U.S. regulators are assisting the probe into the Tatarstan crash, with the FAA as an adviser to the NTSB, which is an accredited representative to the local inquiry. Citing accident investigation protocols, the FAA said by e-mail that it isn’t commenting on the case.

Russian carriers operated 176 Boeing 737s as of May, according to Ascend data compiled by Bloomberg Intelligence. The fleet may have shrunk since then as Transaero Airlines, one of the largest 737 operators, ceased operations last month.

Interfax was the first to report on the threatened suspension of 737 flights in Russia.

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