Our chariot, EW-85748, on the ground at Minsk National Airport – Photo : Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter
From the [AR]vault: This story was originally published on June 8, 2015.
The Tupelov Tu-154 is a classic airliner that many AvGeeks admire, but unfortunately it will no longer be able to fly with-in continental Europe. I was lucky enough to snag a seat on the last flight, a Tu-154M on Belavia to Minsk (MSQ).
You see, many in Europe were getting upset with the rare Soloviev D-30 engine gracing their passenger airports. The noise and the environmental impact did not make many friends. It is too bad, because it’s not like the 737-800 is replacing the Tu-154M on a one-to-one basis with every airline operating them at a speed comparable to that of light anyway. Why even bother other than to make a point?
My friend, who happens to divide his time between Paris and Minsk, runs an aviation enthusiast tour company and asked if I wanted to join a group to give the Tu-154 a send-off from Europe. I packed my things and ended up in Geneva (GVA) on May 29th, 2015.
Belavia’s chief Tu-154 pilot, Deputy Director of Marketing and International, and Head of Technical at a quasi press conference in Minsk – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter
Bernie, why are you starting a flight review with a picture of a bunch of Russian men at a table? Because this is not a story about where the airline Belavia was — this is more about where Belavia is going. Legally speaking, Belavia turns 20 next March, but they are actually much older. Back in the times of the Soviet Union, Aeroflot used to be broken down into departments based on the Soviet Republics. In other words, there used to be Aeroflot Belarus that was headquartered in Minsk. The Belorussian Directorate of Civil Aviation first came into being in 1953 with its first flight between the old Minsk airport and Moscow.
Having spent so much time working with Belavia and their historic Tu-154s, it’s very important to share why Belavia exists, but also what their current passenger experience looks like.
This is the oldest An-12 still flying, which was recently repainted. EW-338TI is an An-12BP of RubyStar. Here it is in Vitebsk – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter
But Bernie, you already flew on an Antonov An-12 last year! Do you really think I’d settle for one An-12? Come on now, who am I?
Since I was already in Minsk, after having made my way there on a Tu-154M, there had to be another plane to fly on, or some other diversion to pass the time in Minsk. Well, other than the ominously-named “Texas Show Bar” in the hotel. That place was scary!
Anyhow. Thankfully, my friend had already taken care of this and set up an An-12 with quite the livery! Built in 1961 for the Soviet Air Force, its history becomes murky after the collapse of the USSR. We know it was floating around Bulgaria in 2001 and, heck, it is unclear if it was even built in Voronezh, Tashkent, or Irkutsk! It didn’t matter — I wanted it to fly — with me on it.