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.
An Air Koryo Tu-154B-2 parked on the ramp at FNJ – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter
I have a strange and obsessive love for the Tupolev Tu-154. How obsessive, you ask? Well, take a look at my model cabinet. That’s right. I own every possible Tu-154 model out there. I even have a few custom ones on order.
No one can say I don’t love the Tu-154 – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter
I seek out 154s to fly on; I have three lined up this year.
So, what makes this plane so awesome? Well, I was going to do an article last year about what it was like to fly on an 154M, but then Jacob flew on a better M on almost the same day. So we’ll have to wait for the 154Bs later this year (the older, rarer version of the 154).
Until then, let’s discuss the history of this aircraft.
Belavia Boeing 737-500. Image from Wikipedia/CC/Biggerben.
Belavia Belarusian Airlines was founded in March of 1996 and is based at Minsk International Airport in Belarus. The airline is owned by the government and flies to destinations in Asia, Europe and Africa.
The airline currently operates a classic fleet of Boeing 737-300s, 737-500s, CRJ200s and a few Tupolev Tu-154Ms. They have two Embraer 175s and one E-190 on order in hopes to update their fleet.
Even though this is a smaller airline, they have one of the best fleet pages I have seen. You are able to check out external and internal 360 tours and I have to admit that I spent quite a bit of time taking a tour of the Tu-154M.
The livery is one of the few left that remind me of the classic Aeroflot livery. You do not see many liveries that have a cheat-line anymore — they are a dying breed.
UTAir Tupolev Tu-154M RA-85057 arriving at Niederrhein Weeze Airport from Moscow Vnukovo, bringing in the soccer team of Anzhi Makhachkala for their match on Thursday Evening (9 August 2012, 8:00pm) against Vitesse Arnhem. Image by Marc Riedel.
Seeing a Tupolev TU-154 out in the wild is becoming a rare treat. Luckily, UTair still operates two Tu-154Ms, one in a striking blue and red livery.
UTair was founded in 1967 and is based at Khanty-Mansiysk Airport (HMA) in Russia. Originally the airline was part of the Aeroflot family and was renamed TAT after the break up of the USSR. Then, in 2003, the airline was again re-named to UTair.
The airline offers scheduled service to about 70 domestic and international destinations. UTair operates a diverse fleet of over 100 aircraft and 300 helicopters. They are in the process of updating their older aircraft with 20 Airbus A321s, 30 Boeing 737-800s and 24 Sukhoi SUperjet 100s on order.
This is a special livery seen on RA-85057. The livery has been with Samara Airlines and then South East Airlines before remaining with UTair. UTair’s standard livery is not nearly as colorful and a bit bland, so hopefully they keep the red white and blue flying until retiring the aircraft from their fleet.
Alrosa Mirny Air Enterprise Tupolev TU-154M (RA-85684) sits in the mud outside a small, closed, regional airport.
On September 7, 2010 a Alrosa Mirny Air Enterprise Tupolev TU-154M (registration number RA-85684), took off from Udachny Russia, heading to Domodedovo International Airport in Moscow. While cruising at about 35,000 feet, it experienced an electrical failure, causing the loss of their navigational systems and fuel pumps, leaving the pilots only 30 minutes worth of fuel.
The TU-154M sits about 520 feet past the end of the runway at Izhma Airport.
To make matters worse, the pilots also lost control their flaps, slats and radio system. Luckily they found that Izhma Airport was close to attempt an emergency landing, but there was a bit of bad news. First of all the runway was closed and no longer in use, plus it was only 4,347 feet long. Typically, the TU-154M needs a runway over 7,200 feet long to stop safely. Since they were short on options, they made the attempt to land anyhow.
The Alrosa TU-154M took quite a beating, running off the end of the runway.
The pilots made two attempts to land before finally putting the aircraft down on the third try. The odds were against the plane, as it did not have control of flaps to slow down and it ended up running about 520 feet off the end of the runway, through trees, bushes and mud.
Airliners were not made to hit trees and bushes. They did a number of the body of the TU-154M.
Amazingly, after the aircraft came to a complete stop, all 81 passengers and crew were able to safely evacuate the aircraft and no injuries were reported. It was determined that the batteries overheated causing a thermal runaway, affecting the failed components of the aircraft.
The two pilots of Flight 514: Andrei Lamanov and Yevgeny Novoselov stand in front of TA-85684
The two pilots of Flight 514: Andrei Lamanov and Yevgeny Novoselov were regarded as heros for their successful landing of the stricken aircraft. They were made Heros of the Russian Federation, which is the highest honorary title that a Russian Federation citizen can received. The other seven crew members were rewarded with Orders of Courage. Passengers were rewarded with their lives and an incredible story to tell for the rest of their lives.
After minimum repairs, Alrosa’s TU-154M took off from Izhma Airport – Photo: Aleksey Nagaev
So now what? Alrosa had this “Lucky TU-154M” that was damaged at an airport that doesn’t have a runway long enough for it to properly take off. Well, if there is a will, there is a way and the airline decided to make needed repairs to get the aircraft back in the air.
About six and a half months after the Tupelov crash landed, enough repairs were completed to get it airborne again. After reducing its weight as much as possible, on March 23, 2011 the TU-154M successfully took off from Izhma Airport and flew to Ukhta, Komi Republic for additional inspections. Finally it was sent to Samara where final repairs were completed before the aircraft was placed back into service.
The TU-154M was designed to successfully operate in Russian’s tough climate and air infrastructure and it seemed to pay off. I am not quite sure how other aircraft might have fared during the same situation.