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.