It’s been a little more than two years since Yak-Service Flight 9633 crashed in Moscow, Russia, killing 44 people — most of whom were members of the KHL’s Lokomotiv Yaroslav hockey club.

While an investigation deemed the cause of the crash was a pilot error, this tragedy brought to light the issue that the planes Russia was using were old and dangerous, many of which date back to the USSR days.

In wake of such a calamity, it became clear that drastic changes were needed in order to protect the lives of not only hockey players, but the general public, as well. So the KHL responded. Here’s a statement the league made on February 9, 2012:

The KHL leadership has approved the scheme developed by the KHL players’ union for organizing air travel for the League’s teams and players.

In December of last year, a special department of the KHL players’ union was set up for the purpose of organizing and controlling flights for the players and clubs, to accomplish the dual tasks of ensuring flight safety while optimizing transport costs for clubs in the League.

Under the new scheme, clubs are to be offered flights on the following aircrafts: Boeing-737-500, Boeing-737-400, Boeing-737-300 or Airbus-319/320, and only from fleets which entered service in or after 1997.

All the airlines permitted by the players’ union to offer transport in the scheme have access to airports in every city with a KHL team, and none of them is in debt to either airport services or air traffic control. Furthermore, all of them possess modern aircraft which meet all the standards demanded by the Kontinental Hockey League and are ready to provide charter flights in accordance with the match schedule of the KHL Championship.

The Kontinental Hockey League would like to draw attention to the fact that the KHL players’ union is the sole legitimate organization, authorized by the League and possessing the relevant rights and authority, which can conduct negotiations regarding the organizing of air travel for KHL teams.

These measures were, and remain, absolutely vital. People across the world were criticizing Russia for its negligence, and new rules needed to be put in place to ensure this kind of catastrophe would never happen again. Common sense, right?

Unfortunately, these changes have yet to happen on a league-wide scale.

Sergery Burkov, a resident of Moscow, has provided Sunbelt Hockey Journal with information that details the continued use of unsafe aircrafts among KHL organizations. According to Burkov, an unofficial survey carried out by the website hockey-world.net states that most KHL teams are not using Boeing or Airbus services.

In this survey, 10 teams agreed to answer questions about the planes and airlines which they use to travel, and seven confessed that they still use old Soviet aircrafts.

It is speculated that the reason teams have opted for these timeworn planes is to save money. Many will find this motive unreasonable given the league’s large profits and highly-inflated payrolls.

The Tupolev Tu-134

                          The Tupolev Tu-134

Burkov says that Russia’s Ministry of Transport has recommended major airlines not use these kinds of planes. Apparently this suggestion has fallen on many deaf ears.

One aircraft that is still in use, according to Burkov, is the Tupolev Tu-134, which was utilized by the Soviet Air Force before the Iron Curtain fell. This model is neither a Boeing nor Airbus model, and was manufactured between the years 1966 and 1984.

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Just this past week, a flight carrying the club CSKA had to make an emergency landing. Even though this occurred on a newer plane — the Ukranian Antonov An-148 — it still failed to meet all the specifications outlined in the above statement.

The plane landed in an airport in the city of Voronezh on its way to Zagreb (Croatia). The team and the media were told that this was done because the sky was too busy with VIP flights coming to the G-20 Summit in St. Petersburg.

But Andrei Kovalenko, the chairman of the KHL players association and a former NHLer, decided to investigate the situation. He called Voronezh airport and found out that the plane had serious technical problems, and the repairs it needed took an entire night to complete.

Reportedly, the problems were discovered by the crew right after takeoff from Moscow, thus the emergency landing.

This link details the incident. Though it is in Russian, Google can translate it well enough to get the point across.

According to this article, a CSKA spokesman “didn’t want to emphasize technical problems with the plane” when he talked to Kovalenko, but the airport’s special service, which Kovalenko contacted, gave the reporter accurate info. Kovalenko notes that this plane had encountered flight problems this past summer and had been deemed by an official “scary to board.”

The fact that the plane had these problems is terribly concerning. But the fact that CSKA tried to sweep it under the rug is alarming on a very different level. If actions were taken to cover up this incident, what else has the KHL kept in the dark?

Truth is, it’s difficult to imagine Russia and the KHL will do much to improve the safety of airplane travelers without a significant increase in pressure from those on the outside. Kovalenko has said that he will work endlessly to improve this situation and force the league to take real action. For the sake of the Russian people and all 28 KHL teams, here’s to hoping he can soon gain more influence than he has today.

And hopefully it won’t take another tragedy to motivate those in power from doing the right thing.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

About The Author

Andrew Hirsh is a graduate of Elon University and is entering his fourth year as a credentialed NHL writer. He founded SunbeltHockey.com in 2012 and serves as the site's managing editor. Andrew can be reached via email at ahirsh3@gmail.com.

One Response

  1. Cherie Tinker

    Excellent article! It’s heartbreaking to think that an organization that is willing to pay top dollar for some it’s players doesn’t place the same priority on their safety. Especially after what happened to Team Yaroslavl Lokomotiv on 9/7/11.
    Those risks should never be taken twice, yet even a first time.
    Thank you for highlighting this story. If more press is given, maybe more can be done. These men weren’t just athletes that lost their lives in the first tragedy, they were also father, husbands, sons, and brothers.
    Cherie Tinker