Russian Airlines Secretly Flying With Fewer Pilots, Raising Safety Risk



MOSCOW - Russian aviation has been making an impact in all the wrong ways. Last May, a new airplane on a demonstration flight in Indonesian crashed into a mountain, killing all 50 people on board. And now Novaya Gazeta has revealed that Russian airlines are using scheduling tricks to cut the number of pilots on long flights.

Many pilots, including the head of the flight crew labor union at the Sheremetyevo Airport, have expressed concern that personnel cutbacks by airlines have made some flights unsafe. According to Russian law, any flight that is longer than 12 hours, including the pilots' pre-and-post flight duties, must have a third pilot on board, in addition to the pilot and second-in-command. In addition, any flight longer than 14 hours must have a complete replacement team.

For comparison, in the U.S., planes are required to have a third pilot on board if the pilots will be on duty for more than nine hours. Aeroflot's flight from Moscow to New York is currently the only flight flying with three pilots, because American authorities have threatened to block any airline that does not follow American flight time rules from flying to the US.

But Aeroflot's Moscow-Tokyo flights, which are longer than the flights to New York, and had been flown with three pilots until the summer of 2011, switched this past winter to strictly two pilots. Igor Deldyuzhov, a former pilot for Aeroflot, says he was fired for insisting on having a third pilot for the flight to Tokyo, Novaya Gazeta reports.

The change, according to Deldyuzhov, was made possible by fudging the flight schedule. Deldyuzhov says the flight time on the pilots' information was 10 hours 45 minutes, a duration based on the actual flight times of the past several flights. The pre-and-post flight duties generally take one and a half hours, which can add up to more than 12 hours. But on the flight schedule, the Moscow-Tokyo flight time was shaved down to 10 hours 20 minutes, Novaya Gazeta reports, allowing it to just barely come in under 12 hours.

What is more, on nighttime flights, pilots are only supposed to be on duty for 11 hours if there are only two in the cockpit, but the Moscow-Tokyo flight, which departs at 9pm and arrives in Tokyo the following morning, is classified as a "daytime" flight because it takes off before 10pm.

The flight time is the same now as it was last year, and planes have not yet begun to fly faster...nor have the two cities gotten any closer to each other.

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Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.


Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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