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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