Yesterday, Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency (Rosaviatsia) reported its findings from an investigation into an incident aboard one of Rossiya Airlines’ Airbus A320s. The aircraft flew from St. Petersburg to Murmansk last month. According to the investigation, the incident was the result of damage to the aircraft’s aft cargo door seal.
Back on 16 January, a Rossiya Airlines Airbus A320 flying from St. Petersburg was forced to descend to FL100 while en route to Murmansk. The crew turned the aircraft around and prepared to return to St. Petersburg, but subsequently turned around again, gained altitude and continued the flight to Murmansk. According to reports by The Aviation Herald, the aircraft was able to perform the return flight from Murmansk to St. Petersburg, but flew the entire journey at FL100.
The aircraft involved in the incident, an 11-year-old Airbus A320 registered VP-BZR, was operating the flight on behalf of Lufthansa. At the time of the incident, it wasn’t immediately clear what caused the crew to turn back to St. Petersburg, or why they then decided that the aircraft was able to complete the journey as originally planned.
The investigation into the incident
Although the incident aboard flight SU-6344 happened back on 16 January, the Russian Air Transport Agency only revealed the findings of its subsequent investigation yesterday. According to the investigation’s findings, the cabin pressurization system was responsible for the crew’s initial decision to descend and head back towards St. Petersburg.
Specifically, Rosaviatsia found that a deteriorating/damaged seal on the aircraft’s aft cargo door was causing the cabin to lose pressure. The aircraft’s air conditioning system was not able to sustain sufficient air pressure as a result, which is most likely the main concern the crew had during the flight.
Subsequent safety precautions
As the deterioration of the aft cargo door seal discovered on VP-BZR was age-related, Rossiya Airlines was instructed to inspect cargo door seals on its entire fleet of 56 aircraft. According to The Aviation Herald’s report on the incident, the airworthiness department was instructed to carry out a separate inspection on the airline’s five other Airbus A320s, as they were more likely to show the same deterioration as the aircraft involved in January’s incident.
Although it appears this inspection process hasn’t been completed yet, the airline and aviation authorities will be keen to ensure that another incident like this doesn’t happen again. If a rapid decompression had occurred as a result of the failed cargo door seal, it would have been much more serious.
Russia’s third-largest airline
Rossiya Airlines is the third-largest airline in Russia, but it is actually 75% owned by Aeroflot, Russia’s largest airline and flag carrier. Although these two compete in the Russian domestic aviation market, they both posted impressive growth figures for 2019.
While Rossiya Airlines recorded 4% growth throughout 2019, Aeroflot performed slightly better with 4.1% growth compared to 2018. But both Aeroflot and Rossiya Airlines were significantly outperformed by S7, which posted 21% growth from the previous year.