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I don't have the time to research properly and I never had Elco's breadth of knowledge, but I shared his interest, I think this is a pretty reasonable summary:

BBC News - History of the Tupolev-154 plane

History of the Tupolev-154 plane

The Polish presidential plane - a Tupolev-154

The Tupolev-154 was for more than a quarter of a century the backbone of Russia's and the Soviet Union's air transport system.

It carried about half the number of all passengers flown by Russia's national carrier Aeroflot and its successors in that time, with that number peaking at 137 million per year in 1990.

About 1,000 were built, and some remain in service in Russia and countries that were once part of the Soviet bloc.

The aircraft entered service in 1972 and was "modernised" in 1986, with new engines and equipment to improve its fuel consumption and flight operations.

But as an indication of its ageing design, the Chinese government decided in 2001 to withdraw the Tu-154 from its airlines.

Aeroflot took the decision to phase them out more recently, saying their high fuel consumption made them uneconomic.

Difficult conditions

An expert on Russian aviation, Paul Duffy, assessed the safety record of the Tu-154 in 2004, for the BBC News website.

Of 28 lost in accidents up to that date - a figure about normal for the quantity, years of service and technology of the type, in his view - few had crashed because of technical failure, he said.

"The Tu-154 operates in regions with not very good air traffic control and navigation equipment, and in very difficult weather conditions," he said at the time.

It's a pretty robust aeroplane, but the age is a concern - maintenance and checking for defects is critical as a plane gets older. One would think that a presidential plane would receive the best care... but things happen.

However, it does sound related to conditions and if they had ignored advice to land elsewhere... this highlights why the advice was given.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sat Apr 10th, 2010 at 07:36:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Addendum - from reading more reports it seems an accident more related to:

a) Fog
b) Lack of landing aids at the airstrip

than any deficiency of the aeroplane but we can't exclude instrument failures.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sat Apr 10th, 2010 at 07:38:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
c) an old Tupolev?
d) the pilot and the President allegedly disregarded control tower suggestions to divert the plane to Minsk?

The brainless should not be in banking -- Willem Buiter
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Apr 10th, 2010 at 09:22:17 AM EST
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Migeru:
d) the pilot and the President allegedly disregarded control tower suggestions to divert the plane to Minsk?

This type of reason alone (if confirmed by CVR) has caused more aircraft accidents than all technical issues put together, especially when combined with a) and b).

Air safety is serious business. When professionals familiar with the area advise pilots to divert, disregarding their advice is a really bad idea.

by Bernard (bernard) on Sat Apr 10th, 2010 at 11:12:24 AM EST
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I know this is off topic but 28 out of 1,000 planes lost in accidents?

That's super high, and they say that's normal? Really?

by Upstate NY on Sat Apr 10th, 2010 at 10:28:05 AM EST
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The issue is many of the crashes have been categorised as down to bad conditions and bad air traffic control, especially in the wilder parts of Russia. It's unreasonable to blame the plane for those.
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sat Apr 10th, 2010 at 11:47:14 AM EST
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.
Quite a few accidents happened in Iran and others were due to terror attacks. Even Ukraine shot a Tupolev out of the air by accident en route from Tel Aviv to Siberia. [Same general responsible for shooting down Korean flight KAL007]

"But I will not let myself be reduced to silence."

'Sapere aude'

by Oui (Oui) on Sat Apr 10th, 2010 at 04:36:45 PM EST
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28 must have been only the number with high fatalities, the figure I find is 59; but either way, it's airplanes, not flights. While others noted non-construction-related factors impacting Tu-154s in a special way, I note that the ratio does not stand out compared to similar-aged or older airplane families. Check the stats here: for example, of 856 Boeing 707 built, 164 were lost in the past 52 years.

(I remember reading somewhere that the overwhelming majority of ships built throughout history finished their life by sinking -- which, again, shouldn't be shocking, because the danger of ship travel should be calculated in terms of trips, not ships.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Apr 11th, 2010 at 06:40:30 AM EST
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