Fatal Plane Crash Casts Shadow Over Russia's Aerospace Ambitions

(Bloomberg) -- Russia’s aerospace ambitions took a hit when a domestically produced plane operated by national aircraft carrier Aeroflot PJSC caught fire and crashed Sunday at a Moscow airport, killing 41 people.

Flight SU1492 to Murmansk, a Sukhoi Superjet, caught fire during a rough emergency landing after technical problems forced it to return to Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, Russia’s Investigative Committee said in a statement. The state-run carrier’s shares dropped as much as 4.6 percent in Moscow, the most in more than five months.

Fatal Plane Crash Casts Shadow Over Russia's Aerospace Ambitions

The Investigative Committee said in a statement that crew error, mechanical problems and bad weather were being probed as possible causes for the crash. Local media reported the plane suffered a massive electrical failure after it was struck by lightning shortly after takeoff.

The Sukhoi Superjet, which was developed as a competitor to regional jets from foreign manufacturers, has been criticized over frequent grounding due to technical faults and maintenance issues. Sunday’s is the second fatal incident involving a Superjet after a promotional flight crashed into a mountainside in Indonesia in 2012, killing everyone on board.

The Russian Transportation Ministry said it sees no reason to ground Superjets after Sunday’s incident.

Fatal Plane Crash Casts Shadow Over Russia's Aerospace Ambitions

Russia produced only 26 Superjets last year because of problems with engine supplies, project head Alexander Rubtsov told state television in December. The plane that crashed Sunday flew for the first time in June 2017, and was delivered to Aeroflot three months later, according to aircraft-tracking website Flightradar24.com.

Aeroflot -- which has a plan to double its fleet to 520 planes, including 190 Russian-made aircraft, by 2023 -- is seeking to quadruple its market value by that time, Chief Executive Officer Vitaly Savelyev told Russian President Vladimir Putin last year.

The airliner has suffered five safety incidents with no fatalities in the past 20 years, according to Aviation Safety Network. The carrier has improved its international reputation since the 1990s, when a total of 89 people were killed in four separate incidents, the database shows.

The Murmansk flight, with 73 passengers and five crew members aboard, took off from Moscow on schedule at 6:02 p.m. but returned to make an emergency landing at 6:30 p.m. after the crew reported a malfunction, Sheremetyevo Airport said on its website. Investigators released video showing the plane speeding down the runway with its tail on fire and flames engulfing the rear after it came to a stop on the tarmac.

The Investigative Committee said 33 passengers and four crew members were able to evacuate once the plane stopped.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.