Tajikistan’s Transportation Ministry has grounded all flights by Tajik-registered cargo company Asia Airways after one of the company’s Antonov-12 jets crashed in South Sudan.
Despite that precautionary measure, officials in Tajikistan are stressing that they deem the craft’s operator, which they say is Armenian company Ala International Limited, ultimately responsible for maintenance of the plane.
The head of the Transportation Ministry civil aviation department, Yusuf Rahmonov, said in remarks reported by Asia-Plus that authorities in South Sudan are now investigating the causes of the accident, which killed around 40 people. The crew on the Antonov, which was built at a factory in Uzbekistan in 1971, reportedly included citizens of Russia and Armenia.
But Armenian authorities have been quick to deny their liability and appear eager to pass the buck back to Tajikistan.
A spokesman for the national aviation authorities in Yerevan, Ruben Grdzelian, has said that neither Ala International Limited nor the Antonov are registered in Armenia, RIA-Novosti news agency reported.
“Eight air companies are registered in Armenia, and Ala International Ltd, which owned the An-12 that crashed in South Sudan, was not among them. Moreover, the national registration signs of the An-12 — EY-406 — is a sign for Tajikistan. So it is obvious that the plane was registered in that country,” Grdzelian was quoted as saying.
Asia-Plus has in turn suggested Ala International Limited is registered in the United Arab Emirates. Indeed, many air freight companies are for convenience registered in offshore locations like the Persian Gulf.
Russian tabloid website LifeNews, which is known to have strong connections to security agencies in Moscow, cited Russian aviation authorities as speculating that the plane may have crashed as it was overloaded.
“Aircraft of this type are designed to carry around 21 tons of cargo, but commercial carriers in the Third World countries often increase that to 30-25 tons,” the website reported, citing unnamed officials.
Further confusing matters, LifeNews and other publications, including Britain’s Daily Mail, have reported the plane being registered to company called Allied Services Limited.
Asia Airways has not published any statements on the Antonov crash on its official website, but the company does state that between 2007 and 2014, the company underwent 12 international audits by U.S. and European clients working in Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates. The cargo company said it was also subject to two audits by Tajikistan’s own aviation authorities.
The company’s customers have included the government of Tajikistan, for which it transported two 127 ton transformers intended for ongoing construction work at the Sangtuda-2 hydropower project from Tehran.