MOSCOW President Vladimir Putin signed a law on Monday that allows Russian airlines to hire foreign pilots, a move the Kremlin said was needed to end a shortage of pilots on civilian flights as passenger numbers grow.
The law signing comes five months after 50 people were killed in the crash of a Tatarstaapriln Airlines jet, blamed on pilot error, which highlighted concerns that Russia does not have enough pilots to meet growing demand.
"The (new) federal law is designed to liquidate the deficit of commanders to civilian aircraft," the Kremlin said in a statement. It said the number of passengers air trips had been increasing by 13 to 15 percent a year.
It said the law would allow airlines to hire foreign pilots over the next five years, indicating that no new foreign pilots could be hired after April 2019 but those already employed in Russia could remain.
Russia and the other former Soviet republics combined have one of the world's worst air-traffic safety records, with a total accident rate almost three times the world average in 2011, according to the International Air Transport Association.
After the November 17 Tatarstan Airlines crash, federal investigators said the pilot may have received his license from a training center that was later closed on suspicion of operating illegally.
Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin was quoted as saying there was reason to believe many pilots working for smaller Russian airlines had received licenses without undergoing the proper training.
(Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by David Holmes)