NewDelhi: The ill-fated AN-32, which went missing with 29 personnel on board over the Bay of Bengal on Friday, had suffered from three technical snags earlier this month despite undergoing a life-extension, overhaul and upgrade refit just as recently as September last year.
Officials, however, contended the snags were “minor in nature like a little hydraulic or pressure leak here and there”, and no aircraft was ever cleared to fly without being it declared fully airworthy. But the twin-turboprop AN-32 fleet — the workhorse of the IAF to ferry troops and supplies to forward areas — has suffered from poor serviceability, tardy maintenance, delays in overhauls and shortage of spares, all resulting in a high AOG (aircraft on ground) percentage over the years.
Part of the 33 Squadron located at the Sulur airbase, the missing AN-32 was among the around 50 such medium-lift tactical aircraft upgraded with airframe strengthening and newer avionics till now under the $398 million (Rs 1965 crore) contract inked with Ukraine in June 2009. Of the 101 AN-32s in the IAF fleet, which were inducted the erstwhile Soviet Union from 1984 to 1991, the first 40 aircraft were “re-equipped” in Ukraine, while the rest 61 are progressively undergoing the same at the 1 Base Repair Depot at Kanpur.