Defence Minister: Less than half of Bulgarian Air Force pilots ever fly

Of the Bulgarian Air Force’s 245 pilots, less than half ever take to the air, because of a lack of equipment, Defence Minister Krassimir Karakachanov said on June 14 in a television interview.

Karakachanov was speaking three days after a Bulgarian Air Force Russian-made Mi-17 helicopter crashed at Krumovo near Plovdiv, leaving two pilots dead and a crew member injured.

The crash is being investigated, but Karakachanov said on the day after the crash that the cause was suspected to be technical failure, and not pilot error.

He said in the June 14 television interview with the Mi-17 destroyed, Bulgaria was left without a helicopter that could assist in firefighting and other crisis situations.

Karakachanov said that the Public Procurement Act did not allow Defence Ministry equipment to be repaired at the ministry’s plants without a public procurement procedure and any bidding company could appeal against the procedure.

He said that he would table proposed amendments to the Public Procurement Act concerning the repair of military equipment.

To repair the Bulgarian Air Force’s five Mi-17 helicopters would cost about 25 million leva (about 12.5 million euro) while fixing the Mi-24 would cost about 24 million leva, but the repairs also would take time, about eight to 10 months.

Bulgaria’s Parliament recently voted its approval of a government plan to acquire 16 fighter aircraft to bring the country up to the standards of the Nato alliance of which it has been a member since 2004.

Pending the finalisation of the long-awaited fighter jet acquisition process, the Bulgarian Air Force is continuing to use its Soviet-made MiG-29 fighters, on which the country has been spending, and continues to spend, large sums on overhauls to keep them operational.

(Photo: Bulgarian Ministry of Defence)

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