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IAF lost 152 pilots, 534 aircraft, in crashes in past 30 years

Data Shared By Aviation Expert Anchit Gupta Shows There Were 20-30 Accidents That Resulted In Aircraft Loss For Most Of 1990s, 10-20 In 2000s & Between Single & Double Figures Till This Year.

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File photo of MiG-21 Bison aircraft | ANI

New Delhi: At least 152 Indian Air Force pilots and 534 aircraft have been lost to accidents and crashes over the past 30 years or so, research conducted by aviation expert Anchit Gupta has revealed.

Gupta posted tabulated information of his findings on Twitter Saturday, citing information from Parliament’s question and answer archives, dating back to 1989-90. He also added the caveat that his findings do not reflect in-depth data of the Air Force.

“This is a crude summary. Yes, it lacks many variables such as flying hours, a/c type etc but the trend is clear — DOWNWARD,” Gupta tweeted, noting that number of accidents have slowly come down.

According to the data shared by Gupta, the number of accidents that resulted in loss of aircraft were between 20 and 30 for the majority of the 1990s, 10 and 20 through the 2000s and between single and double figures until this year.

The downward spiral revealed by Gupta’s findings comes after years of concerns expressed over the safety of Soviet-era MiG-21 aircraft operated by the IAF. The aircraft has often been labelled a “flying coffin”, to the chagrin of many IAF personnel who have continued to swear by it, despite the fact that the aircraft would have ideally been retired long ago had its replacements come.

The most recent incident involving a MiG-21 took place Thursday night, as a twin-seater MiG-21 trainer aircraft crashed near Barmer in Rajasthan, killing both the pilots on board — wing commander M. Rana and flight lieutenant Advitiya Bal.

The MiG-21 Bison was also at the centre of a deadly crash in May 2021, which killed squadron leader Abhinav Choudhary, and a crash in March that year which claimed the life of group captain Ashish Gupta.

Phasing out MiG-21s

In 2013, a news report had quoted Defence Minister A. K. Antony as saying that till April of the previous year, the IAF had lost more than half of its MiG-21s. As many as 482 MiG-21s had been involved in accidents and as many as 171 pilots, 39 civilians and eight persons from other services lost their lives in these accidents

In light of these defects, India has had a long gestating project in place to phase out MiG-21s, with the indigenously developed Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas in the late 1980’s to replace the MiG 21s.

After decades of delays due to production issues, the IAF now has 40 of the initial lot of Tejas. Last year, the IAF signed a Rs 48,000-crore deal for 83 Tejas Mk 1A, deliveries.

As of now there are four squadrons of the upgraded MiG 21 Bison, one of which will be phased out later this year. The rest will be phased out by 2025 when the Tejas will start coming in.