Scandal in Russia over official's plane hold-up
A pilot for Russia's flag carrier Aeroflot was Tuesday hailed as a hero by bloggers for indignantly objecting to a command by air traffic control to delay his flight to allow a top official to board.
The pilot on the flight last week from the Siberian city of Irkutsk to Moscow was told he could not take off until regional governor Dmitry Mezentsev had arrived for the flight from an over-running meeting.
The Aeroflot pilot's indifference to the ranking of the official have made the leaked tapes of the exchange an Internet sensation in Russia and the latest example of the increasing use of the net to expose the excesses of the elite.
"I'd rather vote for him in the elections than (President Dmitry) Medvedev," wrote one user on YouTube, where the exchange has now been listened to almost 350,000 times after its posting by prominent blogger drugoi.
Showing a defiance of authority still rare in Russia, the pilot bluntly says the governor has no right to hold up passengers and even suggests the press should be invited to find out what is happening.
Pilot: "I was told to get in touch with you, what's the problem?"
Controller: "The top official needs to get here and then we will allow take-off."
Pilot: "Well, let the top official fly on his private jet and I will fly these passengers.
"This not a charter but a scheduled flight... kindly make sure your top official does not turn up late for the flight and then he can fly with us.
"I have already closed the doors and I am not going to allow anyone else on the plane."
Controller: "We are not going to let you take off."
Pilot: "Please invite the television and journalists here to find out why a scheduled flight is being delayed."
Eventually, the flight took off one hour late with Mezentsev on board.
"Courageous pilot! Respect to these guys," wrote another blogger on Youtube.
The Kommersant daily said the resonance of the scandal risked ending the career of Mezentsev, who is already enduring low popularity and is under pressure from ruling party United Russia after poor local poll results.
"I apologised to the passengers, I explained the situation," Mezentsev said in an interview with the pro-government Izvestia newspaper Tuesday in a clear attempt at damage-limitation.
"I only use scheduled flights. I have headed this region for two years and not once have I used a private VIP jet"
© 2011 AFP