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Despite an economic crisis and shortage of hard currency, the leadership of Turkmenistan is continuing to spend millions of state dollars on itself. On September 11 plane spotters at Nuremberg airport captured the incoming flight of a new AgustaWestland AW-139 helicopter destined for the Turkmenistan government fleet.
The helicopter’s portholes were covered from inside — probably in order to hide the VIP interior. According to a turkmen.news source, the helicopter, tail number EZ-P717, arrived in Germany for refueling from London’s Stansted airport where the cabin had been customized.
The company Eyelevel Private Jet Interiors, based at Stansted, may well have customized the luxury interior. At the time of publication the company had yet to reply to turkmen.news’ written enquiry.
It’s worth noting that Turkmenistan’s “presidential” fleet already has several VIP helicopters, at least one of which is another AgustaWestland AW-139, this time with the tail number EZ-P716. This is probably the aircraft that flew Serdar Berdimuhamedov over Ashgabat’s new buildings at the end of August. He also has at his disposal a relatively new Sikorsky S-92A, so it’s not clear why the head of state needed another new helicopter.
It might be something of a superstition. After the death of the first president, Saparmurat Niyazov, his successor Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov sold his personal Boeing-767-300ER airplane to Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenka and bought himself new aircraft (not just one). Perhaps the third president of Turkmenistan does not want to use the aircraft he “inherited” from his father. Perhaps Berdimuhamedov Senior objects to this too — he’s still alive after all.
AgustaWestland helicopters have a reputation for reliability, but it was an AgustaWestland that crashed in Turkmenistan in January 2021. The helicopter, registered to the border troops, came down in Ahal region. Captain Bayram Kurbanov, co-pilot Maksat Muradov, and flight technician Babahan Sultanov died in the crash. This was reported by turkmen.news’ own sources.
As usual, official media did not report the crash. However, at a sitting of the State Security Council Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov did reprimand the military for negligent handling of hardware without referring to a specific incident. The head of the border service, Shadurdy Durdyev, was dismissed “for serious failings in his work,” while two of his deputies received strict reprimands. It wasn’t until a year later, in January 2022 at an expanded sitting of the State Security Council, that Berdimuhamedov Senior acknowledged the helicopter crash as well as other incidents in the army, which had only been reported by independent media.
In conclusion it should be said that it really does make sense to handle such aircraft carefully. A new AgustaWestland costs at least 15 million dollars (and a few million more to customize the VIP interior). It’s clear though that the Berdimuhamedov family don’t mind spending money on themselves.
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