The Russian Federal Air Transport Agency (Rosaviatsia) has banned Saratov Airlines (6W, Saratov Tsentralny) from operating international flights with effect from October 26. According to the ch-aviation route database, Saratov Airlines operates scheduled passenger flights to Gyoumri in Armenia, Lenkoran and Gabala in Azerbaijan, Kiev Igor Sikorsky in Ukraine, and Tivat in Montenegro.

The announcement comes after the agency carried out a surprise inspection of the carrier earlier this year and found a violation of Russian Federal Aviation Regulations concerning the presence of persons other than flight crew in the cockpit during operations.

Rosaviatsia says that on July 19 of this year, an airline employee was found to be present in the cockpit during a flight from Saratov Tsentralny to Antalya in Turkey. The employee, who was neither a member of the flight crew nor cabin crew, was later found to be "a close relative" of the airline's general director.

The agency drew parallels between the flight and the crash of an Aeroflot (SU, Moscow Sheremetyevo) A310-300 operating as flight SU593 in 1994. The disaster, which claimed the lives of all 63 passengers and 12 crew, was later found to have been caused by the pilot's 12-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son who, during their visit to the cockpit, had inadvertently disabled the A310 autopilot's control of the aircraft's ailerons while seated at the controls. The aircraft subsequently entered into a steep spiral from which it could not recover before crashing.

Saratov Airlines has since appealed the penalty claiming Rosaviatsia did not notify it of any particular findings in the wake of the inspection.

As a token measure, the airline has since reprimanded several employees, including general director Igor Tretyakov, while enforcing various policy changes to ensure a repeat of the event never happens again.