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FAA OFFICIALS TO EVALUATE RUSSIAN AIRLINES

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U.S. aviation officials will inspect Russia's deteriorating airlines and air safety systems to offer advice on improving conditions that are notorious among international travelers.

Russian authorities requested the evaluation by Federal Aviation Administration officials, Drucella Andersen, a spokeswoman for the agency, said Saturday.A team of about a dozen FAA officials will leave for Russia this week, she said, and plan to fan out across the country for three weeks.

"They will look at everything, from airlines to air traffic control to all parts of the aviation system," she said. "It's done with the full cooperation of Russia."

Concerns about the safety of the civilian airlines, dominated by the aging Aeroflot, have become so serious that the State Department last month advised U.S. government employees to stay off all Russian flights unless absolutely necessary. Britain, Canada and others have issued similar warnings.

The International Airline Passengers Association also has warned against flying anywhere in the former Soviet Union.

Complaints about Aeroflot range from the discomforting - a dog flying in the cabin, overbooked passengers forced to stand during a flight - to the frightening, such as planes unfit to fly.

Over the past 18 months, more than a dozen crashes within the former Soviet Union, including both commercial and military aircraft, have killed more than 500 people.

The FAA has the authority to block an unsafe airline from flying into the United States if it fails a "technical assessment" by the agency. But officials said that was not the purpose of this visit.

The FAA team, accompanied by Russian aviation experts, hopes to convince Russian authorities to make needed corrections before any more exacting technical assessment is done.