Bulgarian Defence Minister Krassimir Karakachanov told a hastily-convened news conference on October 24 that reports that Air Force pilots had refused to take off for training flights had been blown out of proportion.
Reports in the morning had said that Bulgarian Air Force pilots scheduled for training flights at Graf Ignatievo base near Plovdiv had refused en masse, because of safety concerns and low morale sparked by delays in the acquisition of new fighter jets.
Karakachanov told the early evening news conference that he wanted to put forward an explanation for the “misunderstanding that was blown up today in the media”.
He said that there was normal communication between the Defence Ministry and the Air Force leadership. There were problems in military aviation, but every effort was being made to overcome them.
Referring to the problem of MiG-29 engines – new and overhauled – supplied by Russia but not put into use because of questions about the documentation, Karakachanov said that the engines would be used once the questions had been resolved.
“We cannot violate this contract and sign additional agreements and protocols, because our principal concern is the life of the pilot. Caring for human life, the person is of the highest value in the army,” Karakachanov said.
He said that for the motivation of the military, the government was providing 100 million leva (about 50 million euro) for salary increases. Karakachanov was referring to the draft Budget 2018 published by the Finance Ministry on Octobe 24, for which approval by the Cabinet and Parliament is pending.
“I do not accept talk about strikes and riots, the army is not a kindergarten, and no one has thought about such actions,” he said. “What we are doing is guaranteeing pilots airworthiness,” he said, criticising this being used for political speculation.
Karakachanov was speaking after meeting Air Force commander General Tsanko Stoykov and Graf Ignatievo air base commander General Ivan Lalov.
Lalov said that when pilots do not feel well prepared, they cannot fly. “In the morning, the pilots said that they did not feel able to perform their assigned tasks and no one could make them fly,” he said.
This was why it was not appropriate to use the word “mutiny”, Lalov said.
He said that the problem with the pilots on October 24 had arisen from “complex” reasons.
“Despite the small number we have, the flight crew is preparing and we continue to perform the tasks of air policing,” Lalov said. He had received assurances from the Defence Ministry that efforts were being made to solve the problems.