Bulgarian Air Force pilots had refused to fly their Soviet-built MiG-29 fighter jets for routine training on Wednesday (Oct. 25) citing safety concerns and a lack of flight preparation.
“Some of the pilots from Graf Ignatievo air base will not perform training flights because of insecurity,” the Balkan country’s Deputy Defense Minister, Atanas Zapryanov, confirmed after website Aero reported on the boycott.
The minister added that the pilots cited concerns for poor preparedness due to lack of flying hours.
The Bulgarian Air Force currently has 16 MiG-29s in its inventory but only seven of them are in flying condition. The country signed a deal last year with NATO member Poland for repairs of the MiG-29 fighters.
Russia has delivered 10 engines for the aircraft, including six new ones. But the engines are not put into use since the accompanying documentation were copies, not originals.
As a NATO member since 2004, the country has an obligation to keep at least one squadron of 12 planes in good fighting order. Since February 2016, the country’s inability to do so has forced the parliament to authorize NATO to help protect its air space.
The country has recently launched a tender to procure eight fighter jets worth around €770 million ($905M). The competitors for the deal include Saab Gripen from Sweden, used Italian Eurofighter Typhoon from Italy and used F-16s from the US and Portugal.