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    How the New Il-96-400M Airliner Can Help Revive Russia's Civil Aviation Industry

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    Cooperation between the United Aircraft Corporation, the Ministry of Industry and the Ministry of Defense has led to the creation of a new, 'deeply modernized' variant of the Il-96-400 wide-body passenger jetliner – the Il-96-400M. Aviation expert Yuri Sytnik explains how production of the aircraft will help revive Russia's civil aviation industry.

    On Tuesday, Russian business newspaper Kommersant reported, citing a source familiar with the situation, that the new version of the Ilyushin Il-96, presently under development, is designed to replace foreign-leased long-haul wide-body passenger aircraft whose service life is nearing its end. Next week, the responsible ministries are expected to draw up a timetable for the withdrawal of these foreign aircraft from Russia's airlines, and their substitution with the new Ilyushin.

    The decision to revive production of the Il-96, an advanced, long-range version of the Soviet-era Ilyushin Il-86 wide-body airliner, was made in May 2016. At that time, Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov said that the government will be committing about 50 billion rubles to the program.

    The Il-96, developed in the twilight of the Soviet Union by the Ilyushin Design Bureau and built by the Voronezh Aircraft Plant, made its debut test flight in September 1988, and was rolled out for service with Russian state carrier Aeroflot in late 1992. 

    However, due to the economic crisis facing Russia and the rest of the former Soviet Union throughout the 1990s, only 30 units of the prospective aircraft were ever built. Today, Aeroflot is believed to have between 8-10 Il-96s in their inventory. However, according to aviation expert and former Vnukovo Airlines flight director Yuri Sytnik, these planes have all been decommissioned after putting on 55,000 flight hours.

    An Aeroflot Il-96-300 landing at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport. File photo.
    An Aeroflot Il-96-300 landing at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport. File photo.

    In the 1990s, Russia's massive civilian aviation industry, once one of the largest in the world, was brought to the brink of collapse. In the interim, citing safety, engine noise regulations, and high fuel costs, Russian airlines began purchasing foreign aircraft, particularly from Airbus and Boeing. By the early 2010s, foreign planes accounted for two thirds or more of many airlines' fleets, particularly in the long-haul segment.

    However, in the mid-2010s, after the downturn in relations with Western countries in 2014 over the crisis in Ukraine, the Russian government started paying greater attention to the domestic commercial passenger aircraft industry, devoting energy and resources to encourage development, production and sales of modern aircraft at home, and promoting them abroad.

    Speaking to RIA Novosti about the prospects of the new Il-96-400M, Sytnik noted that "if the Il-96 did get an upgrade, what we would get is a model quite comparable to some Boeing and Airbus planes." 

    The long range Il-96-400 jet airliner, designed by the Ilyushin experimental design office.
    © Sputnik/ Alexander Polyakov
    The long range Il-96-400 jet airliner, designed by the Ilyushin experimental design office.

    Of course, he added, for a design from the late 1980s to really compete against modern foreign designs, nearly everything would be subject to upgrade or replacement, including parts of the fuselage. With the Il-96 effectively becoming a fundamentally new plane, all that would be left from the original design is the conceptual design.

    RIA Novosti recalled that the main problem of the original Il-96, like many other Russian civilian passenger aircraft, was high fuel consumption. If the comparable Boeing or Airbus burn an average of about 17.5 grams of fuel per passenger kilometer, their Russian counterparts consume significantly more, from 21-28 grams.

    However, this problem is on the brink of being solved. Russia's newest generation of aircraft engines feature reduced fuel consumption, and others, with fuel use of as little as 15.5 grams of fuel per passenger kilometer, are under development.

    Last summer, during a visit to the Voronezh Aircraft Plant, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin said that Russian engineers had effectively resolved the fuel consumption issue with the new-generation PD-14 turbofan engine. The PD-14 and its variants have already found demand in the domestic civil aviation sector, and can be mounted aboard the Il-96-300, the Tupolev-214, and the MC-21 in its 200, 300 and 400 variants. Rogozin stressed that the new engine would help guarantee Russian passenger liners' competitiveness with Boeing and Airbus, decreasing not only fuel costs, but maintenance costs as well.

    Visitors at the PD-14 aircraft engine displayed by the United Engine Corporation at the MAKS-2015 air show in Zhukovsky in the Moscow Region
    © Sputnik/ Mikhail Voskresenskiy
    Visitors at the PD-14 aircraft engine displayed by the United Engine Corporation at the MAKS-2015 air show in Zhukovsky in the Moscow Region

    Sytnik noted that in terms of avionics technology too, Russian technology has demonstrated its capabilities, including aboard planes such as the Tu-160 supersonic strategic bomber, the Sukhoi Superject 100 twin-engine regional jet liner, and the Irkut MC-21, a short and medium-range airliner. 

    Furthermore, he noted the new Il-96 variant may be fitted with embedded ladders underneath the plane, as with its predecessor, the Il-86. This, Sytnik noted, would significantly reduce loading and unloading time, and save on expenses for ramps at airports.

    Ultimately, the aviation expert noted that reviving the IL-96 will necessitate making significant changes to the design, but would still be better and more cost-effective than trying to create a totally new plane. It would also be quicker, taking a maximum of five years to create, compared with the ten years necessary for a new plane.

    The revival will also have positive knock-on effects, the expert said. "Passengers will pay airfare and fly onboard our aircraft, and we will not pay to lease foreign planes, each of which costs between $60 and $120 million dollars," Sytnik noted. If the new Il-96 replaces even a portion of the foreign planes, this is money that will remain in Russia.

    Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, left, and Governor of the Voronezh Region Alexei Gordeyev visit the VASO Voronezh Aircraft Plant
    © Sputnik/ Sergey Mamontov
    Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, left, and Governor of the Voronezh Region Alexei Gordeyev visit the VASO Voronezh Aircraft Plant

    Part of that money will then go to the manufacturer for the purchase of new equipment and machine tools. Furthermore, "in the process of the modernization of the Il-96, we will receive a crop of well-trained workers; in this way, in 10-15 years it will be possible to build a new, contemporary aircraft," the expert concluded. 

    In 1990, the Soviet Union produced nearly 30 percent of the world's civilian airliners. After the country's collapse, Russia's production, which contributed a significant portion of the Soviet figure, fell to the low-single digits. Over the last few years, Russia has come out swinging with several promising new aircraft designs to help correct this imbalance. Once it begins taking to the skies among Russia's civil commercial carriers, the Il-96-400M will help make these hopes and expectations into reality.

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    aviation industry, Il-96-400, Il-96, Ilyushin, Russia
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