Farnborough Air Show

Cuba shopping for at least 20 regional planes

 - November 15, 2006, 8:15 AM

Cuba’s flagcarrier Cubana de Aviacion and domestic operator AeroCaribbean are seeking between 20 and 30 regional airliners that it wants to introduce beginning in 2008. It is considering the following twin turboprops: Ukraine’s Antonov An-148, the Russian Ilyushin Il-114, the French-Italian ATR 42/72 family, the Canadian Bombardier Dash-8Q Series and China’s Y-7/MA-60.

The selected aircraft will replace aging An-24s on the routes linking the Cuban capital, Havana, with other destinations on the island, as well as neighboring Caribbean and Latin American countries. Modernization of the Cuban air transport system is a major aspect of Cuba’s policy for developing its main hard-currency earners: tourism and sending large numbers of its doctors to work overseas.

According to Cuba’s president, Fidel Castro, the Chinese government has already filed its proposal for the Y-7/MA-60 (an An-24 clone) based on 3-percent credit terms over 17 years. China has sold Cuba tourist buses and cars on the same terms.

Russia is offering the Il-114 and An-148 on similar terms to those used when Cuba bought the Il-96 in 2004. The Caribbean country is also considering adding ATR 42/72s to a handful operating with AeroCaribbean, and Canada, Cuba’s second largest trade partner after Spain, is expected to bid with the Dash-8Q Series.

Cubana is halfway through the fulfillment of a $300 million deal with Ilyushin-Finance on four Il-96-300VIPs, two Tu-204-100 passenger planes and a single Tu-204C freighter. A syndicate of Kremlin-controlled banks–VneshEconom (VEB), VneshTorg (VTB) and RosExIm (REIB)– has arranged a $94 million loan to the
Cuban government for the purchase of two Ilyushin Il-96-300VIPs. The Moscow bankers are now finalizing a second loan for two additional Ilyushins and three Tupolevs signed for in April this year. These are due for delivery in 2006-2007. Then Havana will decide whether to firm up the option for one more Il-96, three Tu-204-300s and two An-148-100s.

Happy with the timely delivery of the first two Il-96-300VIPs–last December and this May–President Castro assured the head of Russia’s federal agency for industry, Boris Alyeshin, that Cuba will return hired Western jets to their owners upon delivery of new Ilyushins and Tupolevs. This seemingly refers to some TACA A320s, Loftleidir Icelandic Boeing 757-200s and AOM French Airlines DC-10s. Castro, however, leaves the door open for non-Russian turboprops.

Cubana believes the new Russian jets will allow it to compete for tourist agency charters with Iberia, Air France, LTU and Aeroflot that carry the bulk of foreign tourists to the island. Tourist flow to Cuba passed the two-million mark last year and continues to grow by 10 to 15 percent annually.