Russia’s new airframing consortium OAK has won government approval to continue limited production of widebody airliners. This covers assembly of 15 Ilyushin Il-96s in the 2008 to 2012 time frame, allowing the Voronezh Aircraft Production Association (VASO) to maintain annual production rates of three aircraft. The government approval is necessary for Ilyushin’s leasing group, and airline customers to have access to low-cost state-backed financing.
“We will maintain low rate Il-96 production for awhile,” said OAK president Aleksei Fedorov, “although we understand that this type loses out somewhat to modern Boeings and Airbuses on fuel burn and operational economics.”
Ilyushin general director Victor Livanov told Aviation International News that “the Il-96 has been leading a hard life and its future is not any brighter.” One of the model’s fundamental problems is that, like similar four-engine jetliners, it inevitably burns significantly more fuel than modern twinjet alternatives such as the Airbus A330 and Boeing 777.
Nonetheless, OAK and Ilyushin Finance still hope to sell or lease all the new Il-96s as they sell for around half the price of comparable Western rivals.
Fedorov also confirmed that OAK is committed to developing a new widebody model that would be optimized for short to medium ranges–replacing the Il-86. In fact, the concept for the “Il-86 Next Generation” might find support from EADS and its Airbus subsidiary. The European manufacturer, seen as a likely strategic partner for OAK, almost certainly would rather have Russians focusing on this market niche than see the A320 family encroached on by China’s proposed MS-21.
At the same time, according to Russian negotiators, Airbus refuses to accept Russia’s desire for a leading role in a successor to the A320. Instead, the European airframer is offering Russia the chance to focus on a new aircraft program that would be either smaller or larger. The Il-86NG would fill a niche that would have been filled by the now-abandoned A330-100/500.
China may also be a supporter of the Il-86NG. That country’s aerospace industry has its own plans for a so-called “Big Airplane” project, with the current iteration envisioning a 200- to 250-seater, just above the A320 family. The People’s Republic has said that it will insist on a leading role in any such program, in the event that the Chinese government gives the AVIC I corporation approval to launch it.
Discussions on possible cooperation on the “Big Airplane” have been under way for almost two years under the auspices of the Sino-Russian Interstate Commission on Civil Aviation. With the help of Russian specialists, a special Chinese “brainstorming” group independent of AVIC I is determining design targets for the future transport. Product specifications are expected late this year or early next.
It is believed that the group is shaping a trunk-liner concept with capacity of between 200 and 250 seats to serve China’s rapidly growing domestic network. The A321 is considered too small for the job, while all recent Airbus and Boeing widebody designs are optimized for long-haul flights.
The Chinese aircraft would have a maximum range of just over 2,700 nm and would be designed for short-cycle, fast-turnaround operations. Russia has offered China the Il-96 as a base platform for the new jet, which tentatively has been designated the Il-98. The new design would shed two of the Il-96’s four engines while keeping the Il-96-300 fuselage and making it lighter.