Russian Government Breathes New Life Into Il-96 Airliner

 - September 23, 2021, 4:25 AM
The Russian government is backing a new plan to re-engine Ilyushin's Il-96 airliner.

Russian taxpayers are to support the production of the aging Ilyushin Il-96 airliner through an upgrade program that would see Aviadvigatel’s planned new PD-35 turbofans installed. Yuri Borisov, the government’s first deputy minister for the military-industrial complex, confirmed the new funding decision to reporters this week, refuting earlier press reports that production of the aircraft would cease to clear the way for the new CR929 widebody jet being developed jointly by Russia and China.

According to Borisov, the United Aircraft Corporation’s VASO plant in Voronezh is now completing work on four new Il-96-300s in the standard factory configuration first adopted back in 1988, when the type flew for the first time. All commercial airlines that flew this version have withdrawn it from active service except Cubana de Aviacion, but the four-engined aircraft remains operational with Russia’s governmental air detachment serving top state officials.

Not only has the Kremlin kept ordering new Il-96-300s but the government also has purchased and funded refits on pre-owned airframes to press them back into service. This is being done to reduce Russia’s reliance on imported Boeing and Airbus airliners in view of the tightening economic sanctions regime imposed on Moscow by the U.S. and its European allies.

Borisov further stated that the Il-96-400M prototype, with fuselage extended by almost 31 feet, will be completed later this year. It will undergo flight trials to evaluate a new avionics suite that is to be installed later on new-build aircraft.

The government’s position on supporting legacy aircraft programs like the Il-96 appears to have shifted. Earlier, it had been proposed that the program should be wound up as part of a series of proposed measures to cut state funding for slow-selling products and instead increase support for new airliners.

However, at July’s MAKS air show in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin convened a meeting to re-assess the government’s approach to ongoing and future civil aviation programs. At this event, it was decided to increase funding for those to around $4.4 billion, from both public funds and commercial investors.

“This figure is still being disputed, but the way we will act has been chartered,” Borisov told reporters this week. “At MAKS, we agreed to accomplish all major ongoing research and development efforts, a motion that the president supported. What we need is to refine some indigenous aircraft designs, make them competitive, and put them into production so as to replace imported products that now dominate [Russian] domestic air routes.”

Borisov explained that the need to save the Il-96 widebody is based on the re-assessment that it is a successful design that will be more competitive with Western aircraft when its current PD-90A engines are replaced with the latest PD-35 turbofans. In fact, with the new powerplant on offer, UAC is considering the case for a twin-engine version of the airliner offering improved operating costs.

Although the PD-35 is being developed for the new CR929, it would be suitable for installation on the  Il-96, albeit with some redesign work for the wings required. Under Aviadvigatel’s current plans, the new engine should be available in 2025 or 2026.