Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) completed the first flight of the Ilyushin IL-96-400, an updated and stretched version of the wide-body IL-96-300M. This wide-body aircraft is 30.7 feet longer than the prior version and can accommodate up to 370 passengers.
The aircraft completed its first flight on November 1st and was airborne for a relatively short 26 minutes, reaching an altitude of 6,600 feet and a speed of about 210 knots. A video of the first flight can be found here.
“The first and successful flight of the modernized Il-96-400M is a demonstration of the highest level of competence of domestic aircraft manufacturers. The aircraft not only retained the high performance of the Il-96-300, but also received new operational and transportation capabilities… In the future, the new aircraft will allow us to develop and improve our competencies in creating wide-body long-haul aircraft,” said Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation – Minister of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation Denis Manturov.
Since the war in Ukraine, geopolitical factors have come into play in the aircraft market. Western aircraft are no longer available to Russian airlines after the implementation of economic sanctions by the US. While Russia needs wide-body transports for long-range operations, the IL-96, first introduced in 1992, has a dated and inefficient four-engine design similar to the Airbus A340, which is obsolete and out of production.
The previous agreement between Russia and China to develop the CR929 has dissolved. Russia has a non-western alternative to Western wide-bodies with the new model of the IL-96. China, at this point, does not. The partnership break-up will likely add five years plus to the development time frame for a competing Chinese wide-body aircraft.
Western components have been replaced by Russian components for the new model. This includes the full avionics suite, as well as new Aviadvigatel PS-90-A1 engines.
Russia and Ukraine jointly participated in several aircraft projects before the war, with the Antonov Design Bureau in Kyiv. The very large An-124 and An-225 freighters were joint projects that would be unlikely to resume cooperatively.
Russia now has a full product line of aircraft designs and sizes, including the Sukhoi Superjet SJ-100, the Tupolev Tu-214, the Irkut MC-21-300, and now the IL-96-400, ranging from 100-370 seats in capacity. Their significant difficulty is gearing up production to meet mainly local airline demand.
Environmentally, the PS90-A1 engines are not as efficient as their Western counterparts, leaving the aircraft subject to higher landing fees in the West in a post-war environment whenever that occurs. The four-engined IL-96-400, despite an updated design, cannot effectively compete with today’s twin-engine Western competitors of similar size.
Every IL-96-400 delivered will likely be an aircraft that could have been an Airbus or Boeing sale (particularly given their superior efficiency and operating economics) that now will not happen. With the geopolitical situation clouded in uncertainty regarding the time frame for a positive outcome for Ukraine, Russia must provide its lift. The IL-96-400 provides a wide-body alternative for long-haul operations.