Russia’s Ageing Widebody: The Il-96 Set To Be Re-engined

Russia is set to refresh its Ilyushin Il-96 widebody with a program that will see the rare quadjet be re-engined. Until now, the type has utilized either Aviadvigatel PS-90 or Pratt & Whitney PW2000 series engines. However, going forward, funding has been given to an upgrade scheme that will re-engine the Il-96 with Aviadvigatel PD-35 turbofans.

Ilyushin Il-96 Getty
The Il-96 entered service in December 1992. Photo: Getty Images

What is the Ilyushin Il-96?

Let’s begin by briefly establishing the nature of the Ilyushin Il-96 as a commercial aircraft. This four-engine widebody first flew in September 1988, and entered service just over four years later with Russian flag carrier Aeroflot. It is the successor to another Ilyushin quadjet design, namely the Il-86 family, which sold over 100 units between 1976 and 1991.

The Il-96 hasn’t enjoyed such commercial success, with its current production output being a figure of just 30 aircraft. However, it remains in production today after more than 30 years, and a new version is presently in development. Known as the Il-96-400M, this will offer greater capacity than existing variants, although Ilyushin is yet to find any customers.

The type is rare in commercial circles, with Cubana being the last passenger operator of this forgotten quadjet. However, it also plays a key governmental role, and acts as Russia’s answer to Air Force One. It will soon be refreshed by a re-engining program.

Russia’s Ageing Widebody: The Il-96 Set To Be Re-engined
Cubana is the last airline to operate the II-96 commercially. Photo: Getty Images

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New engines

With Russia also involved in producing a new widebody, namely the CRAIC CR929, it was thought that the writing was on the wall for the Il-96. However, the quadjet family has been given a new lease of life. According to AINonline, the Russian government has confirmed that it will refresh the quadjet by subjecting it to a re-engining program.

This will see the aircraft fitted with new Aviadvigatel PD-35 turbofans. This design is an upcoming derivative of the Russian engine manufacturer’s PD-14 engine (used on the Irkut MC-21). This represents part of the country’s drive to galvanize a more home-grown aviation industry. Russian politician Yuri Borisov told reporters this week that:

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.”

Ilyushin Il-96 Getty
The Il-96 is a key aircraft for the Russian government. Photo: Getty Images

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A possible twinjet reconfiguration

For the Il-96 to be fitted with the new PD-35 turbofans, the aircraft would require a redesign of its wings. AINonline adds that Aviadvigatel expects the new engines to be available by 2025 or 2026. Interestingly, another aircraft that is set to use these turbofans is the CRAIC CR929 twinjet, of which production finally began earlier this week.

With this in mind, Ilyushin’s parent company UAC is also reportedly considering using the new engines to develop a twin-engine version of the Il-96. This would offer lower operating costs than the existing quadjet configuration. This seems to have been in the works for some time, with FlightGlobal having reported on the matter as early as 2018.

What do you make of the plans to re-engine the Ilyushin Il-96? Have you ever flown on one of these Russian quadjets? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!