The present uncertainty surrounding commercial aviation makes it a challenging time to be developing a new aircraft. With passenger numbers unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels for the foreseeable future, the future role of larger aircraft has been called into question. Nonetheless, Russia’s Ilyushin Design Bureau is heading towards a key milestone for a 370-seat widebody airliner, known as the Il-96-400M.
A brief history of the Ilyushin Il-96
Ilyushin produced the Il-96 as a long-range, short-fuselage development of its existing Il-86. This had been the Soviet Union’s first widebody airliner, and it entered service in 1980. By the end of the decade, the Il-96 had made its first test flight (in 1988), and 1992 saw it receive certification. This was also the year that it eventually entered service with Aeroflot.
The type’s initial production variant was the Il-96-300, which has a standard two-class capacity of 262 passengers. This can be as high as 300 in a high-density all-economy layout. With a range of around 11,000 km (5,940 NM), it could fly directly from Moscow to the US West Coast. Cubana has also flown the aircraft directly between Cuba and European destinations like Madrid. Other variants include the stretched-fuselage Il-96M, and the cargo-carrying Il-96T.
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The upcoming Il-96-400M variant
Ilyushin’s latest development of this four-engine widebody family is the Il-96-400M. The company claims that this version will offer increased capabilities compared to existing variants “due to the longer fuselage and more powerful PS-90A1 engines.” The proposed capacity is 370.
Interestingly, in what appears to be a step backwards, the aircraft will feature a three-person cockpit. On the other hand, the aforementioned Il-96M and Il-96T variants require just two crew members to be present on the flight deck. According to Ilyushin, the need for a third crew member is “due to the usage of modern systems and [a] ‘glass cockpit.'”
According to AeroTime, the Il-96-400M is one of two Russian widebodies currently in development. The other is the Chinese-Russian CR929, which will begin production this year. Ilyushin’s aircraft is a little further down the line, and it expects that 2021 will see the type’s first test flight. The CR929 is considered a stronger competitor against Western aircraft. This is despite the fact that, according to AeroTime, the Russian government poured 2.4 billion rubles ($30 million) into the Il-96-400M’s development in 2016. And yet, it is still without any orders.
No customers as yet
A potentially worrying problem that Ilyushin will have to overcome to get its Il-96-400M into service is its present lack of customers. As Simple Flying reported last October, the Russian manufacturer is yet to receive any firm orders from airlines for its new quadjet.
This is perhaps unsurprising, as, statistically, it compares very poorly to twin-engine competitors such as the Airbus A350-1000 and Boeing 777-9. With a lower capacity and range than both of these aircraft, there is very little in the Il-96-400M’s favor.
With four engines, it will also lack the fuel efficiency of these next-generation twinjets. Nonetheless, Ilyushin seems determined to push on with the project, and its first flight is expected to take place later this year. Beyond that lies a very uncertain future indeed.
What do you make of the proposed Ilyushin Il-96-400M? Have you ever flown on an older variant of the Il-96? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!