Russia’s New 400 Seat Widebody Won’t Go Into Mass Production

The Russian project to update the Ilyushin 96 has reportedly been abandoned. The Il-96-400M was planned to be a four engine passenger plane with capacity for more than 400 people. In light of the downturn in travel demand and the lack of orders for the type, it seems Russia has reconsidered its plan to mass-produce the plane.

il 96 400m
The Il-96-400M will not be mass-produced. Photo: UAC

Russian quadjet is put on ice

It seems that Russian company United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) has finally given up on its hope of mass-producing a widebody passenger airliner. The Il-96-400M has been mooted for several years to be Russia’s answer to the long-haul passenger market, setting up competition for Airbus and Boeing in this niche.

But the Il-96-400M was not entirely tailored for the current environment. As a quadjet, it would join the ranks of rapidly disappearing aircraft types, such as the A340. Also requiring three crew in the cockpit, it was adding up to make for a type that would be expensive to operate in every respect.

As such, it’s not a huge surprise that UAC has decided to abandon the project. Sources speaking to Russian publication Vedomosti said that the mass production of the type is no longer planned. However, the office of the Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov left the door open to backtracking on that in the future, stating,

“There is no order from airlines, and taking into account COVID-19 and the downtime of long-haul aircraft around the world, serial production of the Il-96-400M is not yet planned.”

Il 96 400m in assembly
A prototype has been in production for several years. Photo: UAC

The Il-96-400M was set to supersede the Il-96-300, a plane that has been in production since 1993. It would have a longer fuselage, new avionics and various other modifications. It would fly up to 402 passengers to a range of 8,750 km. There has been a prototype in production for some years now, and a first flight was expected by the end of this year.

However, with no orders for the type and reportedly spiraling project costs, it seems like the Il-94-400M will never fly. Or will it?

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Two units will be built

Although hopes of mass production are rapidly grinding to a halt, Voronezh Aircraft Manufacturing Company (VASO) will actually assemble a working model. In fact, it plans to assemble two, which will be delivered to Rossiya Airlines for senior governmental transport.

UAC is not starting from a completely blank sheet here. The Il-96-400T freighter variant already uses many of the components of the passenger version. Indeed, one model of the freighter has already been converted for passenger service for use by the government.

Only two -400M will be built, both for Rossiya for governmental operations. Photo: UAC

Regarding timelines, the two governmental planes are expected to be ready to enter service in 2023. Successful production of these two examples could, potentially, coincide with an uptick in international passenger demand, so the project could yet be revived. However, that doesn’t overcome the limitations of the four engines and three crew cockpit.

For the time being, UAC will be turning its efforts to the joint project with China, the CR929. In contrast to the Ilyushin concept, this aircraft will have just two engines, composite construction, and far more efficiency in operations. As such, it is expected to compete with the likes of the Dreamliner, but at a lower purchase price.