The Forgotten QuadJet: Ilyushin’s Il-96

Cubana is the world’s last remaining commercial user of the Ilyushin 96 (Il-96), with just two aircraft in active service. Indeed, there are just 13 active II-96s globally, across commercial, government, and other operators. We take a look back at the type and see that the 4,203-mile domestic service from Moscow Sheremetyevo to Petropavlovsk was the aircraft’s top route.

Cubana is the last airline to operate the II-96 commercially, with two active examples. Photo: Getty Images.

There have never been many commercial operators of the aircraft, with just four since 2004: Krasnoyarsk Airlines (KrasAir); Domodedovo Airlines; Aeroflot; and Cubana. And of these, it was really all about Aeroflot and Cubana. Between them, they had approximately 41,000 of the 46,000 IL-96-operated scheduled services in the past 17 years, analyzing data from Cirium indicates.

Aeroflot used the II-96 until 2014. Photo: Aleksandr Markin via Wikimedia.

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46,000 commercial flights in 17 years

Built by the Ilyushin Design Bureau, the Il-96 is a shortened, long-range, and advanced technology development of Russia’s first widebody airliner, the Il-86. Unlike the -86, the -96 has winglets, a glass cockpit, and a fly-by-wire control system.

The first Il-96-300, the base and ultimately primary variant, took to the skies in 1988, with Aeroflot the launch customer five years later. And in 2018, Ilyushin said that it was to build a modern and very upgraded version of the -96, becoming the II-96-400M.

However, the -400M has struggled greatly, attracting very little interest even from governments and military operators, a key source of custom for Russian-built aircraft. In April 2021, Aerotime Hub reported that mass production of the -400M had been canceled, with just two aircraft to be built.

On June 8th, CU-T1251 operated Madrid-Santiago (Cuba)-Havana. Image: RadarBox.com.

Top-10 II-96 routes in the past 17 years

With over 3,700 round-trip flights, the Moscow Sheremetyevo to Petropavlovsk – a domestic route in Russia some 4,203 miles long – saw the most Il-96 services, as follows. This is based on combining all years since 2004. This route was operated by Aeroflot until 2012, two years before the airline retired the aircraft.

  1. Moscow Sheremetyevo to Petropavlovsk
  2. Sheremetyevo-Delhi
  3. Sheremetyevo-Bangkok
  4. Havana-Madrid
  5. Moscow Domodedovo-Krasnoyarsk
  6. Sheremetyevo-Khabarovsk
  7. Havana-Buenos Aires
  8. Sheremetyevo-Seoul
  9. Sheremetyevo-Istanbul Ataturk
  10. Havana-Paris Orly

Unexpectedly, the author of this article has flown two of the top-10 routes: Aeroflot from both Delhi to Sheremetyevo (served until 2009) and Sheremetyevo to Istanbul (until 2014). They were exciting and certainly felt different and exotic, even with a ~04:00 departure from India. One memory is of carpet coming up!

The Il-96’s top-10 routes between 2004 and 2021. Image: GCMap. to

Aeroflot retired the type in 2014

Aeroflot retired the II-96 in 2014. This was an acceleration of its plans, as is so common now in this coronavirus era, not helped by poor economics. Hardly much of a surprise given four engines and old technology, the same true of multiple quads now.

In that final year, Aeroflot used the type to three destinations from its Sheremetyevo hub: domestically to Sochi, and internationally to Istanbul and Tashkent (Uzbekistan). The end came on Sunday, March 30th, as RA-96008 touched down in Sheremetyevo from the Uzbek capital.

The aircraft, ‘008, had been with Aeroflot since July 1993, ch-aviation.com shows, with Cubana using it as CU-T1717 from September 2014. It is presently stored.

Between 2004 and 2014, Aeroflot used the II-96 to 36 international destinations. These include those mentioned earlier, together with the likes of London Heathrow, Sharm El Sheikh, Antalya, Salzburg, and Hanoi, where this image was taken. Photo: M Radzi Desa via Wikimedia.

The II-96 in 2021

Cubana is still using the II-96 (CU-T1250 and CU-TI1251) on scheduled services, along with charters. (‘250 flew from Sheremetyevo back to Havana on June 10th, having operated a charter service to Russia.) Havana to Madrid is by far the leading route, typically operating via Santiago (Cuba), joined by Havana-Buenos Aires (normally via Cayo Coco) and Havana-Caracas.

Have you flown the Il-96? If so, what are your thoughts about it? Let us know by commenting.

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