Cubana’s Il-96-300 ready as VASO gets a boost

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The first Ilyushin Il-96-300 with an English-language cockpit has been rolled out for Cubana, as builder VASO secures funding to boost production at its Voronezh plant.

Cubana is taking two new Il-96s this year, both equipped with a quick-change cabin that can be configured for either VIP or airline use. The aircraft is equipped with 18 business and 244 economy seats for passenger service, but it can easily be reconfigured into a VIP transport for Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

The cockpit has an upgraded avionics suite to enable the aircraft to operate to the latest international navigation and precision approach standards. After a short flight-test programme, certification is expected by the end of September with deliveries to Cubana due in October and November.

Cubana has operated a wet-leased Domodedovo Airlines Il-96-300 on twice-daily charter flights between Havana and Caracas, Venezuela since June.

The airline is taking the new Il-96s on 15-year leases after Cuba’s Aviaimport state agency provided 15% of the $110 million required to fund the deal. The remaining 85% will come as a syndicated loan from Russian and non-Cuban banks arranged by Ilyushin-Finance under a special order from the Russian government.

VASO’s efforts to increase production have received a boost from the National Reserve Bank and Sberbank, which have opened credit lines to fund improvements to the plant. This should enable VASO to produce 10 Il-96s and 40 Antonov An-148 regional jets annually.

In 2004, VASO delivered three Il-96s, including a Russian presidential aircraft operated by GTK Rossiya. As well as the two Cubana aircraft, this year’s production could include the first of six Il-96s for Aeroflot, which are the only remaining -300s on order.

Production of the stretched Il-96-400 should begin late next year to launch customers Atlant-Soyuz and Volga-Dnepr. Each has ordered two of the cargo version.

VLADIMIR KARNOZOV/VORONEZH