Carrier completes deal for six Il-96s to join Western types, as Soviet aircraft are retired

With the renewal of its Western aircraft fleet under way, Aeroflot Russian Airlines has began an overhaul of its Russian-built inventory. The carrier has finalised a long-awaited deal to purchase six additional Ilyushin Il-96s and upgrade in-service aircraft, coinciding with the retirement of several fleets of older Soviet-era types.

General director Valery Okulov signed the formal contract for six new Il-96-300s on 30 December. Deliveries will begin in mid-2005. The aircraft are being leased from Ilyushin-Finance (IFC), which is funding their construction at the VASO factory in Voronezh.

Okulov says the signing of the final contract with IFC came after the two sides agreed terms on two issues that had been holding up the deal - specifications for the avionics and cabin interior. The aircraft will be the first Russian airliners to feature new cocoon-type business seats, which will be arranged at 58in (147cm) pitch.

The deal includes the upgrade of Aeroflot's six in-service Il-96-300s with the new cabin from later this year. These aircraft will remain in service alongside a largely Western fleet that will comprise Airbus A320 family aircraft and Boeing 767s once the current renewal programme is completed.

The phase-out of the Soviet-era Ilyushin Il-76 freighter was completed at the end of 2003. Six of Aeroflot's 10 Il-76s will be scrapped and the rest sold. These ageing freighters have effectively been replaced by McDonnell Douglas DC-10-40Fs - four of which are operated on trans-Siberian routes between Europe and China, Japan, and South Korea. From next year, the airline plans to begin replacing the DC-10s with Boeing MD-11Fs.

Next on the agenda for retirement is the Ilyushin Il-86 widebody, which the airline is expected to phase out by the end of the year. Although it has 14 Il-86s, the operational fleet numbers less than six aircraft. These are used during the carrier's summer season and during new year holidays.

This will leave Aeroflot with 33 older Russian-built aircraft - 13 Tupolev Tu-134s (including two VIP-configured aircraft) and 20 Tupolev Tu-154Ms. These are expected to remain in service for another three to five years.

Source: Flight International