Paul Duffy/MOSCOW

AEROFLOT-RUSSIAN International Airlines (ARIA) has confirmed plans to lease further Western aircraft until upgraded Russian aircraft become available.

Replacement of ARIA's 116-strong fleet of ageing and fuel-inefficient aircraft is a priority, acknowledges airline chief executive Vladimir Tikhonov, giving his report on the airline's performance in 1994.

ARIA aims eventually to replace its medium-range fleet with new Tupolev Tu-204 narrowbodies, but is concerned about the inefficiency of their Aviadvigatel PS-90A engines.

The alternatives are to wait for either the upgraded PS-90P version of the engine, being worked upon by Aviadvigatel in partnership with Pratt & Whitney, or for certification of the Bravia Tu-204, powered by Rolls-Royce RB.211- 535Hs.

In the interim, ARIA plans to lease five-to-seven Western aircraft in the 160-seat class. The Airbus A320 and Boeing 737-400 are the leading contenders.

Sources involved in the negotiations suggest that the 737 is becoming the favourite, noting that ARIA has shown little interest in A320s, which are immediately available from lessor Orix or from Airbus. Talks on the 737 continue, although the required number of 737-400s would have to be obtained from several sources.

ARIA has also joined with Ilyushin and the Voronezh production plant, to help fund the test-flight programme for the P&W-powered version of the Il-96, for which it has 20 orders. Meanwhile, it has taken delivery of the first four Ilyushin Il-96-300s powered by the PS-90A.

The carrier says that it is pushing the Ilyushin and Tupolev design bureaux to achieve greater systems-communality between the Il-96 and Tu-204. Areas being investigated include systems control, area navigation and data recorders.

Other discussions are under way over desired upgrades to the Il-96-300 design. These include improving engine performance and maintainability.

ARIA is also joining a programme to upgrade the Il-86 with CFM International CFM56-5 powerplants and new interiors. The carrier is looking at upgrades for 14 of its Il-86 fleet, but Tikhonov says that the total could be raised to at least 40 aircraft if other Russian airlines join the programme. If these numbers are achieved, the total programme cost is being put at around $870 million.

New interiors on the Il-86 and Il-96 are due to be produced locally in co-operation with US company United Interiors, reports Gennady Anikaev, ARIA's director of technical operations.

ARIA has also launched a programme with Ilyushin to replace the Aviadvigatel D30-KUs on its 19 Il-76s with PS-90As.

Source: Flight International