Paul Duffy/MOSCOW

The development of a Russian-engined version of the Ilyushin Il-96T freighter is being discussed by leasing company Ilyushin Finance and the design bureau. First customer for the aircraft is likely to be Atlant Soyuz, Russia's fourth largest cargo carrier, which has signed an outline agreement to lease 10 from Ilyushin Finance, which has dubbed the variant the Il-96-400T.

The four engined, 92t payload freighter would use the airframe of the Pratt & Whitney PW2337-powered Il-96T, and be equipped with Aviadvigatel PS-90A engines. Russian avionics would replace the Il-96T's US-sourced Rockwell items. The aircraft, which would offer a similar payload to the Boeing MD-11F, has a list price of around $38 million. Atlant Soyuz wants to introduce the new model into service by 2003.

Moscow-based Atlant Soyuz signed a framework agreement with Ilyushin Finance earlier this month, for 10 Il-96-400Ts on 12-year operating leases, along with four Tupolev Tu-204 freighters. Russian industry observers believe the move signals the "beginning of recovery" of the domestic aviation industry.

Ilyushin Finance aims to fund the development and certification of the new model if it goes ahead. The leasing company's director Alexander Rubtsov says it will take a year to finalise the specification of the new variant, to arrange financing and to complete contracts with the production plants in Voronezh and Ulyanovsk.

"The PS-90A's lower power will result in some loss of range or payload," he says. "But the Il-96T is already certificated, so it should require a relatively simple certification programme, involving the change of engines and avionics." He adds that Western certification for the type is also planned.

Seven-year old Atlant Soyuz operates passenger and cargo services with a fleet of over 20 aircraft. The majority of its business - 85% - is cargo operations, and it is experiencing particularly strong demand in the transport of Chinese consumer products into Russia.

Ilyushin Finance's first leasing project was signed in late 1999 and involved the lease of six Il-96-300s to Aeroflot and up to 10 Tu-204/214s for Transaero. The leasing plan has been effectively stalled over the issue of Russian Government guarantees, which are vital to enable the banks and financial institutions to release funding.

No government guarantees for aviation leasing have been provided this year, but this issue should be resolved as part of the concept for Russia's civil aviation development which is due to be presented to the government next month. This will include a decree on the future of aviation leasing programmes for its domestically manufactured aircraft.

Source: Flight International