Max Kingsley-Jones/LONDON

China Xinjiang airlines is expected to conclude negotiations next month over an order for three Ilyushin Il-96-300s, worth about $100 million.

The Urumqi-based carrier is finalising the order for the Russian four-engined widebody with the VASO production plant in Voronezh. The acquisition of three spare Aviadvigatel PS-90A turbofans is also being discussed with engine builder Perm Motors.

Production of the short-fuselage, long-range 230-seater has been running at a trickle in recent years at VASO, alongside the stretched Pratt & Whitney PW2337-powered Il-96M/T version. Just 11 -300s have been completed and delivered since the first aircraft was produced seven years ago. The aircraft are in service with three airlines - Aeroflot (six), Domodedovo (three) and Atlant Soyuz (one) - and one is operated by the Russian presidential flight.

Five more Il-96-300s are in the final stages of assembly at VASO, and are earmarked for Aeroflot's follow-on order for six aircraft. Deliveries to Aeroflot are due to begin in February, but some of these airframes are likely to be diverted to Xinjiang, otherwise the Chinese airline could face a two-to three-year wait for its Il-96s.

Xinjiang is one of several Chinese airlines with Russian-built jets, operating five Tupolev Tu-154Ms alongside three examples of the Il-96's predecessor, the Il-86. The medium-range jets - the only widebodies in the fleet - are operated on its trunk routes within Asia, and occasionally on flights to Moscow with two technical stops.

The longer-range Il-96-300s are expected to be deployed on the most dense routes, boosting operational flexibility and providing improved economics.

Source: Flight International