Il-96-400M – it’s all so clear that it needs to be clarified

Photo by © Pavel Shapka /

The Comprehensive Development Programme of the Russian aviation industry until 2030 provides for the delivery of twelve Il-96-300 wide-body aircraft. At the same time, the relevant departments and organisations, as well as the expert community and mass media are actively discussing the resumption of production of IL-96 airliners in a larger and more passenger-capable version IL-96-400M. However, there are no plans to build this aircraft for commercial transportations, its production will be a one-off production in the interests of government agencies and as a cargo aircraft.

At first glance this situation may seem incomprehensible and paradoxical: the decision to produce IL-96-400M was taken at the level of the President. One aircraft was built, albeit with a great delay, and it took to the air in November 2023. But it is not in the government’s plans, and there is a less spacious version that is not attractive for airlines from the economic point of view.

What UAC will build in the next eight years

Reports about the resumption of production of the IL-96 in the -400M version and the development of a joint Russian-Chinese project of a wide-body long-range CR929 aircraft, appeared almost simultaneously in 2014-2015. In September 2016, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said during a visit to Voronezh that in the period until the CR929 is built, which is approximately 2027, the Il-96-400M will cover Russia’s main needs both on routes to the Far East and in terms of charter services to Asian and North African resorts, where spacious aircraft are needed.

Around the same time the topic of IL-96 remotorisation for two high thrust PD-35 engines was born. Such modernisation would allow the aircraft to compete in terms of fuel efficiency with any foreign airliner of similar class. But this would require the readiness of the PD-35, and would also require a major modernisation and development of a composite wing.

In 2022, the geopolitical situation changed dramatically, which directly affected many Russian civil aviation projects. Unlike the MS-21 and Superjet, the IL-96 programme has been minimally affected by sanctions and bans, but their impact has changed the airliner’s prospects.

IL-96-300 returns to Freedom Island

Firstly, Russia had to give up its participation in the development of the CR929 so that China’s COMAC would have freedom of action in the implementation of this aircraft project, which changed its name to C929. UAC will supply the composite wing and possibly the PD-35 engine for it.

Secondly, in the current situation the Russian government decided not to allocate budget funds for certification and bringing the IL-96-400M to serial production, but to concentrate on the production of the IL-96-300. The total cost of the IL-96-400M development programme and delivery of six serial aircraft was estimated at about 50 billion rubles. Therefore, in the comprehensive programme adopted in the summer of 2022 and adjusted a year later, this aircraft is not mentioned, and instead it was decided to produce 12 IL-96-300 airliners in seven years, which are already being built slowly at VASO.

According to the civil aviation market forecast for the period from 2019 to 2038, which was prepared by the United Aircraft Corporation for the next MAKS-2019 air show (this is the most recent data), the demand for wide-body aircraft is estimated at 140 units, of which 63 aircraft belong to the group of up to 300 seats. Now Russian airlines have about one hundred wide-body airliners in operation, including A330, A350, B767, B777. In the coming years, this segment can be covered by the existing fleet, new Il-96-300 aircraft and in the future, if COMAC does not fall far behind schedule, some number of C929s with PD-35 engines.

As for the IL-96-400M, in the summer of 2022 the media, citing a source in the aircraft industry, reported that the decision on the feasibility of serial production of this version of the airliner will be made after certification tests of the machine, and the first copy will be used as a flying laboratory.

To the first flight of the Russian widebody IL-96-400M aircraft

On November 6, 2023, Denis Manturov, Deputy Prime Minister and Head of the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation, told journalists on the sidelines of the exhibition-forum “Russia” that the IL-96-400M aircraft is planned to be used for the needs of state special aviation and cargo transportation and confirmed its purpose as a flying laboratory, while forming a programme for a heavy wide-body aircraft.

In an interview with RIA Novosti at the end of the year, the Deputy Prime Minister somewhat specified the plans for the new aircraft: “In addition to the Il-96-400, we are conducting research and development work on a completely new next-generation wide-body long-haul aircraft, which should be created beyond the horizon of 2030. In the future, the aircraft could be used for passenger transport, but before that it is necessary to choose the optimal engine thrust solution: 26, 35 or 38 tonnes. Designers, engine builders and aviators are currently working on it, and after we receive the final design of the demonstrator in March, it will be clear in which direction we need to move”.

But it is already clear that due to the high cost of certification and low serialisation of the IL-96-400M, as well as the non-competitiveness of the 4-engine aircraft against 2-engine “foreigners”, it is inexpedient to speed up the production of the IL-96. In the form in which it exists (version -300 or -400M), the aircraft has no commercial prospects.

At the same time, remotorisation for PD-35 engines will inevitably lead to the necessity to redesign the wing. AeroComposite JSC has gained a very good experience in the creation of composite consoles – this is the wing for MS-21 and for C929. Taking into account that the diameter of the PD-35 fan is 3100 mm and that of the PS-90A fan is 1900 mm, it will also be necessary to redesign the pylons, landing gear and fuselage, i.e. practically the whole aircraft. Therefore, IL-96 remotorisation is also inexpedient, and the question arises of developing a new wide-body long-haul airliner, where IL-96 will be its base.