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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ilyushin Sets Its Sights on Market Gap

A joint project between Ilyushin Aircraft and two U. S. avionics firms targeted to fill a $60-billion niche in the otherwise overcrowded world aircraft market is now entering its crucial phase.

Ilyushin, which also produces long-range bombers for Russia's military-industrial complex, signed deals with Pratt & Whitney and Collins Avionics as long ago as June 1991 but the project faces a tight schedule before the test version of its plane, the 11-96 M, is taken out of the workshop in March next year. The plane must be ready to fly in the Paris air show in June.

The 11-96 M will be specially modified for long flights of up to 10, 000 kilometers with a passenger load of over 300. The backlog of firm orders from airlines and leasing companies in this area is estimated at 484 planes with a value of $60. 5 billion.

"We analyzed the world market, discovered there was a shortage and made a plane to fit the hole. The fact that we have Western firms involved shows the project is feasible and real", says Igor Katirev, Ilyushin's chief designer.

For its side of the deal, Ilyushin supplied an 11-96 fuselage but with a 9. 6-meter extension added in the middle to take the plane's passenger capacity from 300 to 360 passengers.

Pratt & Whitney and the German firm MTU Deutsche Aerospace supplied engines and Collins, an arm of Rockwell International, supplied avionics equipment.

The task of the next three months is to put it all together in Ilyushin's prototype factory on Leningradsky Prospekt, starting with the engines that will be in place by Jan. 15.

Russian aerodynamics has a world reputation but Katirev admits the project needed Western engines and wiring to have a hope of selling internationally. Western aviation experts place Russian technology in these areas 10 to 15 years behind competitors.

"What we lacked was image. We are expecting some hesitancy from Western airlines to Russian planes but the 11-96 M will be world standard. It will have full certification from the U. S. Federal Aviation Agency", he said.

The jet's great advantage will be on price. Using the cheap, skilled labor force at its Voronyezh factory, the 11-96 M will sell for about $85 million, compared to $150 million for a long-range Boeing and $110 million for an Airbus A340. Ilyushin has been forced to borrow special credits from the state to complete its share of the 11-96 M. The company has been partly protected from the collapse in Russia's defense purchases by the fact that civil aircraft account for 80 percent of its orders.

Of more concern, however, is the turmoil surrounding the dismemberment of Aeroflot following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the likelihood that Russian Aeroflot is to be privatized. If that happens, a huge captive customer will almost certainly drift toward diversification of its suppliers.

Ilyushin had funding to complete a smaller plane for the Russian market with Russian avionics and engines. Aeroflot was to order 100 of these but in fact, no firm orders have been received. Production lines are being set up to service 30 "optional" orders from Aeroflot and newly created Air Uzbekistan.