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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Approves Russian Plane

The United States on Wednesday certified the first Russian-made airplane for use by U.S. airlines. Officials said the precedent could open Western markets to the Russian aviation industry.

The aircraft certified by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is the Il-103 light airplane, developed by the Ilyushin Design Bureau. It will be produced by the defense company MAPO in its first venture into civilian aircraft production. "[The Il-103] is a small airplane but it amply reflects the long path traversed by Russian aviation as well as Russian-U.S. joint efforts in this field," said Gennady Zaitsev, head of Russia's Federal Aviation Service.

The United States and Russia on Wednesday also signed a protocol providing for mutual recognition of each other's safety certification standards. This will facilitate certification of other Russian aircraft, and the long-haul Il-96T cargo plane is expected to be certified shortly.

The accord was the result of seven years of hard work during which U.S. aviation authorities studied Russian production facilities and aeronautical systems.

The ceremony celebrating the certification of the Il-103, attended by U.S Ambassador to Russia James Collins, was a triumph of sorts for Russian aviation, which in the past was often accused of lagging behind its Western counterparts in terms of safety standards. Access to foreign markets could help Russian airplane factories solve financial problems caused by a collapse in domestic demand.

U.S. recognition of Russian airplanes automatically opens the doors to European certification as well.

Dennis Cooper, the Federal Aviation Administration's representative in Russia, said the Il-103 could have a bright future in the United States.

"There are many people in the United States who would be interested in the Il-103," Cooper said. "If Ilyushin markets the plane well, we may soon see it flying in U.S. skies."

Independent aviation expert Paul Duffy said Ilyushin would have to put together an attractive package in order to ring up some sales. "If the price is right and spare parts are available in the U.S. they can hope to sell 500 to 1000 aircraft over the next 10 years," he said.

But the right price would have to be lower than the current $150,000, Duffy said. At that price, the Il-103 six-seater is only slightly cheaper than a comparable Piper or Cessna model. The price difference would need to reach at least 25 percent before customers are prepared to sacrifice their established brand preferences, Duffy said.