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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Aeroflot Looks West to Replace Il-96 Jets

Aeroflot is negotiating a temporary lease of Western long-haul jets to make up for a shortfall in capacity after the Transportation Ministry grounded the country's fleet of Ilyushin 96-300s for safety reasons earlier this week.

"We are in talks with charter operators to lease a number of long-haul aircraft for the time that the Il-96s are grounded," Aeroflot deputy general director Lev Koshlyakov said in a telephone interview. He declined to provide details.

Aeroflot, which flies six of the 13 Il-96s operated in Russia, had to make significant changes to its schedule after authorities grounded the plane on Monday because of problems with its braking system.

Aeroflot scrambled to use other airplanes, canceled its two weekly flights to Hanoi, reduced the frequency of service to Washington and delayed departures on Toronto-bound flights by one hour.

Aeroflot has suspended flights to Hanoi until Sept. 5, either refunding the full fare or redirecting passengers to other airlines, Aeroflot spokeswoman Irina Dannenberg said.

Il-96s make up 40 percent of Aeroflot's long-haul fleet.

Russia's No. 4 airline, KrasAir, which flies two Il-96s and operates three more on behalf of Domodedovo Airlines, is considering filing a lawsuit against manufacturers for damages once it finishes tallying losses, said spokeswoman Olga Trapeznikova.

She said that the companies had been deprived of jets in the peak season and that KrasAir was using its entire fleet to be able to meet demand.

The unprecedented grounding comes after technical problems forced President Vladimir Putin to switch from his Il-96 to a back-up Il-62 during a visit to Finland earlier this month.

The Transportation Ministry said on Monday that a faulty part in the jet's braking system was reported in several incidents earlier this month. The defect arose because manufacturers did not adhere to the original design, the ministry said.

The Federal Industry Agency said on Tuesday that by the end of the week it would come up with a plan to fix the problem.

It is not clear when the aircraft will be back in service. Aeroflot has said that if the Il-96 is not returned to operation by year's end, the airline is set to lose $30 million -- roughly the price of a Russian-made Tupolev 204.

Both KrasAir and Aeroflot said that besides the problems in the braking system, other malfunctions have occurred in the aircraft's operation.

"There are about 24 components --not critical for safety but that complicate the aircraft's operation -- that need to be fixed, and this list has not been reduced over the past three to four years," Koshlyakov said.

"Aeroflot received this underdeveloped aircraft in 1993 and has invested $70 million of its own money [into improvements], which should have been done by the industry," he added.

Il-96, the last big achievement of the Soviet aviation industry, was designed in 1979 and entered operation in 1993. The plane seats up 300 passengers and has a range of 11,000 kilometers.