Watch: Why One Of World’s Largest Passenger Planes Is Left With No Customers?

Russia is gearing up to build another ‘Doomsday plane’ based on Il-96-400M quad jet airliner. The plane is expected to take to the skies in 2021. Currently, Russia operates Ilyushin Il-80 for command and control operations.

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It will allow to significantly increase the period of airborne combat duty and to extend the radius for troop command, an industry source told the Russian News Agency TASS.

The term ‘Doomsday plane’ was first used in the United States to refer to Airborne Command Posts as they are used in the event of a nuclear war or a major disaster that destroys ground-based command infrastructure.

Developed by Ilyushin, a subsidiary of the state-owned United Aircraft Corporation, the Il-96-400M is a wide-body, long-range airliner based on Il-96, a three-decade-old four-engine aircraft. Il-96 took its first flight in 1988 and was built to compete with Boeing 767.

However, the airplane failed to attract any buyers in Russia or in the foreign market. Since 1988, about 30 of these aircraft were built most of which have been decommissioned. The ones that are still serving as ‘Doomsday planes’ are used for carrying high-ranking officials, including President Vladimir Putin. 

Why Nobody Wants It?

In 2017, Kremlin injected 3.6 billion roubles ($48.45 million) into the Ilyushin Il-96-400M, according to AIN Online. It is unclear why Moscow would decide to pour in so much money in a quad engine aircraft that didn’t see many buyers earlier.

According to Ilyushin, the Il-96-400M is expected to carry up to 370 passengers with a longer fuselage and more powerful turbojet PS-90A1 engines instead of PS-90A with a thrust of 38,360lb. Due to the usage of modern systems and “glass cockpit”, the flight crew of the aircraft will consist of 3 people.

The aerodynamic configuration, design, and aircraft systems employ state-of-the-art engineering solutions, which ensure a high level of safety and effectiveness of aircraft operation. 

With a length of 63.9 meters, the aircraft will have a cruising speed of around 830-850 kilometers per hour with a maximum payload of 58 tons and a fuel capacity of 1.5 lakh liters. 

Last month, Russia’s transport minister proposed to withdraw subsidies for Ilyushin Il-96-400M program and give it to other domestic aircraft. The legislative proposal demands Rb13.8 billion ($181 million), planned for the Il-96-400M this year, to be spent on other programs.

The “current lack of a potential operator” for Il-96-400M, said the draft legislation, presents a risk for the subsidies.

Aerotime Hub speculated that the Il-96-400M project is a stop-gap plane until CR929 – a Sino-Russian aircraft project that has been delayed. In 2014, China and Russia entered into a joint venture China-Russia Commercial Aircraft International Corporation Limited (CRAIC) to develop an “eastern rival” to Boeing 777 and 787, and Airbus A330 and A350.

However, the project ran into problems when China and Russia collided on issues like Russia’s reluctance to share know-how and technology and China didn’t want to pour money in an expensive plane and then buy it from Russia. The project saw delays, pushing the delivery.

As the joint project faced extensive issues, it became clear that either a complete replacement or at least an interim measure was the need of the hour. Even though initially, it might appear that Moscow dusted off its old ideas for new state-of-art Il-96 then and there, it is not really true,” Aerotime Hub noted.

It further added that the more obstacles CR929 encounters, the more attention Russians will commit to the Il-96-400M.