Friday, April 08, 2011

The broad path the Russians should follow to sustain and grow sales of Ilyushin Il-96 aircraft

The Ilyushin Il-96 is a nice, large-sized aircraft. It's relatively modern, large, based on the proven Il-86 product, and crucially, it hasn't faced the quality/reliability issues that have plagued the Tupolev Tu-204. Plus, it's significantly cheaper than comparable offerings from Airbus/Boeing. Equally importantly, it belongs to the Russians' political camp, meaning thereby that anti-America nations such as Iran and Venezuela can buy it.

A beautiful Il-96 taxiing in Poland. (Source)

However, these good points aside, the Il-96 can't really match the comfort, economics/efficiency, prestige, quality, reliability and safety of comparable aircraft from Airbus and Boeing. Additionally, while all-new Russian aircraft are being developed in the small and medium categories (Sukhoi Superjet 100 and Irkut MS-21), there's no program to develop an ultra-modern, large-sized airliner to replace Il-96. Finally, as of today, the Il-96 has logged negligible sales.

What should the Russians do to sustain and grow the sales of Il-96? I think UAC should launch a program to release an overhauled and Westernized version of the Il-96, with the specific intent of selling it to the West. The Superjet 100 and MS-21 both incorporate a large amount of Western technology, and it shouldn't be a concern if this Westernized version of Il-96 also relies significantly on Western technology. The objective, it should be remembered, is to steal at least some sales from Airbus and Boeing. And any airline that matters in the West asks for brute quality, something that can't be achieved using contemporary Russian technology alone. In any case, if pure Russian Il-96 results in zero sales in the West, and a hybrid Russian-Western Il-96 results in some sales in the West, then choosing the latter is preferable.

Apart from this, I think UAC should also do what Airbus and Boeing do - release frequent and regular updates to their aircraft, that improve performance and reliability, reduce cost and increase safety. The Il-96 is a nice aircraft that can sell more than it's selling at the moment. There's no other aircraft of this size at this price (neither passenger nor cargo), but the Russians apparently aren't taking advantage of this strong advantage.

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