There are a lot of experts who sincerely believe that there is no sense for Russia to compete with Boeing or Airbus in the class of Il-96 airplanes. Allegedly everything that can be lost has been already lost. However, Il-96 (just few sold in Russia and few exported) remained in the program of developing civil aviation whereas the unique and commercially very successful An-124 was not included in this document. Il-96 has been recently approved for the production plan of the newly created United Aviation-Building Company. Il-96 really lags behind foreign matches in economic parameters and fuel consumption, however, the government intends to support its production in limited numbers. There are several reasons, all different but equally important.
Strategically a country like Russia having global interests cannot remain without an aircraft of this type. Il-96 is the only suitable solution for the command posts of the top commanders. The time when such new posts have to be made is nearing. The aircraft is also the only ready solution for the next generation air tanker. It perfectly suits the needs of the perspective aircraft and can ensure refilling practically anywhere in the world. Developing an alternative model would be far too expensive and technically senseless.
According to the head of Ilyushin Victor Livanov the project of the Il-96 air tanker has been developed and technical evaluation were sent to the Russian Air Force for consideration. In this field Russia is sure to have such influential partners as China and probably India. The former is already expressing interest to the perspective tanker. In the foreseeable future Il-96 will also become the basis for the AWAKS type radar which will be operated by the Russian Armed Forces and in other countries which will be never allowed to buy a US made AWAKS.
The last but not least is that in the long term Russia intends to resume commercial competition with the passenger version of the aircraft which will be developed on the basis of Il-96. There will always be countries which will not be able to buy western made aircraft due to political reasons (especially their military versions). There are perspective customers among such countries for Russia. Il-96 is being constantly upgraded. First of all the improvements take place in engines. The achieved results already lead to several contracts. It is likely that Il-96 will find certain niches not only in Russia.
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