The aeronautics industry has already understood that twin-engine jets are incomparably more economical than three-engine and four-engine aircraft. The failure of A380 sales and the disappearance of Boeing 747 and A340 customers confirm this.
But some still believe in a four-engine aircraft, the Russian UAC company. The conglomerate that runs Russia’s leading aircraft manufacturers has invested in the modernization project of the Ilyushin Il-96, now under the designation Il-96-400M and with the longer 8.6 meter fuselage.
A prototype is being assembled at VASO (Voronezh Aircraft Production Association), a division of UAC that is currently also responsible for the development of the Il-112V turboprop.
According to VASO, the Il-96-400M is expected to be completed in the year when it will be transferred to Ilyushin which will be testing the prototype in flight from 2021. The Russian government is supporting the construction of six units of the new jet, which can carry up to 402 passengers in a single class.
To save resources, VASO is using the Il-96-400T fuselage, a 64 meter long cargo variant. Images from the airplane cabin show that the focus will be on passenger comfort with individual seat screens, onboard Wi-Fi and other common amenities on Western aircraft.
Russia’s decision to invest in a four-engine widebody sounds counterintuitive, especially as the Il-96-400M will use the old-design, high-fuel PS-90A1 engines.
To get an idea of the inefficiency of the Russian jet, it has a range of 10,000 km and carries 150,000 liters of kerosene. The Airbus A330-900neo twin-engine, which has similar passenger capacity, can fly 13,400 km and carry 140,000 liters of fuel.
The only reasonable explanation for launching the Il-96-400M is to keep production of the only Russian widebody active as long as the CR929 project, a partnership with the Chinese, does not go into service, which should take a long time to come.
In order to operate the Il-96-400M, however, its potential customers (certainly all Russians) certainly will need good government assistance.