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Russia's Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko recently said the country
Russia's Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko recently said the country will eventually stop manufacturing Il-96 long-haul airliners. Consequently, local carriers will have to acquire Boeing and Airbus planes and to replace wide-body Il-96 aircraft, which have been around for the last 20 years, by 2015.

The first Russian long-haul jumbo jet was developed in 1978 and made its maiden flight in 1988. Commercial production got underway in 1993.

The Il-96, which closely resembled its predecessor, the Il-86, was far more advanced and was therefore acquired by the Russian government's executive-plane squad.

According to Khristenko, there is no other plane to replace the already obsolete Il-96 because the main Russian design bureaus lack any ideas. Unlike the Il-96-400T transport aircraft that was rolled out in Voronezh on January 24 in the presence of First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, the Il-96 is not very popular with domestic or foreign airlines.

This is hardly surprising because the Russian jumbo jet burns 40% more fuel than the Boeing-767. Airlines are very demanding during this time of sky-high oil prices; consequently, Moscow has managed to sell only a few Il-96 to Cuba and Syria.

Although Russian airlines need 200 to 300 long-haul planes, they cannot afford to buy the Il-96 and prefer used foreign aircraft, 33% of which have been in service for over 20 years; and another 40% have been flying the skies for a decade.

Rich airlines are not very patriotic either, preferring foreign models instead. Last fall, the shareholders of Aeroflot-Russian Airlines approved the purchase of 22 Airbus A-350 and 22 Boeing-787 Dreamliners worth $6 billion.

In 2007, the government established the United Aircraft-Building Corporation (UABC) consolidating aircraft construction companies and state assets engaged in the manufacture, design and sale of military, civilian, transport, and unmanned aircraft. Although UABC still does not plan to develop long-haul aircraft, Khristenko hopes that a company with foreign capital can accomplish this objective, and that Russian, Chinese and Indian partners would share the risks involved.

But neither Beijing, nor New Delhi wants to implement this project because their relatively small countries require medium-haul airliners of the Il-86 type.

Yevgeny Bachurin, the head of the Russian Air Traffic Federal Agency (Rosaviatsia), said Russia had to buy state-of-the-art foreign aircraft in order to keep control of the air-travel market and to maintain a fleet of competitive medium-haul and long-haul planes.

Even though production of the Sukhoi SuperJet-100 will commence this year, there are no plans to build long-haul airliners. Rosaviatsia therefore insists that the current state customs policy be revised. Currently, 38% taxes and duties are charged on all aircraft imported into Russia, and all air carriers are only granted 35-month respites.

Passengers have to pay more for tickets, as they share the exorbitant tax burden with airlines. Bachurin said import duties must, first of all, be abolished on all planes that will not be manufactured by UABC in the near future.

It may be a paradox, but the aircraft industry must assess domestic and foreign demand before launching production of any new planes. According to Khristenko, it would be impossible to manufacture cost-effective long-haul airliners due to insufficient local demand.

The Sukhoi Aviation Aircraft Holding Company plans to market 500 out of the 800 SuperJet-100s, due to be manufactured by 2024, abroad and has also sold a blocking stake to Italian aerospace giant Alenia Aeronautica with the help of President Vladimir Putin.

Russia now has 5,700 officially registered aircraft, including less than 2,500 operational ones. Medium-haul and long-haul airliners are over 17 years old, and regional planes have been flying for 30 years.

Russian leaders believe that the aircraft industry will become the third largest in the world by 2025 and will eliminate shortages by manufacturing up to 300 planes per year during the next 17 years. UABC must restore the confidence of its prospective clients and offer better aircraft in terms of price and quality.

This is quite explainable because patriotism is not always profitable.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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