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Russia: U.S.-Russian Aviation Project Takes Wing

Moscow, 2 May 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The result of the first large-scale commercial cooperation between American and Russian aviation manufacturing companies is about to take wing.

The new-version Russian Ilyushin Il-96 long-haul airliner, which features U.S.-made engines and avionics, was rolled out of its hangar for the first time at Voronezh last week. Test flights will start soon.

The two American companies involved, Pratt and Whitney engines and Rockwell Collins Avionics, as well as Ilyushin, hope that the new wide-body airliner will be a sales success in the world at large.

A spokeswoman for Pratt and Whitney in Moscow, Natasha Paroyatnikova, told RFE/RL this week that the IL-96 is now "very competitive" on world markets. She said Pratt and Whitney has been "absolutely" pleased by its cooperation with Ilyushin, and is actively planning bigger scale projects in cooperation with Russian firms.

At the Voronezh unveiling ceremony, Pratt and Whitney's project manager Marshall Robinson also praised the Russian side, saying that since the start of their involvement in 1990, the American side had come to have great respect for the basic design of the Il-96, as well as for the Ilyushin team that designed and built it. The early Russian-powered versions of the plane have been in service with Aeroflot for some three years.

The new and larger American-equipped version has a seating capacity of more than 300 and a range of 11,500km. As Aeroflot put it, the plane can fly non-stop from Moscow to any U.S. city. The Russian carrier has placed firm orders for 20 of the new planes, most of them in passenger configuration, but three in a cargo-carrying version. Deliveries will begin in the second half of the year.

An Aeroflot statement said that because of the efficiency of the new engines, savings on fuel consumption per aircraft per year would be a quarter of a million dollars. Pollution of the atmosphere would be reduced correspondingly. It said that the plane had been conceived from the first to meet both U.S. and Russian airworthiness standards, and that American pilots involved in the certification process had highly praised the aircraft. The build-quality checks instituted by Ilyushin are claimed to exceed U.S. standards.

A new hangar has recently been built at Moscow's Sheremetievo airport, and the new models will be maintained there. Russian maintenance crews are already familiar with the Pratt and Whitney engines because they are installed on the Airbus A-310 model.

Pratt and Whitney spokeswoman Paroyatnikova says that the IL-96 project is only the first step in the company's involvement with Russia. She says that negotiations are continuing with the Russian aviation engine manufacturer Perm Motors for a joint engine development project.

She noted that an initial agreement had been signed two years ago, but things had subsequently bogged down because of management-related problems at Perm. She said that a new board of directors has now been appointed at that Russian company, and Pratt and Whitney hopes the road ahead is clear.

The joint venture envisages the upgrading and re-working of an existing Perm engine, which would have applications both as an aviation power plant and an industrial gas-turbine plant.

Paroyatnikova said that the new powerplant would be a combination of the best Russian and American technologies and would be offered on the world market at a very competitive price.