Kremlin Allocates Funding To Restore Russian-made Jetliners

 - August 11, 2022, 8:54 AM
A Tupolev Tu-204-300 appears at a business aviation show in Vnukovo in September last year. Originally operated by Vladivostok Avia Airlines under lease from IFC, it later went to the government's Cosmonaut Training Centre for subsequent use as a corporate jet. (Photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

Russia’s Ministry for Trade and Industry plans to allocate 15 billion roubles ($250 million) to an effort to restore 11 indigenous airplanes assembled at the turn of the century to airworthy condition, namely eight Tupolev Tu-204/214 narrowbodies, two Ilyushin Il-96 widebody passenger jets, and an Antonov An-124-100 Ruslan cargo airlifter.

Plans call for the funds to pay for the replacement of the original onboard systems and equipment in the Tupolev twinjets with more modern avionics and complimentary certification of the aircraft.  

The allocation for restoration work on the 11 previously grounded aircraft comes as the Russian air transportation system suffers from a shortage of commercial jets that can fly to foreign destinations without fear of repossession.

After the Kremlin sent troops into Ukraine on February 24, the U.S. and the EU imposed economic sanctions on Russia and demanded the return of hired airplanes to their lessors. Moscow responded with orders to local airlines to keep possession of airplanes owned by foreign lessors in Russia and place them into the national register. The move effectively restricted the operation of the airplanes to within Russia and a few friendly countries, after authorities seized some 50 Russian-operated Airbus and Boeing jets at foreign airports at the request of their owners.

The plans for the 11 aforementioned jets come as part of a broader effort to bring back into service locally designed and built airliners placed in storage for various reasons. In most cases, the aircraft proved simply more expensive to operate than Airbus and Boeing equipment. Today, extra expenses of keeping imported airplanes intact caused by the newly imposed economic sanction have made indigenous designs more attractive commercially. Deprived access to cheaper Western capital, their owners cannot afford to restore them, leading to their application for government funds.

One of the most prominent owners—Ilyushin Finance Co. (IFC)—at one time arranged for the majority of deals on Ilyushin and Tupolev jetliners, as well as Antonov An-148/158 regional jets. IFC now seeks to sell some used airplanes it still owns, including two An-124-100s, two Il-96-300s, two Il-96-400Ts, five An-148s, eight Tu-204s, and three Tu-214s. The Russian government has signaled an intention to purchase most of them for subsequent transfer to the state-owned Rostec corporation, which controls United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) and smaller aircraft manufacturers.

Purchasing redundant Ilyushin quads from commercial entities is not a new practice for the Kremlin. In 2012 it acquired two ex-KrasAir Il-96-300s and, after restoring them to airworthy condition, handed them over to the government-run airline Rossiya. Later, the carrier added a restored and reworked Il-96-400 to its fleet. This time, however, the second-hand airplanes will not go for subsequent use for transportation of state officials and public servants, but for revenue passenger operations with one of the top Russian airlines.