3 March 2006
London, United Kingdom
Castro buys new presidential jet
Cuba is buying one of Russia's most up-to-date airliners, carefully crafted for President Fidel Castro's personal comfort.
The purchase is part of an initial Cuban order for two brand new Ilyushin planes worth $110 million (£63 million) which Russian officials say is a shot in the arm for their struggling airline industry.
To head off criticism that a new presidential jet is an expensive luxury in austere times, Cuba says one of its new planes is being used to ferry workers to and from Venezuela.
To finance the deal, Cuba has paid 15% of the total sum up front, the rest coming from a 10-year loan from Russian banks.
Russian NTV Mir television said the designers at Ilyushin had worked hard to give Mr Castro as smooth and secure a journey as possible.
"This is a sofa bed on which he can spend his hours of rest or read a book from his own library. Everything has been designed to be as ergonomic as possible, with a personal reading lamp," designer Aleksandr Kuchukhidze told the channel.
Principal interior designer Anton Nikolayev added: "Beige colours will predominate. Business meetings and talks can be held here."
The station showed the little luxuries the president could expect: a DVD player, drinks bar and leather seats. But security is paramount too: the plane comes with armoured cockpit doors and a system for making bombs safe.
The report showed the Ilyushin Il-96-300, built in Voronezh, being handed over at Havana's Jose Marti airport. It said the order was one of the biggest the Voronezh Ilyushin plant had secured this decade.
"These are the first Russian civilian aircraft to have been exported in the last 15 years," Ilyushin finance director Aleksandr Rubtsov said.
"We are convinced that Cuba can become a springboard for exporting our planes, above all in the countries of Latin America."
Russia and Cuba plan to sign another contract in Cuba on 10 March for the supply of a further five airliners, for an undisclosed sum.
Cuba has been a key customer of Soviet-built aircraft - whether civilian Ilyushins or military MiGs - since the Cold War era.
Even today, Cuban pilots for the newest Ilyushins are being trained in Russia, and Ilyushin engineers are in to Havana to school ground crews on maintaining the planes.
Transportation for the Cuban President is the responsibility of Cubana de Aviación, one of Cuba's state-owned airlines. Although the entire fleet is available for presidential use, the most commonly used aircraft are 2 Ilyushin Il-96.
The Ilyushin Il-96 (Russian: Илью́шин Ил-96) is a Russian four-engined long-haul wide-body airliner designed by Ilyushin in the former Soviet Union and manufactured by the Voronezh Aircraft Production Association in Russia. It is powered by four Aviadvigatel PS-90 two-shaft turbofan engines.
The Il-96-300 is the initial variant and is fitted with Aviadvigatel (Soloviev) PS-90A turbofans with a thrust rating of 16,000 kgf (157 kN, 35,300 lbf). Development started in the mid-80s while the first prototype flew on 28 September 1988. The first Il-96 entered service with Aeroflot in 1993.
Range with 262 passengers and fuel reserves (for holding 75 minutes at an altitude of 450 m) in a two-class configuration is about 11,000 km (5,940 nmi), allowing flights from Moscow to US west coast cities, a great improvement over the Ilyushin Il-86. A highly customized version of the Il-96-300, called Il-96-300PU is used as the primary aircraft in the Russian presidential aircraft fleet. Four were used by Russian president Vladimir Putin, and by Dmitry Medvedev as VIP planes. The VIP aircraft is operated by Russia State Transport Company. The Cuban leadership use the IL-96-300.