Arguably the world’s single most interesting commercial aircraft has returned to Cuba from Russia, after some heavy maintenance.
In this post:
The basics of Cubana’s very Russian fleet
Cuban flag carrier Cubana has historically flown Russian-built aircraft, given sanctions in place against the country, preventing the purchase of Airbus and Boeing jets with parts that were manufactured in the United States. As a result, the airline has largely purchased planes from Russian aircraft manufacturers, including Antonov, Ilyushin, and Tupolev.
Unfortunately for the past few years, Cubana’s fleet has been almost non-existent, with all Russian-built aircraft grounded for an extended period of time. This included Antonov An-158s, Ilyushin Il-96-300s, and Tupolev Tu-204-100s.
In the past, Cubana has been able to do maintenance of its own aircraft in Cuba. However, that apparently hasn’t been possible in recent years. I’m not sure why, exactly, since you’d think there wouldn’t be any restrictions in place on shipping parts between Russia and Cuba. I’m not sure if this was a financial issue, or what. Fortunately the two countries reached an agreement on maintenance, so Cubana’s aircraft are now having work done in Russia.
The most interesting of the above planes is the Ilyushin Il-96-300s — think of it as the Emirates A380 of Cuba, as it’s capable of operating long haul flights, and this aircraft used to operate to Argentina and Spain. However, with the carrier’s fleet not operational, Cubana has been flying with leased aircraft lately. That’s finally starting to change.
Cubana Ilyushin Il-96-300 returns to Cuba!
It’s a big week for Cubana. The Ilyushin Il-96-300 with the registration code CU-T1250 has been in Russia for the past 14 months having maintenance work performed. The maintenance reportedly focused on navigation, safety systems, and general comfort improvements. I’m curious if any changes were made to the cabin.
That work has finally been completed, so the plane has flown back to Cuba. On December 3, 2023, the plane flew from Moscow (ZIA) to Havana (HAV) with a refueling stop in Gander (YQX). The airline held a water cannon salute for the aircraft, and welcomed the plane with “great joy” after the plane “received regular maintenance in the sister Russian Federation.”
The jet features 262 seats, including 18 business class seats and 244 economy class seats. The plane is only 18 years old, as the airline took delivery of the plane in 2005. It remains to be seen when exactly Cubana will put the aircraft back into commercial service.
This is the only Ilyushin Il-96-300 operated by an airline, as the aircraft is otherwise primarily used by the Russian government.
This is the second Russian jet that Cubana has put back into service recently. In September 2023, the Tupolev Tu-204-100 with the registration code CU-T1702 also resumed flying for Cubana. In recent days, that aircraft has flown to Moscow and Tehran. Sounds legit.
The Cubana Ilyushin Il-96-300 is making a comeback, after not having flown any passengers for years. Cubana is the only airline in the world to fly this plane, and after over a year of maintenance in Russia, the plane has returned to Cuba. I’m curious to see when this plane reenters service…
What do you make of Cubana’s Ilyushin Il-96-300?