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Last Updated: Friday, 10 March 2006, 13:54 GMT
Castro buys new presidential jet
External view of President Castro's new presidential plane
The luxury plane was exported to Havana from Russia

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.

Creature comforts

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.

The interior of President Castro's new presidential plane
Designers have used beige colours throughout the plane

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.

Export breakthrough

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.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.




SEE ALSO:
Country profile: Cuba
14 Dec 05 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Russia
21 Feb 06 |  Country profiles


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