Safety isn't something typically attributed to Soviet aircraft, however given the operating conditions in the USSR both environmentally and infrastructurally I don't think the number of crashes represents issues with the airframes. This is especially so given the relatively haphazard break up of Aeroflot post 1991. In the IL-86's case with only 103 Russian aircraft made (3 more were exported for China Xinjiang) the airframes size and high operating costs also probably kept it out of the hands of some of the more poorly run post-Soviet airlines. Throughout its career there were no fatal incidents involving an IL-86.
One of the most interesting features of Russia's 'airbus' was the concept of 'luggage at hand' whereby passengers would enter the plane near ground level with their coats and bags and deposit them in underfloor compartments before climbing stairs and taking their seat. This was looked into both by Airbus and actually built into PSA' Tristars however it didn't catch on. These compartments which necessitated standing capability on the lower deck meant the IL-86 had the second widest fuselage after the 747 until the arrival of the 777. In service the feature was not widely used which is probably just as well. It's a novel idea though especially given the often cold conditions when boarding via stairs and the limited capabilities of Soviet era airports.
The biggest issue for the IL-86 was the powerplant. Whereas at the close of the 60s UK and US turbofans had a bypass ratio of 4 or 5:1 the Kuznetsov NK-8s forced onto the IL-86 only managed 1.15:1. They were unsuitable right from the start. There were even serious discussions with the USA in the early 1970s to buy 747s or start license production of L-1011 Tristars in Russia! This seems bizarre now but shows how far behind the USSR was.
The first IL-86 flew at the end of 1976 and introduced a wide-range of technological improvements (including a 3 man cockpit which Aeroflot refused to use as such). Development had taken over 10 years because of technical issues and the low priority assigned to civilian projects. In reality the type was obsolete even then yet it stayed in production until nearly 1992!!!! Production was haphazard with the first 2 aircraft being hand built. Production after certification was appallingly slow with 1 in 1980, 0 in 1981, 11 in 1982, 12 in 1983 etc. The last completed airframes were made in 1991 however the 5 year plan at the time still talked about making 40 aircraft more.
The IL-86's range was appalling. The type could carry less passengers than a DC-10-10 or L-1011-1 Tristar yet its range at maximum take-off weight was only 3,500 km compared to 6,116 and 5,760 kms respectively. Initial Aeroflot services began on December 26th 1980 but real operations didn't start until February 1981. Aeroflot did use the type on long-range services to places like Havana but only by cheating (decreased payloads, extra tanking and stopovers). Following the breakup of the USSR IL-86s were spread about various airlines and often used for high-density tourist routes to Turkey and the Mediterranean (though it was banned from the EU in 2002).
RA-86015, c/n 51483202013, was one of the 11 made in 1982 and operated with the flag carrier all her life, except for a short lease to VASO Airlines in 2000. She was still in service as of 2001 but Aeroflot retired its last IL-86s in 2006.
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: