When Communism collapsed 20 years ago, Poland's aerospace industry was like much of its eastern European neighbours'. A strong educational ethos had meant there were plenty skilled engineers and a culture of professionalism. But under state ownership, the businesses were over-large, cumbersome, vertically integrated and unresponsive to market needs. Most of the output was military aircraft, helicopters or sturdy light and utility aircraft sold mainly throughout the developing world.
Since then, but especially in the past decade, Poland has got it about right. It did not rush to sell off its assets for a quick buck to the first here today, gone tomorrow bidder. Instead, it has engineered a dignified transition to foreign ownership for virtually all its state firms with a guarantee that these new owners will bring in new investment and integrate the companies into global supply chains. They are no low-cost "metal bashers" either. Although wage structures are more attractive in Poland than they are in Western Europe, these businesses are expected to contribute at the medium to high end of the value chain.
At the same time, it has encouraged other investors - big names and SMEs - to set themselves up in Aviation Valley, the heartland of the aerospace industry in south-east Poland, and tried to establish a cluster, or local supply chain, of home-grown family businesses too.
The result is astonishingly successful. I visited Rzeszow - the centre of Aviation Valley - this week and will be writing a feature about the region in the 8-14 June issue of Flight International. It was not my first visit. I went there four years ago and reported on what was a work in progress then.