Czech company confident of attracting aerostructures contracts following a series of problems over the past year

In the past year, Czech aerospace company Aero Vodochody has split with its main investor, seen its biggest customer shun its flagship military aircraft and struggled to bring a crucial civil programme to market.

But the troubled firm – back in state hands after Boeing sold its 35% stake – is confident it can ride out the crisis by attracting aerostructures contracts from Western manufacturers, and upgrade work from owners of 2,000 Soviet-era L-39 trainers in service around the world.

The series of blows began in the middle of last year when the Czech air force announced it planned to stand down and dispose of 47 of its 71 L-159A advanced light combat aircraft, the last of which had been delivered that February (Flight International, 20-26 July 2004). Aero Vodochody is now trying to find export customers for the aircraft. Then, a few weeks later, Aerospace Industrial Development (AIDC) of Taiwan threatened to pull out of its joint venture with Aero Vodochody to develop the Ae270 single-engine turboprop utility aircraft over workshare and funding issues (Flight International, 5-11 October). Finally, Boeing agreed to hand back to the government for free the stake it had bought in Aero Vodochody for almost $40 million in 1998 (Flight International, 19-25 October).

However, president Antonin Jakubse says Aero Vodochody is well placed to carry out re-engined rebuilds of the extensive fleet of 1970s- and 1980s-built L-39s, which include 300 in private hands in North America.

"Our ability to extend the life of this aeroplane is a huge advantage because no one else has the rights to do this," he says. "It's a good business for Aero Vodochody. If we can provide this sort of service for the customer, a lot of them will sooner or later become customers for the L-159."

The Prague-based company also carries out aerostructures work for BAE Systems, Boeing, Sikorsky and Vought, manufacturing airframes for and installing the avionics in Sikorsky S-76s and building gun bay doors for Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. Jakubse thinks this can increase, based on the country's skilled, lower-cost workforce, 80-year aerospace heritage and location in the centre of Europe. "I strongly believe our subassembly work will go up year by year," he says. "We are open to talk to anyone in this business on condition that the deal makes financial sense."

Aero Vodochody is marketing the L-159A – and its two-seat trainer L-159B variant – to a number of potential buyers, says Jakubse.



Source: Flight International