Andrzej Jeziorski/WARSAW

British Aerospace is in the running to become a majority shareholder of Polish aircraft manufacturer PZL-Mielec, as part of Poland's plans to privatise its defence industry.

The UK company's vice-president for Central Europe Julian Scopes confirms that the Polish Government recently wrote to companies asking for expressions of interest in the privatisation process. "We have confirmed in writing that we are extremely interested," he adds. Details have yet to be finalised but PZL-Mielec president Marek Woszczynski says it is possible that the Government will retain a minority share only.

BAe has selected PZL-Mielec as the sole supplier for elements of the centre fuselage structure of its Hawk jet trainer, which the UK company is marketing to meet the Polish air force's trainer requirement. That would finally mark the end for PZL-Mielec's own problem-hit Iryda trainer programme.

The work package guarantees 50 jobs at PZL-Mielec. It is described by Scopes as the start of a strategic partnership which could lead to final assembly in Poland, should the Hawk be selected as a substitute for the cheaper but unfavoured Iryda.

Woszczynski says PZL-Mielec will complete current obligations to upgrade 17 existing Irydas to M-96 standard, with improved aerodynamics and avionics from France's Sextant Avionique. It will also build up to 24 new aircraft, but sees no future for the programme beyond this.

"We would like to go ahead with series production, but in business there is no room for sentiment," says Woszczynski.

While PZL-Mielec declines to name other companies which have been approached about the privatisation, sources at the company confirm they include Bombardier and Boeing, which recently acquired a stake in Czech manufacturer Aero Vodochody. Lockheed Martin, which has previously offered F-16 final assembly to the factory if the Government selects the aircraft as its new frontline fighter, is also believed to be interested.

According to Ryszard Grochowski, president of holding company WSK-PZL Mielec, the aircraft division needs a major partner to ensure long term survival within the consolidating European aerospace industry.

The manufacturer is drafting a restructuring plan which will be presented for approval by the Government and PZL-Mielec's supervisory board by early August. The plan will include a privatisation schedule and a proposal for further cuts in PZL-Mielec's 3,000-strong workforce, with some 600 jobs to go by year end. That will depend on the cash-strapped company being able to finance redundancy packages, says Woszczynski, adding that it is still paying for the 400 workers laid off in 1997.

Source: Flight International