US investor Robert Fessler and Ryanair founder Tony Ryan are in final negotiations with the Czech Government to buy 94% of the troubled aero engine builder Walter. A deal is expected to be signed with a Czech company set up by the two men.

The bid is being indirectly supported, but not financially backed, by Saab and British Aerospace, which plan to channel work into Walter through Sweden's Volvo Aero as part of their bid to sell Gripen fighters to the Czech Republic. Saab and Volvo are linked through the Investor group, which holds a stake in each.

Having recently completed the sale of a majority stake in his Florida-based engine parts company AGES to Volvo Aero, Fessler retains a non-executive directorship at the company. If the Walter takeover is completed, the Czech company is expected to come under the management of the new Fessler/Ryan, but work closely with Volvo on an industrial level.

One option is the establishment by Volvo of an engineering design centre at Walter, say the sources. It is "too early to say" what direct Gripen offset work could be placed with the company, they add. BAe declines to comment on the plans.

The complex takeover deal being negotiated is understood to involve a debt-for-equity swap and it is unclear how much money would be invested in Walter.

The company is 94%-owned by state-held Aero Holding, with private investors holding the rest. The Czech State Consolidating Bank, however, has 49.9% of the voting rights as Walter's major creditor.

Walter designs and manufactures turboprops for commuter and general aviation aircraft. Pratt & Whitney Canada came close to buying a majority stake in 1995.

Czech jet trainer manufacturer Aero Vodochody came under 34% ownership of Boeing last year, while Ayres of the USA recently acquired Czech utility aircraft manufacturer Let.

Source: Flight International