by Richard Pettibone, Forecast International.
In the current aerospace environment, Aero Vodochody finds itself in a difficult position. For many years, the company was centered on one product type, military trainers such as the L-159 and L-39. While it achieved some success in this market, the competition for the past few contracts was fierce and Aero was left behind.
A total of 36 former Czech Army L-159 light attack/trainer aircraft have been in storage for nearly a decade after being deemed surplus to Czech needs. After years of trying to sell them, a deal with U.S.-based Draken International for the purchase of 28 L-159s was recently concluded. Draken plans to use the aircraft in its commercial adversary combat pilot training services, which it offers on a contract basis to the U.S. military.
The deal is welcomed indeed at Aero Vodochody. Having its aircraft in use will not only be good publicity, but it will also boost maintenance and service needs for the model. Finally, the selection by Draken could open up some export potential, most likely in Latin America, where Aero sees some opportunity.
More recently, the company announced an upgraded variant of the L-39, the L-39NG. The new design is aimed at providing the enhanced military flight training capabilities required for fourth- and fifth-generation fighters. The program is intended to replace the aging fleet of L-39 Albatros aircraft as well as other existing jet trainers.
As it looks ahead, Aero Vodochody is redoubling its efforts in the commercial aerostructures manufacturing market. With its defense heyday behind it, the move is a logical one in light of the current boom in airliner production.
Over the past few years, Aero Vodochody has gained several major aerostructure production contracts. Examples include two risk-sharing packages for the design of fixed leading edges: one for the Bombardier CSeries, in partnership with Belgium’s Sonaca, and another directly with Embraer for the KC-390. Other programs include production of airframes for Sikorsky’s S-76 and landing gear for the Airbus A320 under a contract from Messier-Bugatti-Dowty.
Aero Vodochody is expected to continue this trend as it seeks to become a “go to” second-tier manufacturer for industry primes. The quality and lower costs of manufacturing in the Czech Republic will likely drive growth for the firm in the years to come.