As it celebrates its 100th birthday in 2019, Aero Vodochody is entering a period of revitalization. Under the guidance of CEO Giuseppe Giordo, formerly of Leonardo (née Alenia Aermacchi), the company has been reinvigorated, focusing on its training aircraft operations.
Under Giordo’s strategy, the company is moving to regain its stature in the military training market. Key to this effort is the redesign of its L-39 trainer, some 2,800 of which were produced during the Cold War. The new design – the L-39NG – updates the jet with a new engine and avionics. The L-39NG took to the air in late 2018. Aero’s CEO sees an opportunity for a proven, relatively inexpensive aircraft. In various interviews, Giordo has stated that he sees a market for some 5,000 planes over the next 15 years and believes Aero could capture some 250-300 of that need.
The goal is not unrealistic, as the new design could prove attractive to many former users of the L-39. Further enhancing prospects is a package for retrofit of many of the upgrades into existing L-39s.
During the 2018, Aero announced agreements with the initial customers. The first customer was the Republic of Senegal and was followed by Portuguese private company SkyTech and American private company RSW. Orders from those customers will secure the production of 38 aircraft. In January 2019, Aero finalized a CZK1.1 billion ($49.2 million) deal with LOM Praha for four aircraft. In addition, a report in FlightGlobal indicates that an undisclosed nation is looking to acquire 10 aircraft.
The firm’s other trainer, the L-159, officially re-entered production in early 2017 in order to fulfill a contract for the Iraqi Air Force. A single two-seater variant was manufactured as part of Iraq’s order of 14 aircraft. The remainder will be refurbished from Czech inventory and reserves. This order was followed by a three-unit order for the Czech Air Force. Looking ahead, the company was pursuing a possible sale to Argentina of new-build L-159s, but the current status of negotiations is unknown.
In the summer of 2018, Aero Vodochody and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) teamed to propose a new version of the former’s L-159 jet trainer, dubbed the F/A-259 Striker, for the potential USAF OA-X acquisition.
As of early 2019, the U.S. Air Force had not made a firm decision regarding whether it will actually acquire an OA-X aircraft. The outlook for an OA-X acquisition is somewhat uncertain, due to budgetary concerns as well as some apparent disagreement within the Pentagon regarding the need for such a program. Regardless, the F/A-259 would be a longshot to fulfill the program’s needs.
Meanwhile, commercial aircraft component manufacturing will remain a core part of Aero Vodochody’s diversity. The company has landed package positions on the A400M and A350 programs. Previous examples include two risk-sharing packages for the design of fixed leading edges – one in partnership with Belgium’s SONACA for the Bombardier CSeries (Airbus A220) and another with Embraer for the KC-390. Other programs include airframe production of Sikorsky’s S-76 and the production of landing gear for the Airbus A320 under a contract to Messier-Bugatti-Dowty.
Due to the mercurial nature of the military trainer market, Aero Vodochody will need to continue its commercial subcomponent push and become a “go to” Tier I manufacturer for industry primes. Going hand in glove with this strategy is the company’s move to grow maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services. The quality and lower costs of manufacturing in the Czech Republic could very well drive commercial growth for the firm in the years to come.