With Aero Vodochody successfully refocused on its training aircraft operations, owner Penta decided the time was ripe to divest. In mid-2020, a joint venture firm led by Hungarian businessman Andras Tombor, along with Czech’s Omnipol, acquired Aero for an undisclosed amount. While Tombor holds a majority stake in the joint venture, the day-to-day operations of Aero are under the auspices of Omnipol.
Despite the shift in ownership, not much is expected to change at Aero. The company’s strategy will follow the keep it simple principle and concentrate on regaining 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 new design took to the air in late 2018. Management forecasts a market for some 5,000 trainers over the next 15 years, and Aero believes it could capture some 250-300 of that demand.
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 NG upgrades into existing L-39s. In early 2021, Aero Vodochody scored its biggest order to date for the new design with a 12-aircraft order from Vietnam. Here the company’s past success helped to bring about the current purchase, as Vietnam previously purchased some 31 L-39 Albatros aircraft.
Other L-39NG customers include the Czech Pardubice-based Flight Training Centre operated by state-owned company LOM Praha sp and the Republic of Senegal. A letter of intent was also signed with SkyTech of Portugal and RSW Aviation.
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 for 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, which was slated for delivery in late 2018. Looking ahead, the company has been pursuing a possible sale to Argentina of new-build L‑159s, but the current status of negotiations is unknown.
Commercial aircraft component manufacturing remains a core part of Aero Vodochody’s diversity. However, growth has been slowed of late due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most recently, the company 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 Airbus A220 and another with Embraer for the C‑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.
A key part of its diversification 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 – once the world enters a post-pandemic environment, which is not expected for at least the next few years.
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