New Czech mate plans to revive former Let

 - October 4, 2007, 5:36 AM

Arising out of Moravan Aeroplanes’ purchase of the assets of bankrupt Let Kunovice in August is a new corporate entity called “Letecke Zavody,” or “LZ Aircraft Works” in English. According to CEO Libor Soska, “The creation of LZ Aircraft Works represents the first meaningful step since the early 1990s to reinvigorate the Czech aerospace industry.”

Helping to fund Moravan’s successful bid were investors Don Jewitt, CEO of and a principal investor in Alberta Aerospace of Calgary, and Milan Matusik, v-p of manufacturing for Alberta. Although Jewitt now has stakes in both Alberta Aerospace and LZ Aircraft Works, the two companies are completely separate, stressed Thomas Heath, who is acting as the North American spokesman for both companies. Alberta Aerospace, which also does business as Phoenix FanJet, is developing the two-seat SigmaJet and four-seat MagnaJet. Last year Alberta selected Moravan Aeroplanes to certify to FAA standards the production and detail tooling of the Sigma- and MagnaJets and thereafter produce complete shipsets of components for the airplanes.

Alberta’s plans, however, have been stymied by a lack of funds. The company had planned an initial public offering on the Canadian stock exchange last year, but this was delayed and the dot-com meltdown made IPOs an unattractive mechanism for raising funds. Heath said the company still needs to raise $10 million to complete certification of the SigmaJet. This summer Alberta closed its facility in Lakeland, Fla., and repositioned its sole flying SigmaJet prototype to Canada.

Jewitt, a retired oilman, told AIN that Alberta “will probably cease to exist” and that he’d like to see the  Phoenix FanJet program become a project of LZ Aircraft Works. That, however, depends on his ability to convince the other owners of the company to take on the project. Regardless of what happens to Alberta Aerospace/Phoenix FanJet, Soska has big plans to reinvigorate the Let product line up to the 19-passenger L-410 and L-420 regional turboprops. “My team and I turned Moravan Aeroplanes from a money-losing small niche market player into a well diversified moneymaker in a few short years. We have every intention of repeating that performance,” he said. “Since the merger, more orders for Let aircraft have been received than in the previous five years combined.”

Heath said LZ has received orders for 20 L-410/420s and 18 Zlin 142Cs and 242Ls (piston-single trainers). Other aircraft in the LZ Aircraft Works line are the four-place single Zlin 143L, the Zlin 137L agplane and the L-33, L-23 and L-13 gliders. The company is also pursuing civil certification of an Orenda OE-600 powered L-400 Rhino utility airplane.

The fate of the 40-passenger Let L-610G twin turboprop is less certain. Heath said this model is owned by the Czech government, which has assumed complete control of the program. He said Let had completed seven L-610 hulls before the merger.
Even more doubtful is any future relationship between LZ Aircraft Works and the moribund (former) Ayres Loadmaster program, which sources at Let say was the main cause of the bankruptcies at both Let and Ayres. Ayres’ main creditor, GATX Capital, foreclosed on the Albany, Ga.-based company on August 7 and is trying to sell it any way it can: as a complete package of facility, Thrush agplane program and Loadmaster; or in whatever combination of parts the potential buyer wants.

Now doing business as Quality Aerospace Corp., the company is building parts for and servicing the 2,000-strong fleet of Thrush cropdusters, its production certificate for the Thrush lost in the foreclosure (GATX holds the type certificate). However, the company is working with the FAA to regain the Thrush production certificate.