Czech manufacturer Aero Vodochody, founded in 1919, probably lays a fair claim to being the oldest airframer still active today. The company’s days may be numbered, however, if it doesn’t start turning a profit next year.
After a partial privatization in the 1990s, Aero Vodochody returned into full state ownership in 2004 when Boeing sold its one-third share. After repeated losses, the Czech government sold the company late last year to the private equity fund Penta from neighboring Slovakia.
The new owner appointed Peter Ondro the CEO and announced that Aero Vodochody would have to show a profit from January 2008 onward–by increasing sales and reducing costs, as well as by lowering prices for energy and services. Penta initiated the restructuring process by increasing the company’s share capital by some 4300 million ($399 million).
Aero Vodochody’s military division has the task of producing trainers and light combat aircraft, as well as supporting the many L-39 jets still flying. The company currently builds the L-159 jet trainer and light fighter. The L-159 is derived from the L-39 but powered by a Honeywell turbofan and equipped with modern avionics.
So far, the manufacturer has sold 72 L-159 single-seat light combat aircraft to the Czech air force. They were delivered between 2000 and 2004, and none have been produced since, but the aircraft has been demonstrated to several other air forces.
The company is fulfilling an order from the Czech air force to reconfigure four surplus single-seat L-159s into two-seat trainers this year. The first flight of a reconfigured aircraft took place in March.
Aerostructures currently is Aero Vodochody’s most profitable division. Its main production is the basic airframe of the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter. The company has delivered more than 100 S-76C airframes to the U.S. manufacturer and now has started production of the S-76D model.
Aero Vodochody also produces the center wingbox of the C-27J military transport for Alenia and various parts and subassemblies for Boeing, including the bomb bay door of the F/A-18 combat jet. Penta reportedly has talked with manufacturers such as Piaggio Aero and BAE Systems about possible subcontracts.
Aero Vodochody also has developed a pressurized single-engine turboprop utility aircraft, the Ae 270 Spirit, in a joint venture with Aerospace Industrial Development Corp. (AIDC) of Taiwan. The aircraft competes with the Pilatus PC-12, the Socata TBM 700/850 and the Cessna Caravan. It has been certified by both European and U.S. authorities but its approved payload/range performance still does not meet the figures promised to buyers.