Aero Vodochody CEO talks tough on jet trainer market
With new Italian leadership at the controls, the CEO of Czech jet manufacturer Aero Vodochody tells Defence IQ the company will return to the trainer market as a force to be reckoned with
The L-39 NG is set to shake up the trainer market. Image: Aero Vodochody
Under the guidance of boss Giuseppe Giordo – who until 2016 was the head of (direct competitor) Alenia Aermacchi – Aero Vodochody is aiming to re-establish its status in the military training market and to revitalise its trainer-aircraft business.
Key to these commercial goals is a re-designed and re-engined version of its globally successful ‘classic’ L-39 trainer, of which – alongside sibling aircraft L-59 and L-159 – 3,000 have been built since the Cold War.
Giordo told Defence IQ that he has two strategic objectives for the coming months. The first is to make Aero Vodochody a recognised OEM again, with a business focus on providing training and light attack aircraft.The second is to position Aero as a "respected partner" for other leading OEMs, but instead of just offering parts or assemblies, the company intends to become more involved in the design and construction of large airframes.
"We are in a strong market position thanks to the upcoming L-39NG [Next Generation] and our revived L-159 series," Giordo said.
"Of course, you can’t promise to do the job of a Eurofighter with an L-39NG, but where or how it can supplement the high-end requirement depends on specific needs of the nation and their targeted training costs. If customers are looking for a substitute to their fighters or hope to shift armed air policing towards less expensive hours, that can be achieved with a new L-159."
Giordo believes that the era of expensive, high-end trainers is coming to an end because costs are now outweighing budgets.
"Accurate figures are of course campaign-sensitive but we are certain that our products are ranging clearly below the $20m mark per plane," he said, referring to the typical cost of competing advanced trainers.
"I estimate that against a single-seat M-345, we would be lower by a factor of 1.2. But that’s really a rough quote."
The demand for jet trainers is estimated at around 1,500 aircraft over the next 15 years and Aero is confident that it can "swallow a share of up to 300" of those orders.
A new trainer could well prove attractive to many former or current users of the L-39 but existing users have the option of enhancing their platforms through a retrofit-package comprised of the latest integrated solutions. Upgrade contracts have already been signed by three international companies: state-owned LOM Praha, which trains Czech Air Force pilots; Draken International, which provide ‘Red Air’ solutions to the US; and aerobatics display group Breitling Display Team. Two further potential deals are currently being negotiated.
The newly-formed L-39 user group shares lessons and support between nations. Image: Aero Vodochody
Meanwhile, talks for new-built orders are progressing with Iraq and the Czech Air Force.
In September 2016, Aero hosted the first L-39 User Group Conference to support existing users and rebuild communication. This saw representation from Bangladesh, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Lithuania, Mozambique, Nigeria, Slovakia, Thailand, Tunisia and Uganda. While some countries may face export-restrictions under US International Traffic in Arms Regulations, the company is investigating ways to ensure the restrictions do not limit the aircraft's potential market.
The M-345 HET (High Efficiency Trainer) took its first flight in December 2016. Italy has already committed to procuring 45 of the aircraft while Chile has signed a memorandum of understanding with manufacturer Leonardo.
The full interview can be read in the latest issue of Defence Industry Bulletin, out now.