Exports Could Follow Light Combat Jets for Czech Air Force

Aero Vodochody of the Czech Republic has begun producing a new batch of L-159 ALCA/advanced light combat aircraft for the Czech Air Force, a move the company hopes will pave the way for additional export orders.

Aero is building a trio of new-build two-seat L-159 ALCA jets to meet Czech Air Force requirements following its declaration earlier this year that it was ready to restart production.

“We have re-established our supply chain for the L-159 and we are now ready to respond to international customers,” company CEO Giuseppe Giordo said.

The batch of three follows the production of a single aircraft for Iraq last year. Aero chose to build three new aircraft because it could not convert single-seat aircraft to the twin-stick standard. The three new aircraft will also be the L-159s built to the T2 standard with modernized avionics. Some obsolescence issues have also been resolved.

Giordo says the company is now working on a midlife update for the L-159, which will mark 20 years since its first flight on Aug. 5. The update will include improvements to the avionics and probably an uprated version of Honeywell’s F-124 turbofan. The company is also reviewing alternative radar and defensive aids system that could equip the upgraded aircraft. A new laser designator pod is also being integrated.

In the meantime, the company is progressing with the development of the L-39NG. A retrofit of the NG’s avionics and the Williams International FJ-44 turbofan into existing L-39 airframes should be certified by the end of 2018. Development of the new-build L-39NG airframe, noteworthy because it eliminates the type’s distinctive wingtip fuel tanks, is also now underway. Assembly of the first wing has already started and the building of the fuselage will start in the summer. The L-39NG’s first flight is planned before the end of 2018. Certification is expected a year later.

Giordo says the company has begun contract negotiations with the Czech Air Force to be the launch customer for the L-39NG to support its international flight training center at Pardubice.

“The market is perceiving the L-39NG in a very good way because it can deal with both basic training and advanced training requirements,” Giordo said.

The company is taking a two-tiered approach to marketing the two aircraft. If air arms want an aircraft primarily for training with a secondary role of light attack, then the L-39NG is being offered. For those nations looking for a light attack aircraft first and an advanced trainer second, the L-159 is the company’s answer.

“We have good opportunities in Eastern Europe [for the L-39NG] in the short-term,” Giordo says.

Marketing is also being carried out in the Middle East and Asia, often in direct competition with Giordo’s old employer, Leonardo.

The L-159 is being heavily used by the Iraqi Air Force on combat missions against Daesh fighters. U.S. red-air training company Draken International is also supporting U.S. Air Force training with the type at Nellis AFB, Nevada. Giordo believes there will be additional opportunities for the L-159 and L-39NG in this role, and the aircraft will be offered to contractors as a platform for the UK’s Air Support Defense Operational Training (Asdot) requirement.

Crucially, Giordo says Aero has regained the trust and confidence of several existing L-39 operators as it pushes to regain MRO work on the aircraft.

With a stronger focus on its military work, Giordo has reduced Aero’s involvement in some supply work, notably including a contract to produce AirbusA321 panels that was subcontracted from Leonardo.

The company is instead focusing on supply chain work for programs in which it has a risk share, including the BombardierCSeries and Embraer KC-390 airlifter.

Earlier this month the company signed an agreement with Lockheed Martin-owned Sikorsky to continue supplying cockpits for the UH-60M Black Hawk until 2023. The company has delivered 240 cockpits to Sikorsky since 2011.

Giordo says Aero will consider other supply work, but only if it meets the strict criteria of being linked to a successful program, provides some technological content and gives a return on investment.