Czechs win new clearance for Russian chopper repairs

Czech state aircraft repairs firm LOM Praha will be given the go ahead to seek foreign contracts to repair Russian-made helicopters

Russian-made Mi-17s in Afghanistan foto: © WikiMediaČeská pozice

Russian-made Mi-17s in Afghanistan

In a deal that could open the door to lucrative contracts, Czech state-owned aircraft repairs and maintenance company LOM Praha has been cleared by Russian authorities to carry out work on Russian Mi transport helicopters outside the country; hundreds of them are now is use by NATO air forces.

Described as a “milestone” deal by LOM director Jiindřich Ploch, it should form part of a wider bilateral agreement to be signed between the Czech Republic and Russia during the visit of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to Prague next week, according to Thursday’s edition of Hospodářské noviny (HN).

Czech grounding

Up to now, the struggling Czech repairs company — which had been frequently been tipped for privatization — has only been able to carry out services and repairs on the Russian helicopters owned by the Czech Army.

LOM already stands out in this respect as the only company outside the former Soviet Union with the necessary clearances and authorizations from the Russian manufacturer combined with local capacity and know-how to perform general repairs and modernizations on MI aircraft.

The Czech aircraft company has in the past been lined up for lucrative repair contracts — such as the possibility to carry out work on three Russian-made helicopters for the Hungarian Air Force a year ago — but was held back because it did not have the necessary clearance from  the manufacturer for foreign work, the business daily said. Around 200 of the Russian-built helicopters are serving with NATO air forces alone, opening up the possibility of contracts worth billions of crowns, it added.

LOM must still signal Russia’s Oboromprom when it is seeking to land a foreign contract and get its specific consent.

The new agreement still forces LOM to signal to Russian helicopter producer Oboromprom when it is seeking to land a foreign contract and get its specific consent.  HN says this condition makes it more likely that a Czech-Russian joint venture competing for such contracts will eventually be formed.

NATO perspective

The Czech Ministry of Defense’s General Secretary, Jan Vylita, told HN that privatization of LOM was not being sought. “Privatization does not make any sense in a much as we have ambitions as regards our obligations towards NATO,” he said, adding that a general maintenance of Czech Army helicopters had to be completed by in 2013 so that they could be ready for action again.

Helicopter servicing and training was something with the Czechs could offer to the allies, Vylita added. Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas (Civic Democrats, ODS) also proposed that NATO pilots be trained on Russian Mi helicopters, during his visit to US President Barack Obama in Washington at the start of November. 

Czech investment company Penta, which already controls the aviation company Aero Vodochody, was reported to be one of the main contenders lined up to buy LOM if was put up for sale by the state.

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