Czech aircraft maker Aero sells four fighter jets to Senegal

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Aero Vodochody has sold four L-39NG training fighter jets to Senegal, the Czech company said on Wednesday, marking the once struggling firm’s first international sale of new aircraft in 20 years.

FILE PHOTO: An employee works on the assembly line in a hangar of an aircraft manufacturer Aero Vodochody near the town of Odolena Voda, Czech Republic, July 11, 2017. REUTERS/David W Cerny/File Photo

The company did not disclose the value of the deal.

The sale of the light attack version of the aircraft is the first of a series the company is seeking to close abroad after bringing in industry veteran Giuseppe Giordo as president in 2016 to help turn the company around.

“The L-39NG aircraft is the new future of Aero Vodochody,” Giordo said in a statement. “We also have two additional contracts in a very mature state of negotiation.“

During the last days of the Cold War in 1988, Aero Vodochody’s factory outside Prague in what was then Czechoslovakia produced a record 250 of its Albatros L-39 training jets for Soviet bloc air forces.

Those customers disappeared with the collapse of Communism as successive governments focused on building a market economy and steered away from arms exports, sending the industry into a tailspin. Numerous comeback attempts sputtered for Aero, which halted jet production between 2003 and 2015.

Boeing BA.N bought a stake in Aero in the 1990s but sold it back to the government after failing to land new contracts. Czech-Slovak private equity group Penta bought Aero in 2006.

Giordo has overseen the relaunch of the L-159 and has championed the next generation L-39 trainer. It aims to produce up to 26 aircraft annually over the next 10 to 15 years.

The company has also re-launched production of new parts for the L-39 — which can turn into a light version of the combat fighter at the flick of a switch.

In recent years, Aero sold its L-159 light combat aircraft to the Iraq Air Force and U.S. aviation services company Draken. Those airplanes were originally made for the Czech army in the early 2000s.

Reporting by Michael Kahn, Editing by Adrian Croft