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Polish Aviation Industry

The traditions of Polish industry go back to the year 1910, when the construction of the first Polish Awiata airplane plants began in Warsaw. The earliest Polish aviation plants maintained only foreign-designed, foreign-built aircraft. In the early 1920s companies such as the Central Aviation Workshop, Warsaw, the Krakw Workshops, Krakw, and the Lww Workshops, Lww, found their niche by repairing imported Fokkers, Breguets, and Balilas aircraft. By the mid-1920s, two Polish companies bought licenses for the French Potez and Hanriot aircraft, resulting in the production of high-quality aircraft. The budgetary drawdown of the interwar period hit the aircraft industry hard and resulted in cancelled orders. Subsequent consolidation of the private, independent factories and workshops resulted in nationalized, government-controlled entities.

Following World War II, the Soviets assumed control of Polands aviation industry. Close cooperation in this branch of industry began when, through joint effort, the Polish aeronautical plants were pulled up out of the ruins. By the early 1950s, Stalin effectively limited organic Polish military aircraft designs by halting all new Polish aircraft initiatives except for a Polish-designed trainer. The first step was the joint mobilization of production of the Po-2 trainer aircraft. Next the production of this light biplane made it possible to begin production of trainers of domestic construction, the Junak-2 and the Junak-3. Their producer, the transport equipment manufacturing centers (WSK) in Swidnik, after many years, specialized in the production of helicopters.

Polish aircraft factories focused on building Polish variants of another countrys designs. For example, WSK-Mielec built the LiM-5, a Polish variant of the MiG-17. The Poles obtained licenses to produce the Soviet-designed YAK-12M utility plane and the Mi-1 helicopter. The Polish aviation industrys success in manufacturing foreign-designed aircraft is best exemplified by WSK-Mielec becoming the worlds sole source for the Soviet-designed An-2 Colt utility biplane. Jerzy Cynk, official historian of the Polish Air Force Association, notes that the Polish aviation industry was a leader within the Warsaw Pact, producing 10,000 aircraft from 1950 to 1970. At the height of the Cold War, Polands aviation industry approached an output of 1,000 aircraft per year.

In fact, all Polish aircraft constructedsince the war came into being only as the result of thecontacts between the aviation industry in the two countries. The last example of this was the youngest offspring of the designers at the WSK in Swidnik, the multipurpose helicopter, which from A to Z was the result of the work of Polish engineers, the PZL Sokol.

The next area of cooperation was coproduction in building passenger aircraft. Since the 1970s Polish industry took part in the production of the extremely modern Il-86 aircraft. In 1977 Poland began co-production of components (control surfaces, tabs, slats, and engine mounts) for the IL-86 airbus. The Polish contribution to the construction of this aircraft amounted to 16 percent of all the components needed to build it. Three Polish aircraft plants, the WSK PZL plants at Mielec, Swidnik, and Kalisz, took part in the coproduction of the Il-86. From the Mielec plant the jet airbus was provided with engine mounts, units which hold the engine; the vertical stabilizer along with the rudder, the horizontal stabilizer along with the elevator, and slots, right and left (mechanized components on the leading edge of the wing). The Swidnik plant produced ailerons (right and left) and inboard slots (mechanized components on the trailing edge of the wing). A specialist in metal adhesion techniques prepared for the Mielec plant what are called structures with a special filler, a composite of high durability and low specific gravity, which were used in the production of control surfaces. The Kalisz plant supplied equipment and mechanisms for the horizontal stabilizer and reduction screw gears for the slots and flaps.

It is worth emphasizing that Poland was the only country in coproduction of passenger aircraft with the Soviet Union. By the mid-1980s, when the aircraft plants in Voronezh began to produce the modern Il-96 airbus, they naturally proposed that the Polish plants participate in the production of this aircraft. Talks were also going on concerning coproduction of the 11-114 aircraft. This was to be an aircraft which was to replace the An-24 on domesticroutes. Then it was decided that the Poles would build the landing gear and the propeller, which would be made from laminates and have six blades.

To meet domestic needs Poland gained rights to produce the Socat Rallye-IOOST student trainer airplane, the Polish version of which would have a domestically producal engine and be called the PZL-110 Koliber. Similarly the Polish production version of the utility and ambulance airplane Piper Seneca-II was called the PZL Mewa M-20. The Koliber was already being produced by 1984, but the Mewa would not go into production until imported equipment had been replaced with domestically-produced equipment. Prototypes of trainers PZL-130 Orlik and PZL M-26 Iskierka had been built for domestic needs. One of them was to be selected for production in 1984.

It is worth noting that more aircraft are being built on license. The CSS-13 was the Polish ambulance version S-13. The Polish agricultural version of the Jak-12M was the Gawron, and the improved ambulance version of the SM-1 helicopter was the SM-2. The LiM-5M and LiM-6-II were derived from the LiM-5 airplane. The design office developed 24 versions of the Mi-2 helicopter and over a dozen versions of the An-2 airplane.

In 1985 production of the An-28 passenger aircraft began at the WSK in Mielec. It is true that it is incomparably smaller than the Illyshin, because it will take on board only 17 passengers, but it had a short take-off run and landing distance, and it can take off or land on any surface. The An-28 was intended to replace the An-2. At Mielec more than 11,000 of the An-2 had been produced. It was one of the longest series of aircraft produced in the world. Only the American Lockheed plants had produced a larger number of aircraft. This was during the war, and all of the aircraft were produced for the front.

During the first four decades of People's Poland, by 1984 the Polish aircraft industry had produced a total of more than 25,900 airplanes, helicopters, and gliders, including about 15,500 airplanes, more than 5,750 helicopters, and 4,670 gliders, as well as 50,600 aircraft engines. The major share of this production went for export: 72 percent of airplane production, 90 percent of helicopter production, and 50 percent of glider production.

The USSR was the major market for the export of Polish aircraft. While 90 percent of the airplanes and helicopters produced were being exported, 90 percent of these exports went to the USSR. In addition, Polish airplanes and helicopters were bought by all the socialist countries and by a dozen and some countries in Africa, Asia, America, and Western Europe. The An-2 was exported to 22 countries, the Wilga to 20, and the Dromader to 15. Polish gliders were to be found in the skies over 40 of the countries of the world.

PZL produced aircraft in the following places: gliders in the plants in Bielsko, helicopters in Swidnik, airplanes at Warszawa-Okecie and Mielec, and aircraft engines in Rzeszow and Kalisz. There were also other subsidiary plants that produced fixtures and equipment. Altogether the Polish aviation industry employed 86,000 persons, including persons engaged in the production of the industry's non-aviation items (motorcycles and high-compression engines).

However, after the collapse of its Warsaw Pact trading partners and a decrease in defense spending around the world, Polands aviation industry could no longer successfully compete in the global aviation market. Despite its strength in the Communist era, the Polish aviation industry at the end of Communist rule was adept only at building variants of Soviet designs and selling its wares to a captive Warsaw Pact market. These inefficient aviation plants survived, dependent on nationalization. The plants could not support the extensive, present-day modernization of the Polish air force at a reasonable cost.

The Polish Council of Ministers recognized the need to upgrade these outdated facilities and their manufacturing processes by supporting the Defense and Aircraft Industry Transformation Program: 19962010. The Defense and Aircraft Industry Transformation Fund, established by the program of the same name, provided financing for factory and process modernization. Its intent was to kick-start the aircraft industry out of the vicious cycle of not attracting customers because of its inefficiency, which generated no income to update factories to attract new customers. It is unclear whether this fund benefited Polands aircraft industry, since as late as 1999, pressure was on the Polish government and ministry of defense to create another national defense industry fund and to award military modernization contracts to indigenous defense plants.

Fear of privatization hindered the aviation industrys conversion to a modern industry. Unlike many of the small to midsized companies the Polish government and the international community helped transform to privately owned entities, the aviation industry remained a state-controlled entity in the shadow of the Communist era.

The Ministry of Economy initiated a program to restructure and consolidate the defense industry. Under this program, two holding companies were established by the end of 2003. One was PHZ Bumar and the other was the Industrial Development Agency (ARP - Agencja Rozwoju Przemysku). The aircraft/electronics group (under the Industrial Development Agency (ARP - Agencja Rozwoju Przemysku)) included: Polskie Zaklady Lotnicze Mielec, WSK PZL-Swidnik S.A., ZR Radmor S.A., and PZL Hydral S.A. PHZ Cenzin trading company handles marketing and export for ARP Group. Also, there were three repair shipyards, thirteen military repair facilities, and eight research and development institutions for the defense/military function. In addition to the above listed companies, there are several small private firms, which are very successful on the Polish market including WB Electronics, Transbit, Wamtechnika, DGT, and Airpol.

The R&D institution cooperating very closely with the Industrial Development Agency (ARP - Agencja Rozwoju Przemysku) Group was the Institute of Aviation in Warsaw. From it's beginning, the Institute was recognized as a leading design, research and development center for Polish governmental organizations and the Polish Aviation Industry, performing many design and research projects and scientific works. The Institute of Aviation is strictly focused on international cooperation, integration with European and worldwide R&D in the area of aerospace and similar high-tech human endeavors. They employ highly experienced scientists and technical staff. Their laboratories are ISO certified and can perform specialized tests and highly accurate measurement.

International cooperation is integral to the development of the Institute of Aviation. Particularly important is their focus on bringing together the research and development programs of new products from both the U.S and European aerospace industries. As such, the Institute of Aviation offers their expertise and diversifies its activities, i.e. specializes in areas, which might be suitable for foreign partners. One of the most effective and mutually profitable forms of international cooperation includes working as design offices, research teams or production centers for high technologies.

The Institute has close ties with U.S. Aerospace firms, including GE and Pratt and Whitney. A good example is the Engineering Design Center, established together with General Electric to provide sophisticated designs for U.S. partners. Moreover, the GE Engine Design Institute is a joint venture with the Polish Institute of Aviation. They are looking for further opportunities to cooperate with American firms in this sector.

Before the changes of 1989, the defense sector in Poland consisted of 150 companies that employed 215,000 people. Today, this sector consists of 23 companies and employs about 30,000 people. Because of their precarious financial situation, Polish defense firms have shown little interest in importing foreign equipment. Before 1991, Poland exported 50% of its military production. Today, it exports only about 13-15% of its military production. The majority of defense exports include ammunition, transportation vehicles, and spare parts. The defense industry continues to search for new export markets, particularly in developing countries and in the Middle East. Many new contacts are being negotiated for the sale of weapons and technical military equipment.

Polish defense companies seek cooperation agreements or joint venture opportunities with foreign defense companies that, combined with the relatively lower cost of production in Poland (particularly tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, ships, aircraft, and helicopters) will be attractive to potential customers. The U.S. company, United Technologies - Pratt & Whitney acquired 85% of the shares in aircraft engine producer WSK Rzeszow. The company had over 6000 Polish employees in its factories in Rzeszow and Kalisz. Pratt & Whitney makes airplane engines in Poland and it is one of the largest aviation companies in the country. The Polish Air Force will fly F-16s with Pratt & Whitney engines assembled in Rzeszow.

WSK Rzeszw light propulsion components factory was deeply modernised in the recent years, owned by Pratt & Whitney. Parts of made in Rzeszw engines' turbines, fuel and air pipes, gear boxes are being installed in majority of P&W engines. Rzeszw is also the only place outside the USA where F-16 engines are assembled. Pratt & Whitney employs 46 000 people. In 2007 Rzeszw employed 350 people and planned to employ another 400.

In addition, the Polish defense sector benefits from offset agreements in connection with the tender to supply 48 fighter aircraft for the Polish armed forces, which was awarded to Lockheed Martin in 2003. The direct investment in the defense sector includes sub-supply agreements, acquisition of know-how, and training assistance. Incoming streams of new technologies and licenses helps modernize the Polish defense industry enabling it to be involved in greater international cooperation.

A subsidiary of United Technologies Corporation, Sikorsky Aircraft of Hartford, Connecticut made a major strategic investment in Poland. Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation signed an agreement with Polish aircraft maker PZL Mielec to establish the assembly center for International Black Hawk helicopters and key helicopter components. Sikorsky's strategic investment in PZL Mielec will provide funding for factory improvements and tooling to support assembly of the International Black Hawk helicopter and other helicopter component production.

On 10 January 2007, Sikorsky Aircraft became owner of the Polish Aviation Factory in Mielec. Initial of document was at the end of December 2006. PZL Mielec was bought for approx. 10 mln USD announced Mr Jeffrey P. PINO., President of the Sikorsky Aircraft. In the same time he assure that there is completely no connection between buying PZL Mielec and preference for Sikorsky Aircraft in tender for deliveries of new helicopters for the Polish Armed Forces and Health Service. Army plans to buy approx. 85 heavy transport helicopters and Ministry of Health looks for 23 light helicopters till the end of 2010. Total value of contract will be probably approx. 4 bln USD. Sikorsky will invest around 45 mln USD, mainly in starting production of UH-60 Black Hawk military helicopters' hulls. Americans will also pay the debts of the Mielec factory.

This competition next to the helicopter factory in Swidnik, forced Augusta Westland company, which was involved in PZL Swidnik's production, to strengthen its position in Poland. British-Italian Agusta strengthens its presence in PZL Swidnik. Corporation orders increase and component export value exceeds half of the PZL Swidnik income. Agency for the Industrial Development which is the Swidnik's owner, expected capital involvement from Agusta. Italian group which has 11,5 bln USD income it the 2006 and employs 56 000 employees, had the agreement with the Agency, which gives Swidnik exclusive rights for selling joint products in eastern Europe. Swidnik's owner considered tightening capital ties between PZL and Augusta. Italians were interested in taking over approx. 20% of the PZL. E.g. exchange of the shares between Agency and Finmeccanica was being considered. PZL Swidnik needs new investments. Company might be strengthened by raising the capital. Since 29 January 2010 AgustaWestland company is the major shareholder of PZL-Swidnik.

In 2007 Bumar sold used Mi-8 helicopters to the Polish Army. These helicopters were overhauled in Russian Petersburg factory. Value of contract and its conditions are kept in confidence both by Bumar and the MoD. Used helicopters were ordered in Bumar a year ago by Iraqi government. After obtaining and modernising in Russia 7 pcs of helicopters, Iraqis changed the order and decided to buy new Mi-17 helicopters via Polish company. Used helicopters which were owned by Bumar were offered to the Polish Army. These are checked helicopters, equipped with stronger engines compare to the Mi-8s currently in use by the Polish Armed Forces. After equipping in modern communication equipment and additional armor they serveed with Polish soldiers in Afghanistan.

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Page last modified: 09-08-2012 19:41:54 ZULU