Czech military signs long-awaited deal to offload surplus combat aircraft

L-159, photo: archive of Czech Army

A years-long effort by the Czech army to off-load some of its surplus L-159 planes has finally born fruit. On Monday Defence Minister Martin Stropnický and a representative of the Czech plane manufacturer Aero Vodochody signed a contract opening the way for the sale of 14 military airplanes to the American firm Draken International in 12 million dollar deal.

L-159,  photo: archive of Czech Army
Defence Minister Martin Stropnický declared Monday’s signing ceremony a historic moment for the Czech military. What to do with the army’s surplus 36 jets has been a nightmare for several successive defence ministers. The Czech government acquired 72 of these light combat L-159 planes from Aero Vodochody for 51 billion crowns back in 1997, when the Czech Republic was not yet part of NATO, and army strategists believed a strong air force was a necessity. However the military has put to use only 25 of the planes and has had to mothball the remaining aircraft. Efforts to find a buyer have taken over a decade and with passing time the planes are naturally dropping in value.

The Florida-based company Draken International, which specializes in training pilots, placed a binding bid last November to buy 14 of the planes, with an option for 14 more in the future. The sale is brokered by the firm which made the planes –Aeo Vodochody – since Czech law does not allow the government to sell off its surplus military equipment directly. Draken, which reportedly plans to use the planes as practice targets for US pilots, is to pay between 200 and 250 million crowns for the first 14 aircraft – the exact price is to be settled only after it has assessed the state of the aircraft in detail.

At the same time, Czech negotiators have made use of pressing interest on the part of Iraq for it to acquire 12 of these planes. The deal is as yet uncertain due to the unstable situation in the country and the Czech side is trying to secure guarantees, fearing that in the event of political change any agreement reached now might fall through.

Consequently it is keeping its options open and the deal signed on Monday includes the possibility to lower the number of planes in the second part of the Draken deal so as to be able to meet Iraq’s potential demand for 12 planes. Either way, it looks like the army will finally be able to offload its 36 surplus light combat planes and save the money of keeping them in mothballs. Defence Minister Stropnický said the military was actually getting a better price for the planes than that stipulated in a public tender for their sale back in 2012. The planes should be delivered to Draken in 2015 and 2016. The company Aero Vodochody also has reason to cheer. The sale is expected to boost its reputation and the contract with Draken includes a clause on marketing cooperation in North and South America which could bring the firm new clients.