Air Transport World

In the chase for western horses. (LET Narodni Podnik to use engines from General Electric Co. Aircraft Engines Div. to help market L610 transport plane)

With the country's velvet revolution' over, Czechoslovak plane maker LET looks to GE to proel its L610 to Western operators. by Robert W Moorman.

When last Czechoslovakian aircraft manufacturer LET's representatives were seen, they were giving a clinic in public relations and marketing at the Paris Air Show. The subject of their discourse to Western journalists was the company's latest entrant to the airline industry, the L610, a 40-passenger commuterliner that it hopes to market in the West for around $5-6 million.

Normally, such a sales pitch from an East European country would not be taken seriously. After all, the Soviet Union, with all its resources, has failed to successfully market any of its aircraft in the West. What made this particular sales pitch more palatable was the suggestion that LET would install Western-made engines and avionics on those aircraft that it would sell to Western operators. The names of engine manufacturers Pratt & Whitney Canada and GE Aircraft Engines were dropped for consumption, as were Collins and Bendix/King for avionics.

Then, in late January, GE announced that it had signed a $300 million contract with the Czechoslovakian Aviation industry for its CT7-9B engine to power the L61 0.

Officials of Omnipol Foreign Trade Corp., the Czechoslovakian aviation-industry trade organization that is marketing the L61 0, are convinced that the L61 0 program will not fly in the West with the Czechoslovakian Motorlet National Corp.'s Walter M602 engines that power the first production models. Also, they are sensitive to criticism concerning product support. Recently, Omnipol established the Czecho-Handel Co. in Denmark, to handle product support and marketing in the West for the 19-passenger LET L41 0, which has been certificated in Denmark, as well as the L610. LET anticipates Czechoslovakian certification of the L610 this year and Soviet certification in the first half of 1991.

Much has happened in Czechoslovakia since ATW talked with LET officials last June, not the least of which has been the nearly nonviolent revolution that toppled the Communist regime. Except for a brief reform in the mid-1960s led by Alexander Dubcek, who was ousted following the Soviet invasion in 1968, the country had been ruled by an iron hand, or paw, in the case of the bear in the background. Nevertheless, the country's designated aircraft manufacturer has enjoyed more freedom than have other businesses that sought to market their products abroad.

Ironically, the revolution may have been beneficial to the country politically. But it has certainly muted the hawking of the L610. Neither LET nor its trumpeter, Omnipol, would agree to be interviewed for this article. …

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