Jiří Protiva: We are coming up with new proposals on how to benefit the army by implementing our skills and abilities

 27. 12. 2023      category: Interviews
Přidat na Seznam.cz

The state enterprise LOM PRAHA is one of the successful enterprises established by the Ministry of Defence of the Czech Republic. For the third year in a row, its profits have been growing, its portfolio of activities has been increasing and the modernisation of all its activities has been similarly dynamic. All this while maintaining the basic task, which is to fulfil the capabilities and tasks that LOM PRAHA is supposed to provide for the benefit of the Czech Republic. These activities account for at least 80 % of the company's total volume. The key is the successful transition from the Eastern platform to the Western platform, successful cooperation with the Czech Armed Forces, but also with the civilian sector and involvement in industrial cooperation in the modernisation projects of the army. After a year, we talked about all this again with the director of the state enterprise LOM PRAHA, Jiří Protiva.

Video: Balance sheet interview with Jiří Protiva, Director of the state enterprise LOM PRAHA / CZ DEFENCE

The satisfaction of the director of the state enterprise LOM PRAHA with this year's expected positive economic result is mainly due to good communication with the Army of the Czech Republic. "We are coming up with new proposals on how to benefit the army by implementing our skills and abilities that exist here in the state enterprise. I have been saying for a long time that we are no longer focusing only on propellers, and therefore on Mi-series helicopters, but we are going further. It's new H1 helicopters, it's new platforms - like Embraer, or the F-35. But in the future, of course, we are also looking at foreign customers. And we mustn't forget training, where we are also responding to increased demand from abroad," Protiva calculates the foundations of success.

An important moment for the entire defence sector is the enactment of the 2% of GDP defence spending, which will also affect the state-owned enterprise LOM PRAHA, for example in the field of flight training. "As the army is re-equipping, the requirements for aviation training are increasing and we are responding to this operationally, whether by increasing personnel, purchasing or expanding the aviation equipment we use for training. But of course it is also about the service and maintenance portfolio itself. A typical example is the H1 helicopters. It has been said at various levels and meetings of the Ministry of Defence this year that SOEs are not primarily here to make a profit, but to be ready to fulfil capabilities towards the military. LOM PRAHA is in profit and can therefore invest back into its development," says Protiva. "You invest primarily in people. It's about creating a working environment and improving it, buying new machines in general, improving the facilities that we use here just for servicing, maintenance or training," says the director of the state enterprise, adding that the long-term ambition is to be a quality and stable employer.

According to director Protiva, the state-owned enterprise as a form of enterprise has certain limitations, which it is trying to address. "We try to provide benefits to people and improve them every year so that they feel that we value them and that we need them in the state enterprise. Before the end of this year, we have already signed a collective agreement for the next year, where we agreed just on the growth potential. It concerns not only wages, but also other benefits. And I think the effect is there. I always say that the collective agreement is a certain basis. If the company does as well as it has done so far, I am prepared, as a director of a state-owned enterprise, to increase benefits during the year. At the same time, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the employees, because management without employees would be useless, they are the driving force, and I thank them very much for that," says Protiva.

The company's major investments in the coming year include not only the purchase of L-39NG aircraft for pilot training, but also new machines for machining. "As far as repairs are concerned, that is where we continue to revitalise our immovable infrastructure. In addition to measures to save energy, equipping our buildings with new wood chip boilers or photovoltaic power plants or cells on the roofs of our buildings, these are all steps that we have developed and will continue in the coming year. I would like to mention investments in people and training, which are also important for the development of the state enterprise," says Jiří Protiva.

Foto: Mezi zásadní investice podniku v příštím roce patří nákup letadel L-39NG pro výcvik pilotů | Michal Pivoňka / CZ DEFENCE
Picture: The company's major investments in the coming year include the purchase of L-39NG aircraft for pilot training | Michal Pivoňka / CZ DEFENCE

An important element for the presentation of the company and its negotiations with other entities for cooperation is its participation in Czech and international exhibitions and trade fairs. This activity also helped the state enterprise LOM PRAHA this year. "We have participated in two major trade fairs this year, one in Paris and the other recently in Dubai. And it is important for us. Economic, or rather trade fair diplomacy, is also of utmost importance in the arms industry. It is necessary to present ourselves to foreign customers and to show what we can do in the territory of interest. We are succeeding in this. LOM Praha is visible at trade fairs. And it is important to remember that the support that comes from the state - or rather from the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Industry and Trade or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs - also plays a big role. It is very important to be there as one of the strong players in the field of the aerospace industry with a substantial representation of the Czech state. This is all helped by the fact that we have always been seen on the Czech national stand at the national exhibition recently. And this, of course, has great importance," points out the director Protiva.

An example of international cooperation is the recent signing of a cooperation agreement with North Macedonia. Although the relationship between the state enterprise LOM PRAHA and this country is long-standing, the new contract extends the cooperation to the servicing and maintenance of not only Mi series helicopters, but also other aircraft primarily used by the Macedonian training centre for the armed forces. "The cooperation is developing very well in this way because we are helping our alliance partner to maintain its capabilities at least until it, as well as other alliance partners, are effectively rearmed with Western equipment or Western technology. Foreign cooperation is not just about North Macedonia. We are currently intensifying cooperation with our neighbours, be it Poland, Slovakia, but of course we are also targeting other countries such as Bulgaria and Croatia. We are focusing primarily on EU and NATO countries. In the training, of course, I can also mention the opportunities that await us in the coming year. Our business plan includes Brazil, Thailand and Austria," says Jiří Protiva.

A significant impetus for LOM PRAHA to focus on NATO countries was, among other things, the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. "After what happened in Ukraine and what is still happening there, we targeted our partners in NATO and the European Union. We have offered to help them maintain their capabilities, which, like the Czech Republic, are tied to the eastern helicopter platform. But that is not the only thing we offer in terms of foreign cooperation. As I mentioned, it's training, but we are now also seeing civilian contracts from non-military portfolios, such as the use of machining, electroplating, where foreign partners are already turning to us to help them with capabilities, which of course continue to be lacking in this environment," says Protiva.

VR GROUP, a subsidiary of the state-owned company LOM PRAHA, is helping significantly in the fulfilment of capabilities, modernisation and industrial cooperation. "This year, it will report record revenues for its entire existence and is not only involved in aerospace simulation technology, but is also significantly involved in the CV90 programme at present, offering, developing and manufacturing a complete simulation system for this platform. But there is further cooperation with the Slovak Academy (STA) and building their simulation centres. Of course, all of this applies primarily to the Czech army as well. And I really like the fact that recently we have been going hand in hand and offering together a portfolio not only to the Czech army, but also abroad. And I am very happy that our group can offer a kind of package of services, which then, of course, has a more compact and interesting effect on our customers," points out the director of LOM PRAHA.

Foto: Dceřiná společnost státního podniku LOM PRAHA firma VR GROUP je významně zapojena do programu CV90 | Michal Pivoňka / CZ DEFENCE
Picture: VR GROUP, a subsidiary of the state enterprise LOM PRAHA, is significantly involved in the CV90 programme | Michal Pivoňka / CZ DEFENCE

The State Enterprise also includes the Centre of Flight Training (CLV), which will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year. This facility is also undergoing and will undergo dynamic changes. "Training requirements are growing, and the training centre has to adapt to this not only in terms of human potential, but also in terms of the fleet, or rather the aviation equipment we use. We have now secured the purchase of the L-39NG to ensure the continuous continuation of training on jet aircraft. We assume that we will continue to address this, because four units should not be enough in the future. However, the other fleet is also becoming obsolete, so we will gradually replace it. At the moment, the Zlins are next in line. We are expanding the Enstrom fleet. In the future, we will have to deal with helicopters, where the option is offered that we could also use the decommissioned Bell helicopters of the Police of the Czech Republic. This is currently under negotiation," says Jiří Protiva.

As far as the actual training of pilots is concerned, the plan is to maintain the basic training of cadets who come from the University of Defence and retrain them with members of the Czech Army. "However, we are also planning for foreign customers. The training of Georgian pilots should continue. As it was this year, the satisfaction was such that we will continue," says Protiva.

The director Protiva plans to offer the use of the Tactical Simulation Centre (TSC) to new countries, such as Brazil, which already has experience in training pilots in our country. As such, the centre is also changing its structure and training curriculum based on the requirements of the army. The CLV will also offer some of its capacity to the Ukrainian side. "We have offered the capacity to train pilots on a basic basis. We are currently waiting for a response. There are training capacities that could eventually contribute to the training of pilots who could subsequently fly F-16s," says Jiří Protiva.

We were interested to know how the Pardubice Air Training Centre and its airport are coping with current and especially future requirements and plans. This year, due to repairs, the CLV moved for a while to the premises of the Přerov-Bochoř airport, the fate of which has been fought over several times in the recent past. Today it is clear that the Přerov airport will remain and the CLV should share its capacity in the future together with the 533rd UAV battalion, which will move there from Prostějov and where the state enterprise is already creating facilities for the battalion's operation. "We also tested this year that it is possible to move part of the training to Přerov during various closures and I think that the airport has shown great potential and that it could be a certain base for part of the training in the future. I think it is very important to have these development opportunities as well because, as I mentioned, the requirements are constantly increasing and we have to respond to that. And let's face it, the Pardubice airport can only accommodate a certain amount of training and the rest could be implemented through the Přerov airport," says Jiří Protiva.

The state enterprise LOM PRAHA will also be involved in all three key projects, which are also included in the Concept of Development of the Czech Army until 2035 - combat and multi-purpose helicopters, 5th generation supersonic aircraft and medium transport aircraft. Regarding the Venom and Viper helicopters, Jiří Protiva says: "We are in a certain unique situation, because LOM PRAHA shows that it can transform itself and that it is currently repairing not only the Mi series helicopters, where we have come up with a national way where we are able to keep these helicopters in the air without the support of Russian design offices, but that we are also significantly competent with the H1 platform. It is important for us to build that competence through skilled aircraft mechanics and other expertise that we need to do that. We are currently in a kind of phase of acquiring these competences together with the army and I am glad that we are working very well with the army at the Namesti base," says Jiří Protiva and adds that already today the LOM PRAHA staff takes care of the H1 machines that are at the base.

Foto: Víceúčelový vrtulník UH-1Y Venom, v pozadí bitevní vrtulník AH-1Z Viper | Michal Pivoňka / CZ DEFENCE
Picture: UH-1Y Venom multirole helicopter, AH-1Z Viper attack helicopter in the background | Michal Pivoňka / CZ DEFENCE

According to the director, future cooperation will go in two directions. The first is the aforementioned maintenance and service. "Not only do we have trained employees, but we will continue to train them. I would like to point out that we have increased the scope of industrial cooperation with Bell. We recently signed a sixth project, which is dedicated to the maintenance and repair of composite parts of the primary structure. This means that we are acquiring new capabilities that we intend to expand further in the coming years. We have further training courses arranged with Bell, which should just prepare our mechanics for higher levels of maintenance," says the director, adding a second line of cooperation, which is the simulation centre. "Everything there is already in full swing. We have built a building that is already running. There is a simulator there that has been certified. The training has already started. And I should not forget one more thing, and that is the assistance and support of the Army of the Czech Republic in the acceptance, clearance and cataloguing of goods related to this platform, where we are providing just support in the supply of spare parts and other control measurement products, etc.," added Protiva.

Another significant shift in LOM PRAHA's service portfolio is the industrial cooperation within the F-35 project. "I have long been of the opinion that whatever is procured for the Air Force of the Czech Army, we should be there to a lesser or greater extent and bid for our role. We've actually succeeded in doing that in the sense that we've already agreed to two specific industrial agreements with the team. The first one is on training, where Lockheed should adapt our curriculum so that we can do basic training with the new aircraft for pilots with F-35 potential. And the second agreement will involve our subsidiary, and I am very pleased that we have arranged for the maintenance, operation, as well as upgrades and upgrades to the simulator itself, which should be located in the Czech Republic," plans Jiří Protiva, who believes that this project will bring even more opportunities in the future.

Foto: F-35 Lightning II na Dnech NATO 2023 | Michal Pivoňka / CZ DEFENCE
Picture: Another significant shift in LOM PRAHA's service portfolio is the industrial cooperation within the F-35 project | Michal Pivoňka / CZ DEFENCE

A relative novelty is the negotiation of the Ministry of Defence for the acquisition of two Embraer C-390 Millennium medium transport aircraft for the needs of the Czech Armed Forces. These are still noticeably missing in the equipment of our army. LOM PRAHA wants to be "there" in this case as well. "This was one of the big topics at the Dubai Air Show, where we met with Embraer representatives and where we met not only at the executive top level, but also at the working level, where we elaborated the possibilities that the state enterprise LOM PRAHA could materialize into a certain participation in the project of two medium transport aircraft for the Czech Army. There we are discussing in general the issue of service and maintenance and also logistics," says Jiří Protiva.

Foto: Momentka z rozhovoru s ředitelem státního podniku LOM PRAHA Jiřím Protivou | Michal Pivoňka / CZ DEFENCE
Picture: Moment from the interview with the director of the state enterprise LOM PRAHA Jiří Protiva | Michal Pivoňka / CZ DEFENCE

The interview with the director of the state enterprise LOM PRAHA, Jiří Protiva, was, as we have already mentioned in the introduction, a balance sheet interview, so the question of what we will talk about at the end of next year is logical. "Time will certainly bring interesting things. We will continue what we started this year. I would be happy to be able to tell you next year that we are involved in the Embraer project.

Foto: Embraer KC-390 Millennium na letošních NATO Days | Michal Pivoňka / CZ DEFENCE
Picture: Embraer KC-390 Millennium at this year's NATO Days | Michal Pivoňka / CZ DEFENCE

I would also like to say that we have made progress in the agreements related to the F-35 platform and that we may have brought something new to the LOM PRAHA portfolio," says director of LOM PRAHA Jiří Protiva.

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