Aero Vodochody helping Nigerian Air Force reactivate L-39 jets


Czech manufacturer Aero Vodochody is helping the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) return a number of L-39ZA jets to service, with two refurbished aircraft handed over on 4 November, while three L-39ZAs undergo maintenance in the Czech Republic.

Local refurbishment work began on three L-39ZAs on 6 November and on 27 November the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, paid a visit to 403 Flying Training School (403 FTS) at Nigerian Air Force Base Kano to assess progress.

He stated that the fleet reactivation efforts on the L-39ZAs in Kano as well as on the Alpha Jet aircraft in Kainji, F-7Mi aircraft in Makurdi and C-130H aircraft in Ikeja, amongst others, clearly shows that the Federal Government is doing everything possible to ensure that the NAF has the required assets to protect Nigeria.

The L-39ZA life extension programme (LEP), which involves in-depth inspection of main and crucial components of the airframe, engine, avionics and escape system of the aircraft, is being executed by the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) Aero Vodochody with support from NAF engineers and technicians. It follows the previous life extension of another three L-39s.

“We are hoping that before the end of December 2020, we would have completed the LEP on the three aircraft and be able to roll them out for operations. This will certainly add value to what we are doing in terms of fighting insurgency in the North East as well as armed banditry in the North West, particularly in Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna States,” Abubakar said.

Two of the three aircraft were handed over at 403 FTS on 4 December. Abubakar said that reactivation work on the third L-39ZA was progressing steadily, and it will be handed over this week.

He disclosed that there are also three other L-39ZA aircraft currently undergoing general overhaul and avionics upgrade at the Aero Vodochody facility in Prague, Czech Republic, and these are expected back in the country before the third quarter of 2021. It is believed that US company Genesys Aerosystems is upgrading the avionics.

On 1 July, an Antonov An-124 transport aircraft sent by Czech companies arrived in the northern Nigerian city of Kano as part of the contract for the overhaul of the three L-39s. “While Czech-made airplanes will be moved to the Czech Republic for repairs, it would be pity if the giant Antonov airplane flies to Nigeria empty,” the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Abuja said at the time. As a result, the aircraft was used to transport a Czech humanitarian donation of medical supplies to Nigeria in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Czech companies Linet and LOM Praha supplied the humanitarian aid free of charge. Linet, a medical services company, donated ten Eleganza hospital beds worth 20 000 euros and LOM Praha provided personal protective equipment from its stocks. Czech companies Aero Vodochody, Defcon and Excalibur International provided the space in the aircraft free of charge as well and helped with logistics, the Czech Embassy said.

Defcon focusses on Sub-Saharan African countries. It says its core business is deliveries of spare parts, upgrades, service activities, pilot and ground staff training. The company “is fully authorized firm to provide supplies of materials, services and solutions in the field of foreign trade with military equipment.”

Ecalibur International describes itself as a project solutions provider and “an export agency representing Czech and Slovak companies on international markets.” The company focuses on aircraft and special purpose military hardware sales including associated logistics and aftersales services.

Last month Abubakar said that “Apart from the L-39ZA aircraft, we are also expecting that the Periodic Depot Maintenance (PDM) on two Alpha Jets, which is currently ongoing in Kainji, would also be completed to boost the efforts in ensuring that the country is secured.”

Abubakar recalled that he had visited Makurdi a few weeks ago to assess progress on the reactivation of nine F-7Ni fighter aircraft. Two of the F-7Ni aircraft would be overhauled in Makurdi, while seven aircraft, which require high level, in-depth maintenance and avionics upgrade by the Original Equipment Manufacturer, were being airfreighted to China due to the unavailability of all the necessary maintenance and test equipment within Nigeria.

He highlighted that the most exciting feature of the ongoing reactivation efforts was the fact that some of the work was being done in-country, thereby affording the NAF the opportunity to build the capacity of significant number of its engineers and technicians. Abubakar said that the LEP on the L-39ZA was being conducted in Kano for the second time in the last five years. He also noted that the PDM on the Alpha Jet aircraft was also being done in Kainji for the second time, just like the F-7Ni LEP which was being done for the second time in Makurdi, in the last five years. “We have equally successfully carried out PDM on C-130H aircraft twice in Ikeja and we are preparing for the third one”, he added.

On 4 December, Abubakar said that “Plans are in top gear to carry out major inspection on the Mi-24V and A109 helicopters, while arrangements for PDM on an additional C-130H (NAF 918) has been completed and work is scheduled to commence by the first quarter of next year. This would bring to three the number of C-130H aircraft successfully reactivated in-country, an unprecedented feat in the 56 years history of the NAF. Additionally, the service just took delivery of an additional Mi-171E helicopter within the week. These are some of the modest achievements and plans of the service in our quest to keep a formidable fleet of aircraft to meet the Nation’s air power needs”, the CAS said.

The Chief of Air Staff noted that, in addition to the reactivation of aircraft, the NAF has about 200 personnel undergoing various air and ground training courses in nine different countries. These, he said, included four pilots from 403 FTS undergoing training in the Czech Republic, where the L-39ZA is manufactured.

Since at least 2018, NAF pilots have undergone training at LOM Praha’s CLV flight training centre in the Czech Republic, with an emphasis on air-to-air combat skills.