Ukraine has never been regarded as a competitor in aircraft engineering. Still, Aeroprakt was able to gain foothold on the market and start competing with global aircraft manufacturers.
For over 20 years, the Ukrainian company Aeroprakt has been building airplanes flying all over the world, from Australia to Chile. These are ultralight two-seat aircraft weighting, together with the pilot and gasoline, up to 450 kg.
Almost 50% of the company’s aircraft are sold in EU states, mostly to private customers and flight schools. Aeroprakt Chief Designer Yurii Yakovlev told Business Together, a Delo.UA and EU Delegation to Ukraine project, that Ukraine has never been regarded as a competitor in aircraft engineering. Still, the Ukrainian company was able to gain foothold on the global market.
How many aircraft do you manufacture annually?
Last year, we made 91 aircraft, which is a record achievement for us at the moment. The demand is, in fact, large, but in present conditions, we are not ready to increase the output, because we badly need more production space. Today, to assemble a new aircraft, we have to take another one apart and move it somewhere. This year, we plan to build a facility twice as big as the present one. We’ll have more space, and will need less labor to build more aircraft.
Who are the buyers of Ukrainian aircraft?
Last year, we sold about 50% (i.e. 45) of our aircraft to the European Union.
Presently, our key customer in the EU is France. Also, we have a lot of customers in Germany, Spain, Poland and Norway.
We deliver more than 20 aircraft per year to Australia (in fact, 25%). Today, we sell 6-7 aircraft per year in the United States.
There are buyers from Chile, Argentina, Brazil. You can find our aircraft in Panama and Guatemala. In South Africa and Kenya, our airplanes patrol national parks. The only place without our aircraft yet is Antarctica.
In Africa, your aircraft are used to monitor preserved areas. What are your aircraft purchased for in other countries?
The majority of our buyers are private individuals with sufficient income to get such a “toy”. These are people who just want to fly.
Many our aircraft — about a quarter, I think — go to flight schools to train people to fly. Our airplanes are also used for aerial photography and crop dusting.
In Australia, for example, they are used to herd animals. There, cattle and goats do not graze in a limited area; they are herded in the outback using airplanes and helicopters.
Do you sell your aircraft in Ukraine?
The last year was record breaking for us: we sold three aircraft. Not a lot, but still.
We sold one aircraft to the Security Service of Ukraine for special operations, and the other two to private customers.
By the way, one of our aircraft was used in ATO. We provided it to the intelligence people, and it helped down an enemy drone.
What is Aeroprakt’s global rank, and who are your competitors?
Almost two thousand ultralight aircraft are sold in the world every year (Aeroprakt’s share is almost 5% — editor’s note). We are the world’s third largest manufacturer of this type of aircraft. The Italians are first, and the Slovenes are second.
What is your competitive edge? Price?
Globally, our segment features mostly amateurs. Me and my partner Oleh Lytovchenko came from serious aviation, from the state company Antonov, so it was easier for us to start building aircraft.
Perhaps our aircraft are not the best in the world. But they aren’t the worst, either. We treat our customers with care. For instance, there was a story when one buyer received an aircraft with cracks in the windshield. We checked the entire consignment, and send the customer a new windshield within a few days.
Does your aircraft have certain features or technical characteristics better than in competitors?
Our aircraft does not excel with characteristics. It’s not the fastest model and not the most cost-effective. But it is a quality and safe aircraft.
Aeroprakt airplanes are flying off-roaders of sorts.
Our aircraft easily land outside an airfield. That’s their competitive edge.
But our aircraft are really cheaper than, say, Austrian- or German-manufactured ones. By the way, that helped us in the United Arab Emirates. We showed quality at a lower price.
By the way, how much does a two-seater made in Ukraine cost?
The minimum price is 45 thousand euros. Quite affordable for many.
Was it hard for a Ukrainian manufacturer to enter the European market?
Actually, if you make a quality product, there’s nothing difficult in that. We began building our business in the 1990s, when there was no Ukrainian market for aircraft at all.
We had to sell where money is.
It was easier to sell in Europe than, say, in the United States.
Are there any barriers for a Ukrainian company desirous of selling aircraft in the EU?
In Europe, Ukraine wasn’t regarded as a dangerous competitor in aircraft engineering, and therefore, no import duties were charged on Ukrainian aircraft sold in the European market. Today, Ukraine is a renowned manufacturer of light aircraft.
And what about certification and aircraft safety requirements?
There are some particularities here. The aircraft we manufacture do not fall under EU regulations, being excluded from them. In other words, there are no uniform rules for certification of aircraft weighting up to 450 kg in the EU, so every country has its own procedures.
And the rules for our aircraft are simpler than, for example, general European rules for aircraft weighting 600 kg.
But the absence of uniform requirements has its downsides. We have to work separately with every EU state, and have to separately procure certificates and permits.
Is it difficult to procure authorization documents in European countries?
Let’s take a look at this situation using the German certificate as an example. By the way, it is also recognized in Poland, Norway and France. It took us a couple of years to receive this certificate. But had we invested more efforts, it could’ve been done in half a year or a year.
Certificates are issued by the authorities responsible for aviation safety (similar to the State Aviation Service of Ukraine — editor’s note). We apply to these authorities, provide all documents proving that our aircraft is compliant with applicable requirements, show calculations of its durability, flight speed and that its landing gear could bear the load. We also have to show a contract with a dealer, to prove that our aircraft will be serviced in this country.
You buy engines for your aircraft in Austria. Did they and other component parts become cheaper after the entry of the Free Trade Agreement into force?
To be sure, our aircraft contain almost no Ukrainian-made materials. The only exception is, perhaps, fiberglass cloth manufactured in Kharkiv. As for all other materials — aviation aluminum, durable steel, resin, component parts, engines, equipment, bolts and nuts — we buy them in other countries. Aluminum, steel, bolts and nuts come from the United States. Engines are Austrian-made. But for us, nothing has actually changed. For import of aviation products was not limited on our part, either.
By the way, did you think about producing an aircraft with an electric motor?
I don’t see commercial prospects for it in the nearest future. The battery charge would be very limited, and the charging time very long.
To fly one hour, you’ll have to charge the battery for several hours.
There are aircraft manufacturers who dreamed about creating an airplane powered from solar batteries, which could fly around the world. What are your professional ambitions?
I could not become a military or civilian pilot because of my vision. But I still can fly. I started this business, because I wanted to fly the aircraft I built myself. I am more down-to-earth, more practical man who wants to make a lot of aircraft for more people to learn to fly.
The original article was published on Delo.ua