GE Aviation’s program director in the Czech Republic, Milan Šlapák, often feels like an electrician – he loves to connect people. He says: “I match contacts until the lights go up somewhere”. This way, Mr. Šlapák has managed to ignite a gigantic aviation industry project – development, testing, production, assembly, and service of the latest turboprop engine, the ATP.
The highlights of the interview Mr. Šlapák gave to Czech magazine Svet prumyslu) follow:
On the history of the aviation industry in the Czech Republic
The current performance of Czech aviation and the general dexterity of people in the industry are rooted deep in history. Education and engineering were strong in our region way back in the era of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Over time, the industry specialised, mainly towards defense and automotive, but aviation progressed, too; for instance, Letov was quite successful.
However, Czechoslovakia started lagging behind after WWII, when aviation and other industries had to focus on markets with a lower pressure on know-how. All segments of the aviation industry in the West made a huge leap forward during the communist era. Aviation awareness and tradition persisted primarily due to small and medium aviation and hobbyist aviation. Aviation enthusiasm never died away, but concentrated in small and sports aviation. This helped preserve the roots of the aviation industry in the country. After the economy opened up, Czech companies started venturing to the West, but they were in a difficult position without knowledge of capital flows and routes to Western markets. Nevertheless, over the past ten years, the world has learned that Czech aviation is a force to be reckoned with in the small aircraft segment and the market has been growing steeply.
On the selection of a location for the ATP turboprop engine center, which will be in operation in 2020:
We are in the final stage of defining the requirements, costs, and operating parameters, such as limits for waste, noise, etc. Anyhow, we focus on Central Bohemia, which is a region near Prague, with the final location to be confirmed early this fall.
On the central location of the autonomous Czech GE Aviation business team:
The placement of the ATP project to the Czech Republic makes the country the global turboprop aviation headquarters for GE Aviation. The entire management will be seated here, which means the current key managers will have to relocate. So, we will have a global-level team based in the Czech Republic.
This is the outcome of GE arriving at the conclusion that “going the Czech way” to fill the turboprop engine market gap was the optimal solution. Hundreds of people then contributed to the success by putting an enormous effort into turning the Walter Engines plant, which was in a deplorable condition, into an agile and dynamic operation.
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