If you are looking for an organization that is able to offer both civilian and military state-of-the art pilot training for students, ranging from those with zero experience to the deployment-ready pilot, you won’t find many. And if you are looking for one that commercially operates Sikorsky UH‑60 Black Hawks, there is only one in Europe.
European Air Services provides complex aviation solutions that cover not only aviation training, but also procurement, sales, MRO and operational support for both fixed and rotary wing aircraft. The company is a part of CSG Aerospace Division within the holding company Czechoslovak Group (CSG) what enables the access to a wide range of capabilities available within the group.
EUROPEAN AIR SERVICES operates the various aviation training programs for its customers through Slovak Training Academy (STA) – a professional aviation training center established in the Kosice Airport (eastern Slovakia) in 2017. STA is also a part of CSG Aerospace Division and it offers the newest aircraft equipment combined with highly skilled pilot professionals, instructors and technicians and it also offers complex solutions ranging from basic civilian pilot training to mission-ready trainings, tactical as well as type ratings, along with aerial services and transportation. Their operating fleet consists of 24 helicopters and several different flight simulators. Their team of instructors have mission experience and have been in the US military for a long time.
The training base also offers a strategic variety of terrain conditions from mountains to forests and the changing seasonal weather experience, with 24/7 operation.
Running such an operation requires not only capacity in all aspects – including airbase, infrastructure, logistics and airspace, but also a know-how and strong vision. We recently interviewed both the CEO of European Air Services, Mr. Jozef Dzurus, with whom we talked about strategic issues and the direction of the company, as well as the COO of Slovak Training Academy, Mr. Lukas Halas, who gave us insights into the more technical and operational inquiries.
Kosice is historically connected with the training of military pilots – did this fact play a role in determining the location of STA?
Yes, it was one of the deciding factors in connection with the existing infrastructure of the International Airport Kosice and the presence of the Technical University Kosice, with which we have cooperated with on several successful projects. Technical University Kosice was historically connected with the training of Czechoslovak military pilots, so the tradition is there.
Aviation tradition is actually built into our company’s building, where the famous Biele Albatrosy had their headquarters before.
How did the establishment of a training capacity within CSG come about? The company’s portfolio includes air services but not those of a training type….
On the contrary, aviation training was CSG’s first aviation activity, almost immediately followed by the acquisition of the Job Air company and subsequent acquisitions by various aerospace companies. This rapid development evoked the establishment of the CSG Aerospace division and aviation became an integral and important part of the group. And this gives us a huge advantage and access to a wide range of capabilities available within the Czechoslovak Group. Thanks to synergies between all companies, we can offer complex services of the highest standard, saving our customers’ time and resources.
What services does STA offer today and what technology does it operate?
We offer a wide range of aviation training for civilian and military customers. We can train a student with zero experience, all they way up to the level of a mission-ready pilots. Training packages are customized to each client’s needs, from basic pilot training like PPL, CPL or Type rating courses, up to advanced and tactical training, alongside maintenance courses.
Our training methods have been perfected over years of our company’s existence also thanks to a long term cooperation with an international team of experienced instructors, mechanics, ground staff and project managers. Now after three years, we are the leading pilot training center in Europe.
To cover all stages of the pilot training, we have an extensive helicopter fleet, mostly based in Kosice, where we can operate 24/7 thanks to the International Airport. The most unique helicopters in our fleet are four UH-60A Blackhawk. We are the only commercial owner in Europe.
But we also operate other types of helicopters used for pilot training and aerial services. Type – S-300, MD500, MD530, Bell-206 and AS355N and, the fixed-wing, Tecnam P90. With this fleet, we can efficiently cover all stages of the training and meet any requirements our customer may have.
And, of course, we have several simulators needed for initial stages of the pilot training and are available directly at the airport with all classrooms and background.
What is your fleet’s total of flight hours per year?
In 2019 it was something slightly over 4,000 hours and for this year we expect approximately one thousand more.
STA also operates Black Hawk helicopters and, with the exception of the US fire brigade, is probably the only commercial entity to do so. What value does this helicopter bring?
Yes, this is true, we are the only commercial operator of UH-60 in Europe, and we have four helicopters for pilot training and one helicopter for maintenance training. UH-60 is a legendary aircraft and is among the most capable and proven utility helicopters in existence. It has the power and speed to fulfill a wide spectrum of missions.
Post-communist countries are gradually moving to Western platforms, and the Blackhawk is a typical example. The helicopter is very universal, and this is the main advantage, because it can be used either in combat units, in firefighting and in the air rescue service as well.
There is a tactical simulation centre in the Czech Republic. Is STA also considering acquiring a similar capability?
At STA, we currently use several simulators, which we use both to get acquainted with helicopter systems and to increase the knowledge and experience in flying by instruments. Tactical simulation training is a modern approach to acquiring operational capabilities to perform tasks, in which it is necessary to coordinate activities with other aircraft or ground units. Acquiring this ability is part of the company’s strategic development plans.
Who is a typical STA customer?
At the moment, we have a successful ongoing cooperation with government and military forces of several countries. Our customers are mostly looking to secure the training of a large number of pilots in a short period of time. And we have adapted to meet those needs, even if this may sometimes be difficult for our team.
Why should customers choose to train with STA? What are the benefits?
I guess the number one reason why our customers want to cooperate with us, is that we are capable of offering a uniquely wide range of aviation services. Mostly tailor-made training programs for civil and military pilots, engineers and equipment operators. Each cooperation with a client is different with different needs and, thanks to synergies between our companies, we can find a solution to any need within the capabilities available within the Czechoslovak Group.
Our training method also allows us to be very flexible and to work with students with different levels of experience. Our fleet helps to cover all stages of the training. As for the maintenance training course, it is also the background of the Technical University in Kosice. This is where we have launched a whole new training program with modern background for the study, ranging from virtual reality simulations to real experience in a helicopter.
Also our base location offers a very strategic variety of terrain conditions from mountains to forests and river areas, along with the changing seasonal weather experience. Which is a step ahead for every young pilot.
What are the plans for the future? Technology development – jets, drones?
We are still looking for ways to improve our training methodology, to come up with ways to improve and modernize our fleet. We are planning to use more new technologies like virtual reality, and we are investing in simulation technology. And as a new project, we are starting to expand our pilot training portfolio with the basic aviation courses on our own fixed wing aircraft Pilatus PC-9 and two brand new T-6 Texans. We are also excited about the potential and growth of UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) segment at the market and our project teams are just finishing their work to implement this very perspective aviation training program into our business.
Is management considering expanding into other commercial activities, such as construction, assembly work or seasonal aerial firefighting?
Most of the time our helicopters are fully occupied with pilot training on the basis of existing contracts, however, this is also the future of our fleet.
Among other things, we actively cooperate with the Slovak authorities so that our helicopters can be used in Kosice region when needed. In September, thanks to an aerial survey of our UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, the chairman of the Kosice self-governing region, Rastislav Trnka, was convinced that the flooding situation was serious. Helicopter monitoring pictures of flooded river Hornad was also sent to a Ministery of environment Ján Budaj to cooperate clearing away results of a dissaster. We helped to monitor the flood situation and to survey the damage in time which wouldn’t be possible from a land survey.
Interviewed by: Kateřina Urbanová and Jakub Fojtík, Ph.D., LL.M.