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Learning to fly with SPIRIT Slovenia

| Internationalisation and Foreign Direct Investments

Slovenia’s small yet prominent aerospace industry was presented on AERO show in Friedrichshafen.

 

Can a two million nation has its own aerospace industry? Its companies most probably cannot develop supersonic fighter jets or huge commercial airliners. But in carefully selected narrow niches size doesn’t matter: what counts is passion and know-how.

When it comes to flying Slovenians seems to have both. The first aircraft in Central Europe was designed, constructed and flown by  Slovenian aviation pioneer Edvard Rusjan and his brother Josip. Their EDA I plane made its first flight in November 1909, only five years after the Wright brothers and three years after the first European airplane flight.

Over a hundred years later a number of Slovenian entrepreneurs follow the example of the Rusjan brothers. This April 12th Slovenian companies took part in Europe’s largest general aviation exhibition, AERO in German Friedrichshafen.

The most awarded exhibitor at this year’s AERO was Pipistrel, a Slovenian maker of ultra-light aircraft. Its Alpha trainer won the award for the show’s best ultralight plane. The innovative four seater Panthera was pronounced “Single engine aircraft of the Future”. A complete list of the awards won by Pipistrel this year or in its 25-year long history is simply too long. The company founded by flying enthusiast Ivo Boscarol managed to become one of the world’s leading, most innovative, and also most respected manufacturer of ultra light aircraft.

Pipistrel is a relatively small company: it employs 85 people and made over 11 million euros of sales in 2013. Yet it is the biggest player in Slovenian aviation industry. Altogether 18 companies list aircraft construction as their main activity. Most of them were present in Friedrichshafen. The companies are mostly small and place strong emphasis on research, development and design. 

Albastar was founded by Pavel Potočnik, an ex-engineer from Slovenian sports equipment maker Elan. Potočnik was one of the pioneers in composite materials technologies in Slovenia: Albastar develops and produces composite assemblies and parts for ultralight planes and gliders. The company also designs and constructs its own light gliders.

Glider manufacture has been a successful niche for Slovenian companies for some time. LX Navigation from Celje and its daughter company LX NAV has been a “leading producer” of the instruments used in gliders for over 30 years.Naviter from Kranj develops software for glider pilots. Selflaunch propulsion systems allow glider planes to take off without assistance. The electronic versions of these systems are designed and produced by LZ Design from Logatec, a small town near Ljubljana.

C2P Company from Petrovče near Celje focuses on small aircraft design, prototyping, tooling and testing. In Friedrichshafen the young company presented the prototype of its first family - sport plane, a four seater called One. Serial production, however, is still beyond the small scope of the company, at least without a partner. Another example of young enterprise focusing entirely on multidisciplinary R&D and design is Alteng from Sevnica.

C-Astral from Ajdovščina develops unmanned systems. Its Bramor electric propulsion drone has been tested in extreme Arctic and desert conditions and is used mostly in mapping and surveying. The company is also working on the development of small satellites. But this is already a topic for another story: can a 2 million nation have its own space research industry? Stay with us and read the next issues of SPIRIT’s news.