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Wednesday December 13, 2000

Poland invites bids for Swidnik helicopter maker

WARSAW, Poland ( Reuters ) - Poland's state treasury embarked on a long-delayed privatisation of its sole helicopter producer PZL Swidnik on Wednesday by inviting selected foreign investors to buy a minority stake in the company.

``The treasury ministry's intention is to acquire a strategic partner whose involvement would secure a long-term development of the company,'' the ministry said.

The treasury, which plans to complete the sell-off by mid-2001, did not disclose the identity of the firms which received official invitations to take part in the tender.

But Swidnik said investors were likely to include the Bell Helicopter unit of U.S. Textron, Boeing, Agusta, a unit of Italy's Finmeccanica and Eurocopter, part of European aerospace firm EADS .

The producers had already expressed interest in the sell-off of the firm, based in the south-eastern town of Swidnik, hoping to win an expected government contract for military helicopters.

Poland, which joined the NATO military treaty early last year, is seeking to upgrade its outdated armed forces, but budget restraints have so far put several multi-billion-dollar deals on hold.

The state treasury has not yet sold any of its 31 firms in the ailing defence sector, even though it says the privatisation of the industry is a priority.

Poland's defence firms have been making in the red in recent years and their combined debt surged to some 1.6 billion zlotys ($363.6 million) in 1999 after demand from the former Warsaw Pact countries dried up following the fall of the communist regime in 1989.

Swidnik, whose capital was raised by some 130 million zlotys through a transfer of 2.6 percent of copper and silver concern KGHM last year, produces the Sokol helicopter, which is to be used by Poland's armed forces as a support helicopter.

``We have been making helicopters for 50 years and we expect the future investor to maintain the production and help us enter foreign markets,'' Swidnik spokesman Jan Mazur told Reuters.

Mazur said the company, which has reduced its workforce by 30 percent to 2,300 in the last two years, should turn to a net profit in 2000 after suffering a nearly 30 million zloty loss in 1999. Sales are seen stable at 150 million zlotys this year.

Swidnik sold only three Sokol helicopters to the Polish army this year and has so far collected orders for another four in 2001, said Mazur.

  • Sokol PZL-3