The Avionams aircraft repair plant in the southern Bulgarian town of Graf Ignatievo, privatised in 2008, is back in state hands and in future all Bulgarian military aircraft will be repaired there, Prime Minister Boiko Borissov said on August 2 2016.
In 2008, at the time of the Bulgarian Socialist Party-led tripartite coalition government, a 65 per cent share in the plant was sold to private investors, and in 2012, at the time of the first Borissov government, the remaining share was sold.
Borissov said that there had been “no logic” to the privatisation, adding that aircraft should be repaired “in their own yard, not in Poland” – a criticism he levelled in spite of the fact that his government had been in power at the time of the second part of the privatisation.
The mention of Poland was a reference to the fact that Bulgaria has, as of 2015, a contract with Poland to repair and maintain the engines of the Bulgarian Air Force’s small fleet of ageing Soviet-made MiG-29 fighters. The contract with Poland was signed after a similar contract with Russia expired, with the shift of business to Poland a matter of considerable annoyance for Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin.
Bulgaria’s government and Parliament have approved moves towards acquiring Western-made multi-role fighter jets to meet the standards of the Nato alliance of which Bulgaria has been a member since 2004. Meanwhile, the MiG-29s are carrying out air policing, with Bulgarian law recently amended to provide for assistance from foreign air forces in guarding its air space.
The re-acquisition of the Avionams plant cost the Bulgarian taxpayer a reported 29 million leva (about 14.79 million euro).
Borissov told reporters that Bulgaria now had more serviceable aircraft than it had had in 2002 and the country was honouring all of its border protection commitments.
He said that the state had re-acquired Avionams so that Bulgarian and other Nato aircraft could be repaired there.
Bulgarian-language website Mediapool said that the ownership of Avionams, when in private hands, had been linked to Tsvetan Vassilev, the majority shareholder of now-bankrupt Corporate Commercial Bank. Vassilev is wanted by Bulgaria to face serious criminal charges in connection with the collapse of the bank. He denies wrongdoing.
Traces of the ownership of Avionams were lost in offshore companies after Vassilev and controversial figure Delyan Peevski fell out and Corpbank collapsed in 2014, Mediapool said.
The report noted that for the plant to be able to repair not only other types of aircraft in service in Bulgaria but also the MiG-29s, Russia would have provide documentation for licensing such activity, a step that experts viewed as doubtful. Russia frequently has alleged that the Polish repair of the Bulgarian MiGs is not a legitimately licensed activity.
Borissov also took a sideswipe at Air Force chief General Roumen Radev, who has resigned and who has been named as a possible Bulgarian Socialist Party candidate in Bulgaria’s November 6 2016 presidential elections.
Radev, who submitted his resignation in October 2015 complaining of a lack of resources for him to fulfil his duties as Air Force commander, but was talked out of it by Borissov, should have resigned when Avionams was privatised, the Prime Minister said.