Over the last decade there has been an influx of large aerospace companies from Western Europe and North America into the Podkarpacie region of Poland, centred around the southeastern city of Rzeszow. Now dubbed ‘Aviation Valley’, the area has been at the heart of Poland’s aerospace sector since the late 1930s and is now being revitalised by new companies from outside the region setting up shop there.
Foreign investment in the Polish aerospace industry, such as the Anglo-Italian AgustaWestland’s acquisition of Poland’s helicopter manufacturer PZL Swidnik in 2010, has seen a complete overhaul of the country’s aerospace industry since the days when Polish companies were geared entirely towards producing aircraft for the Soviet Union and its allies.
Now most Polish aerospace companies are foreign-owned and fully integrated into a global supply chain, including medium and small-sized companies that are growing and taking on new workers.
The total aerospace workforce in the region now stands at some 23,000. Companies such as Sikorsky (USA) and Pratt & Whitney (USA) have joined AgustaWestland in taking over former state-run companies, while others have started Polish operations from scratch. MTU (Germany), Hispano-Suiza (France), Goodrich (USA) and Avio (Italy) have all started operations in Poland in recent years.
Although labour costs are lower than in western Europe, Poland does not want to be seen as growing its aerospace business on the basis of cost alone. There is continued investment in the education system; with technical universities with specific aerospace disciplines; standards of English are high; and business standards are very transparent. This provides an environment in which Poles aspire to adding value in design, engineering, development and research, as well as assembly.
In recent years the Aviation Valley has grown to an aerospace cluster of almost 100 companies, representing 80% of Poland’s aerospace industry.