Plovdiv is gaining new weight for aircraft part manufacturer Latecoere, now that the French company has transferred the entire process of door assembly for the European market from the Czech Republic to this city in southern Bulgaria. Besides front doors for the A320 family of Airbus, which is the group's major customer, the Bulgarian plant has taken over back doors too since July. That will make Latecoere Bulgaria the door manufacturer for Europe, with its current output planned to double.
Transfer to Plovdiv
Latecoere built its Bulgarian plant five years ago, starting with the production of avionic racks and later adding door assembly and metal components for nose cone sections. The door production transfer began in 2019, when the group decided that the standard workforce at its plants would be up to 500 people. At that time the Czech factory employed more than 1,200 people and was responsible for elementary part production, as well as assembly. "It was decided that we need to offload the facility from the assembly activities. Plovdiv was the city where we could easily find skilled people," Patrick Bernard, CEO of Latecoere Bulgaria since July, told the Capital Weekly.
The main activity in Plovdiv at present is the Airbus A320 door program, which has been transferred since the middle of July, validated by the partners. "That means that we have pushed to Latecoere Bulgaria the load that we would like to put for the coming months and years. With the size of the building we have at this time, it is enough to do the activity that we have," Bernard said. "We are expecting a new door production line soon, which is in the pipeline and we will be able to announce further details towards the end of this year or early next year."
The factory is located in the village of Radinovo near Plovdiv and spans 9,000 sq. m. The company has enough land for further expansion if needed. "We have a goal to continue to grow by additional work packages that we need to win," Bernard explained.
The Covid-19 pandemic affected the aviation sector and all component manufacturers, including Latecoere, which has two main lines of business: wiring and aerostructure. "We had more than 600 million euro turnover before the Covid, during the pandemic it fell by 50% and now it is increasing to 400 or 450 million euro," Bernard said. But with the market recovery gaining speed, the race for skilled workers has become more intense.
For Latecoere Bulgaria, the market shrinkage during the pandemic resulted in a slight reduction in staff - by some 50 people to 200 in 2020 - but sales went up 42% and the company booked a small profit. The lack of mass layoffs helped keep its skilled workers and be ready for the increased volumes after 2021.
As of July 2023, Latecoere Bulgaria employed 376 people, with the number growing steadily after the crisis. Sales in 2022 amounted to 77.7 million levs (about 40 million euro), up 28% year on year.
Covid also prompted some changes in the organization of the group, which decided to redistribute its footprint, rather than close factories. The plant in Plovdiv can benefit from that. "There will be two main activities: one in Europe and one in North America. Elementary part production in Europe will be done in the Czech Republic and assemblies in Plovdiv. In North America, production for Boeing and Embraer will be done in Mexico, where we have part production and assembly facilities," Bernard explained.
Now that the market has started to recover, the group has the ambition to more than double its sales. "The goal is to exceed 1 billion euro turnover in 2026-27," Bernard said.