In the recent month Embraer has strengthened its KC-390 tanker transport program, transforming from a domestic program into an international venture. Following the announced Brazilian government commitment to acquire 28 of the military transport jets for the Brazilian Air Force (FAB), Embraer announced three additional customers – Chile, Colombia, Portugal and most recently, the Czech Republic. Adding the the two European partners to the KC-390 program is an important step introducing the new transport plane to NATO, particularly as a potential successor of transport planes used by Eastern European NATO members as well as those countries operating relatively smaller air forces.
Embarking on four simultaneous cooperation programs underline the growing international interest and support for the program. Colombia intends to buy 12 aircraft, with Chile and Portugal buying six aircraft each. The Czech plans have not been made public but could materialize in the initial acquisition of two aircraft.
According to Orlando José Ferreira Neto, Embraer Executive Vice President – Defense Markets, the KC-390 project is moving ahead according to plan. The first flight of the airplane is expected for 2014 and entry into service for the end of 2015. “The most relevant wind tunnel tests campaigns have been concluded, allowing aerodynamic, structural and system configurations freezing.” Said Neto. Frederico Fleury Curado, Embraer President & CEO added that following the completion of the preliminary studies of the new jet transport, the company is now establishing the final configuration of the aircraft and the primary suppliers. The intended Portuguese buy places the prospective future sales of the KC-390 as of September 2010 at a total 52 airplanes.
Prospective Buyers Lineup
As early adaptors of the new transport plane, each of the countries is seeking industrial cooperation which Embraer is eager to share, leveraging part of the development and infrastructure costs involved with the new program. Following the declarative announcements the Embraer and its counterparts in Chile, Colombia and Portugal are expected to discuss the work share of each country in the future program. In addition, Argentina is also interested in joining the program as a supplier and customer.
Chile and Colombia are the largest operators of medium transport aircraft in Latin America. France and Sweden have also expressed support as part of offset buy supporting their respective offerings for Brazil’s F-X2 fighter program. Other prospects in the continent include Argentina and Bolivia (operating five C-130s each), Ecuador (2xC-130s) and Peru, operating seven Russian made An-32s.
While these two countries represent two of Embraer’s existing customers, an order from Portugal means a major win for Brazil, introducing its new transporter with a NATO member for the first time. Portugal is currently operating six C-130H Hercules transport planes, Portugal also operates 10 EADS C-295 used for maritime patrol. Colombia is operating 7 C-130B/H transports and Chile operates three C-130B/H models. Colombia has been a loyal customer for Embraer in the past two decades.
For Colombia, the KC-390 deal means an opportunity to develop its local industry. “We are taking big steps to significantly speed up the development of the country’s aeronautics industry, through the Colombian Aeronautics Industry Corporation (CIAC)” Air Marshal Flavio Ulloa, Colombian Air Force Chief of Logistical Operations commented. Colombia will follow the Chilean company ENAER, which has been supplying structures for the 50 seat ERJ145 since the mid 90s.
A Tough Competitor
The mission portfolio of the KC-390 includes troops and cargo transportation in diverse and challenging environments such as the Antarctica and Amazon regions, in-flight refueling, search and rescue (SAR) and medical evacuation (MEDEVAC). The jet transport is designed to be faster than its turbo-prop powered competitors, yet it will be capable of operating from short and semi prepared runways.
According to preliminary assessment, the KC 390 cargo capacity should exceed the initial Brazilian requirement and achieve 23 tons. A full size model of the cargo hold was built to assess the aircraft internal space and typical cargo operations. The results of these evaluations have confirmed the aircraft’s versatility.
The KC-390 will feature Computed Air Release Point (CARP) technology integrated with the fly-by-wire system, which will bring greater accuracy to air dropping while lowering crew workload. The airplane will incorporate a modern avionics system, including two Head-Up Displays (HUD) and a complete self-defense system. To support night operations the KC-390 cockpit will be compatible with Night Vision Goggles (NVG) technology.
Further Reading: Brazil Launches KC-390 Medium Transport Aircraft Program