Boeing and Embraer Partner to Sell KC-390

Brazilian and U.S. defense firms sign agreement as Boeing denies any motivations to improve it's case to sell Super Hornets to Brazilian air force.

PARIS — Boeing announced Tuesday it will partner with Brazilian defense firm, Embraer, to find a buyer for the KC-390, a medium sized airlifter that Embraer has developed.

Embraer is trying to capitalize on the momentum of landing its first significant U.S. defense contract after it won a $455 million contract to build 20 light attack aircraft for the U.S. Air Force, which is buying the aircraft for the Afghanistan air force. Embraer and Sierra Nevada built the Super Tucano, which beat out Beechcraft’s AT-6.

The KC-390 is a multi-mission mobility and aerial refueling aircraft that is comparable to the C-27J, which is a program the U.S. Air Force has ended because of budget cuts. Boeing also partnered with the Italian defense firm Alenia Aermacchi before the C-27J program for the U.S. was controversially cancelled.

Officials with Boeing and Embraer at the Paris Air Show said this is a different scenario. Luiz Carlos Aguiar, president and CEO of Embraer Defesa & Seguranca, said the Embraer looks forward to its partnership with Boeing and hopes the U.S. based company can help provide in-roads to the U.S, U.K, and select Middle East markets.

Embraer and Boeing don’t expect to sell the KC-390 to the U.S. anytime soon, especially with sequestration and the budget environment in the U.S. However, Chris Raymond, vice president of business development for Boeing Defense, Space & Security, said Tuesday at a press conference that he could see the U.S. potentially buying the aircraft in the mid to long term.

The 411-foot airlifter flies at a maximum altitude of 36,000 feet. It can carry a payload of 23 tons with a range of 2,000 nautical miles.

A question was raised at the press conference if Boeing had ulterior motives in signing the agreement since Boeing is in competition to sell the Brazilian government it’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. Raymond said that did not play into the decision.

Raymond and Aguiar said the timing for the partnership made sense because Embraer recently completed the Critical Design Review and remains on schedule.

Aguiar said the potential market for the KC-390 although he  hinted that it could increase. Embraer officials had previously estimated the market to be 700 aircraft even before the U.S., U.K, or the Middle East could serve as a part of that market.

Boeing’s partnership with Embraer is just it’s latest move to increase its presence in Brazil and South America at large. Boeing officials have listed Brazil as one of the few markets ripe for growth in the defense market. The defense firm had recently opened an office in Sau Paulo, the largest city in Brazil.