Portugal, first export customer for Embraer KC-390 airlifter

Marcos Corrêa

Portugal decided to acquire five Embraer KC-390 transport aircraft and thus to become the first international customer for the plane.

Embraer announced on July 11, 2019, that the Portuguese Council of Ministers had approved an order for five KC-390 multi-mission aircraft, a flight simulator, and logistical support, in a contract that should amount to €827 million. These aircraft are due to replace the Lockheed Martin C-130H of the Força Aerea Portuguesa (FAP), the Portuguese Air Force. They should be assigned to the 501 Transport Squadron “Bisontes”, based in Montijo Air Base (LPMT). The delivery should begin in 2023 and end by 2027.

The choice of the KC-390 will help to “reinforce the current capabilities of air transport, search and rescue, sanitary evacuations and support to national citizens,” according to the Council.

Portugal is a major partner in the KC-390 program, with some of its parts including the aircraft central fuselage being produced by Embraer’s subsidiary OGMA in Evora, about a hundred kilometers east of Lisboa. It is now the first export customer of the aircraft, with Brazil still being the largest customer. Its entry into service with the Brazilian Air Force should happen in the 3rd quarter of 2019.

This new order brings the total backlog to 35 aircraft. Embraer has also received letters of intent from the Czech Republic (another partner in the program), as well as Argentina, Chile, and Colombia. Initially considered as a potential customer, Sweden later dismissed the idea, preferring instead to upgrade its existing fleet of C-130H.

The KC-390 is a tactical transport and inflight refueling aircraft. Powered by two specially designed Pratt and Whitney V2500-E5 engines, it can carry 26 tons of cargo, including vehicles like two M113 armored personnel carriers, or a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter. The biggest aircraft produced in Latin America, it is designed to take off and land on semi-prepared and unpaved airfields.

Despite its smaller capacities in both range and payload compared to the new Airbus A400M Atlas, its attractive price ($85 million compared to $165 million for Airbus transporter) could potentially interest some countries with smaller defense budgets that are still using Lockheed Martin’s bestseller.

While Boeing was taking over the commercial aviation activities of Embraer, the two manufacturers agreed on a second joint venture to continue the production of the KC-390. Embraer should hold a 51% stake and Boeing ‒ the remaining 49%, of this new company.


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