Singapore Air Show

Embraer C-390 would serve Asia well

 - February 20, 2008, 2:52 AM

Since April last year, when Embraer revealed that it is studying the possible development of a military transport aircraft, the world has awaited further news of the project with particular interest.

Sized between Alenia’s C-27J Spartan and the ubiquitous Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules, the C-390 would be able to carry 84 troops, 64 paratroops or up to 19 tons of cargo, including wheeled armored fighting vehicles. (AFVs).

To facilitate loading and unloading of such over-sized cargo, the C-390 will have a rear ventral ramp and door. But although the C-390 would be the heaviest aircraft that Embraer has built so far, development will be eased by incorporating many of the technological solutions from the company’s E-Jets series. This includes modifying the low wing used in the E-190, to a high-wing position on the military aircraft.

Potential powerplant options that have been studied in the 17,000- to 22,000-pound-thrust range include the Pratt &Whitney PW6000 and the Rolls-Royce BR715, both of which would be equally acceptable by civil or military operators. Although primarily promoted for defense operators, the Brazilian postal service is reportedly interested in buying at least five examples, eventually building up a fleet of some 25, replacing the current practice of using commercial freight services to carry mail.

Embraer has an enviable record of recognizing gaps in the market and filling them before competitors latch on to the idea, usually benefiting from a sizable market share. But although the Brazilian company sold a substantial number of Tucano trainers, it has fared less well with the Super Tucano, while sales of special mission variants of its ERJ 145 regional airliner have also been limited.

So it would be a bold move to launch the C-390, although since the first announcement of the study, extensive market surveys have been carried out throughout the world. The company’s vice-president, marketing and sales Asia, Sergio Bellato Alves told AIN prospects in this region look promising. “I believe the aircraft could be a success in Asia,” he declared.

Discussions reported earlier this year on a possible risk-sharing partnership with South Africa’s Denel group certainly indicates that the project is still being actively considered. Signing up potential customers in Asia could possibly tip the “go/no-go” balance.