MELBOURNE, Fla. — Brazilian aerospace manufacturer Embraer is hopeful that its KC-390 multirole aircraft will land its first foreign customer by the end of 2017.
Jackson Schneider, the company's executive vice president of its defense business, said Embraer believes it is closing in on its first international KC-390 sale, although he would not tie a potential announcement to the upcoming Paris Air Show later this month.
"We have a very mature process with one of the potential customers," he told reporters during a June 2 briefing at Embraer's executive jet production facilities in Melbourne, Florida. Defense News accepted travel and hotel accommodations as part of the media trip.
"For sure there is work to be done," Schneider added. "I think we hope to have the possibility to announce this year."
The KC-390 was designed in the early part of this decade to be a direct competitor to the ubiquitous Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules. The multirole plane can take on missions ranging from search and rescue, fire suppression and both cargo and troop transportation and could even be transformed into a gunship if a customer had interest, Schneider said.
Embraer has garnered one order from the Brazilian Air Force for 28 KC-390s. Although Schneider declined to elaborate on potential foreign customers, he confirmed that Embraer in late 2016 responded to a request for information for New Zealand's future air mobility capability, which would replace its C-130s with five new aircraft.
Five other nations — Argentina, Chile, Colombia, the Czech Republic and Portugal — have signed letters of intent signaling interest in buying up to 32 KC-390s total, but the company has struggled to finalize those deals.
That isn't stopping Embraer from increasing the hype around the product in 2017. During a briefing at the its executive jet production facilities in Melbourne, Schneider announced that the KC-390 will conduct a flight demonstration at the Paris Air Show — the first time the plane has been shown in action on the international stage. The weeklong event will kick off June 19 at Le Bourget Airport.
"We will show the capabilities of the plane. We will show how it performs in terms of high speed, low speed, landing [and] taking off," he said. "We did demonstration flights in the countries we visited, but in shows, we've never did it before. It will be the first time. When we were in Farnborough [International Airshow in 2016] it was a static presentation."
After Paris, the KC-390 will embark on a demo tour through Europe and Asia to drum up further interest in the capability, he said.
Meanwhile, Embraer is moving forward with wrapping up tests needed for the Brazilian Air Force to certify that the aircraft is ready for initial operational capability. The company’s two test KC-390s have already clocked in more than 1,000 flight hours, including a recent paratrooper and cargo drop assessment with the air force. Embraer plans on delivering two production aircraft next year after an IOC declaration is made, with full operational capability expected shortly after that. Also in early 2018, the KC-390 will refuel a fighter jet for the first time, Schneider said.
"I think that we are delivering exactly what we have promised in the beginning of this program," he said. "It’s absolutely on track, and the tests are progressing according to plan."
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.