WASHINGTON — Boeing and Embraer’s interest in broadening their partnership on the Brazilian firm’s KC-390 cargo plane has been no secret, with executives from both companies discussing the possibility of a joint venture in the wake of a tie-up of their commercial business.
However, a July 5 memorandum of understanding between the companies — first obtained and reported on by The Air Current — reveals that cooperation on the KC-390 program could be more extensive than many first imagined, with executives seeing opportunities not only for Boeing to help market the plane but also to provide technological and industrial expertise.
The preponderance of the document, which appears to be signed by Embraer CEO Paulo Cesar de Souza e Silva and Boeing Chief Financial Officer Gregory Smith, revolves around Boeing and Embraer’s commercial business.
However, a short paragraph points to the opportunity for a joint venture for “KC-390 New Market Sales” to “grow KC-390 sales and aftermarket opportunities through joint efforts in sales, marketing, engineering and industrial collaboration.”
Boeing and Embraer execs have spoken in general terms about the KC-390 joint venture. At Farnborough Airshow this July, Smith told reporters that part of such an agreement would be to “sell that aircraft globally,” while Embraer’s defense head Jackson Schneider hinted that “much broader collaboration” could be in store.
However, the companies had not publicly acknowledged that Boeing could take a role in technology development or manufacturing — a prospect that the MOU seems to allude to, lending weight to recent reports that Embraer could build a plant in the United States for KC-390 assembly.
Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst with the Teal Group, said Boeing’s engineering know-how would be of use to Embraer for developing new variants of the KC-390 made for U.S. government use —the most likely form such engineering collaboration could take.
“I imagine special forces versions in particular would be important, and a general future product development roadmap, of course,” he said. “International customers like a product with a long future ahead.”
A strategy to create a commercial aerospace empire…but what about defense?
The MOU was signed the same day that the companies announced Boeing would take an 80 percent stake in Embraer’s commercial business. The document lays out a plan for doing so, with Embraer’s commercial arm becoming “NewCo,” a fully-integrated subsidiary of Boeing that would remain a Brazilian entity.
Details for planned changes to Embraer or Boeing’s defense business are scarce, with only the single paragraph on the KC-390 offering any insight into potential collaboration.
When the document does mention Embraer’s defense side, it’s mostly to stipulate that Embraer will retain control of its defense and security products and to assuage the Brazilian government’s fears that it could surrender some of its technological edge.
The MOU states that its aim is to create a partnership that “maintains and grows Brazilian defense and security capability in a manner that retains Brazilian national sovereignty and control” and notes in several places that the government’s “golden share” shall be preserved, allowing Brazil to veto changes in control of the company.
And while some have speculated that the Boeing-Embraer deal could pave the way for Boeing to play a role in some of Embraer’s other defense projects, such as the A-29 Super Tucano that the U.S. Air Force is buying for Afghanistan and is considering purchasing for itself, the MOU does not present any such plan.
The “defense & security business, with end to end product development capability, remains with Embraer, including the Super Tucano, KC-390, F-X2 platforms and various C4ISR systems, and all aspects (design, manufacture, test, certification, test, sale, etc.) of such products and systems, as well as all forms of support and other aftermarket services for such products and systems (mods, logistics, MRO, training, etc.,” the MOU states.
Although details on defense collaboration are limited, Boeing and Embraer executives have publicly spoken about potential areas of cooperation beyond KC-390 — leaving the door open on future Boeing involvement on products like Super Tucano. Raul Jungmann, Brazil’s defense minister, also spoke of the Embraer and Boeing partnership as “very interseting and very positive” in a December 2017 interview with Defense News, but with few details on possible expansion.
Embraer officials seem especially interested in opportunities for special mission aircraft using Embraer business jets. As Boeing does not make business jet-sized aircraft, such a product could potentially help the U.S. company extend itself into new markets, while Embraer would benefit from the marketing and after-market know-how.
“I think that we have very interesting applications in terms of business jets — very creative,” Schneider said at Farnborough. “We have already had some solutions that could go to market for training, for medical evacuation, for airport inspections, but there are many other opportunities, alternatives that we can explore together, also in this joint venture. We will begin a conversation to see how we can explore together special-mission solutions for the market.”