FARNBOROUGH, England — When Boeing and Embraer announced a tie-up for commercial business, it left quite a few questions about how the defense side of the Brazilian firm would work with the American giant. The answer, early on, is that there will be a new partnership around the KC-390 transport aircraft; but according to Jackson Schneider, president and CEO of Embraer Defense & Security, that is just the first step.
During an interview at last month’s Farnborough International Airshow, Schneider laid out his hopes for the Boeing tie-up as well as potential growth for the company’s border security operations and A-29 Super Tucano aircraft.
How does the Boeing-Embraer commercial deal impact the discussions you’ll be having on the defense side?
Defense will be a different transfer. We will decide together which will be the format. But it works as a normal joint venture, normal relationship, normal partnership. The most important thing to me in this dimension is [the interest] that both companies are dedicating for the programs. It is clear Boeing and Embraer is dedicated to investigate and identify the opportunities together.
A lot of analysts expect the two companies to start in on some sort of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance/early-warning special-mission aircraft designs. Do you anticipate the same?
I think that we have very interesting applications in terms of business jets — very creative. 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.
What’s the timeline here? How quickly can you stand up a project?
To define the possibilities is quick. To develop, to introduce it to market, depends on also what you are talking with the potential clients. Also, the design of the solution can be more or less sophisticated ... in terms of time frame to market solution and price.
How is the planned KC-390 deal between you and Boeing different now versus previous agreements? Could it feature more marketing from Boeing?
We can discuss a much broader collaboration, although I cannot anticipate much for you because we didn’t discuss yet. But yes, we can discuss much broader collaboration. Let’s see what [is] to come through end of the year.
But do you think the Boeing name and reach opens up a number of markets for the KC-390 that were previously hard to break into?
Boeing has fantastic experience, [and] the KC-390 is a fantastic plane; it is a game-changer. But I understand that we don’t have a substantial number of clients yet because we are in the certification phase. For sure I think that the Boeing presence in the market is very complementary of what we have. It will enlarge significantly our opportunities in terms of sales.
Are you looking at team-up opportunities aside from the KC-390 and special-missions aircraft?
We are pretty much focused on these two, these two ones in the beginning. Other ones can come, but these are our main focus. The most important one of all is the KC-390.
So not likely on drones, even though both companies have experience there?
We didn’t discuss it. We didn’t talk about [it].
An A-29 taking part in the U.S. Air Force light-attack experiment crashed this summer, which led to the service shutting down the flying portion of the experiment. What is the status of that investigation?
We had an accident, and there is a probe now. The United States Air Force authorities are investigating. We are hoping to support and provide that information, but we cannot anticipate anything else because we are in the investigation process. The investigation is 100 percent their responsibility.
If they restarted flying, would you look to offer another A-29 for testing?
They informed us they were satisfied with the data they collected. I respect their time frame, their investigation processes. They informed everyone that they were satisfied with the data they collected in the exercise; they continue to collect that in a static basis, so we will continue [to] participate in this process.
Aside from the U.S. Air Force decision, do you anticipate more market penetration with the A-29?
Consistently, we have announced sales every year. I expect it to go on in the same bent. We are always talking, we are always discussing. We have about 300 planes flying around in different corners of the world, being intensively used in very extreme operations, war zones. At this moment this plane is being used in three to four active war zones, depending on how you define that. This is a plane that is always attracting interest from other countries and potential customers.
Embraer has also designed a border security platform for Brazil. Given concerns about migrant flow around the world, do you see that business growing?
I think yes, for many reasons. I would say the system is the same, but there are different situations. It could be smuggling, penetration, drug dealers, even weapon smuggling in the Brazilian case. This is one kind. Another is insurgent movements, penetration of guerrilla movements, [some forms] of migrations. That just means that border surveillance — for different reasons depending on the part of the world you’re looking at — are being much more required to combat this kind of situation.
Today we have a family that can provide surveillance to 20 kilometers, 60 kilometers, up to 200 kilometers for surveillance. This first phase [for Brazil], it was used not only to implement but to develop, to engineer and to have this solution that today we have. I’m pretty convinced that once we have it, you replicate it, not only the second phase but also in other corners of the world.
By the way, we have already signed some export contracts and we are implementing it in some specific countries. Unfortunately I cannot [identify] a country, but one country in Africa we are in the implementation phase now. For contract reasons I cannot disclose the name. It’s signed, we are already paid, we have teams there being implemented. This is already running.
Are you at all concerned about the potential tariff fights between the U.S. and some of its trading partners impacting either your business directly or having cost impacts through your supply chain?
It’s early to say. Let’s see. For our reason it is too early to say. I would say that I don’t anticipate any issue, [but] let’s analyze and see what we see. It depends on where you are, where your supply chain is. It is very early to say.
Conceptually everything can happen. But for our business itself, depending on where you are, part of our supply base comes from the United States, we are in United States. [So] perhaps it is not so much perhaps the effects will not be so significant. But we have to wait and see.