First the E-Jets, then its business aircraft family, now a burgeoning defence business centred on the KC-390 transport. Once again Brazil's Embraer appears to have hit upon a winning strategy. Over the past 20 years or so, Embraer has transformed itself from a cheap and cheerful aircraft builder which no one took terribly seriously into a formidable player on the world stage, and each time it has got its tactics right.
Its E-Jets range became the leading brand of regional aircraft because it entered the market just when the lifting of scope clauses made it more economical for US airlines to fly larger, longer-range commuter jets, and customers were demanding a more comfortable in-flight experience. It broke into the business jet sector just as that was growing again in the mid-2000s, developing a family of value-oriented large cabin jets based on its regional aircraft. Its Legacy and Lineage variants appealed to less brand conscious customers in emerging markets who valued cabin comfort and size over range and performance.
Now with the KC-390, Embraer has tapped a widening gap in the market again. Every self-respecting country these days wants a small fleet of transport/tanker aircraft, primarily to meet humanitarian commitments abroad and project force beyond its borders. When the choice is between ageing US and Russian types, and the relatively small transports and large and expensive A400M on offer from Airbus Military, it is clear to see the appeal of the KC-390, which sits in a very practical and affordable niche. Without the burden of Europe's complex A400M industrial infrastructure, Embraer has the added advantage of being able to offer attractive workshare packages to countries such as Portugal and the Czech Republic that have modest, but under-used domestic aerospace sectors. It's a winning formula that should see the KC-390 win more orders beyond the very healthy 54 it has potentially secured from five nations.