I spent last Friday in Portugal, attending the official opening of Embraer's new twin factories in Evora. Here is my story that will appear in the 2 October issue of Flight International.
PORTUGAL MAKES IT AT LAST
The Portuguese have long looked enviously over their border to Spain's thriving aerospace sector, with its A400M final assembly line and raft of suppliers feeding into Airbus, Eurocopter and other EADS businesses - the industry is a shining light in the nation's ailing economy.
Portugal, meanwhile, pulled out of a planned acquisition of the military transporter a decade ago, and lost its chance to participate in the programme.
Instead, Portugal's modest aerospace sector has been based on OGMA - a partly state-owned maintenance, repair and overhaul house - alongside a very small group of aerostructures and technology companies.
Bereft of a major manufacturer of aircraft systems, there has been little opportunity for an industrial or skills base to develop, and the global aerospace industry has consequently largely passed Portugal by.
However this is set to change, courtesy of Embraer. The airframer - based in Portugal's one-time colony Brazil and whose managers share a common language with their European cousins - formally opened its first European factories in the city of Evora on 21 September.
The side-by-side facilities will make, respectively, metallic and composite aerostructures for Embraer aircraft. Work will begin later this year and they are expected to reach production capacity in the second half of 2013.
Initially, the factories will focus on wings and horizontal stabilisers for the new Legacy 450 and 500 business jets, with other programmes such as the KC-390 military transporter likely to follow. The initial workforce will be 100, rising to 600 once the factory is at capacity.
Embraer is spending a total of €180 million ($230 million) on the plants - not a fortune in aerospace terms, but enough to get the Portuguese very excited: the inauguration ceremony was attended by the country's great and good, including president Anibal Cavaco Silva and members of the government.
They hope Embraer's investment - announced four years ago - will have both a symbolic and economic multiplier effect, finally giving Portugal the status of an aerospace manufacturing nation, and kick-starting a new sector of small and medium-size manufacturing and design enterprises in Evora and beyond.
It is not Embraer's first foray into Portugal's aerospace sector. Six years ago, the Brazilian company became the controlling shareholder in OGMA in a part-privatisation (initially with EADS, although it has since bought out its European rival).
Embraer has since awarded OGMA and another Portuguese company, EEA, contracts to design and manufacture fuselage sections for the KC-390. Lisbon has committed to buy six examples of the transport, which is due to fly in 2014, but has not yet placed a firm order.
Evora - a sleepy, if beautiful, former Roman settlement not far from the Spanish border and surrounded by rolling farmland - typifies many of the challenges of the Portuguese economy. Highly dependent on tourism, fishing and agriculture, the country, and rural regions in particular, face rising unemployment and depopulation. The cash-strapped government badly needs the higher-value exports and jobs that an aerospace sector offers. President Silva described the opening of the factories as "a special moment for Evora and the whole national economy".
For Embraer, the move into Portugal has a number of benefits. It shifts an element of its cost base into the eurozone and reduces its exposure to the dollar/real exchange rate, and while local aeronautical experience is lacking, the airframer can draw on a well-educated skills pool in a region where wage pressure is low.
Financial incentives from Portugal and the European Union were "important" but certainly "not the main reason" Embraer moved in, says chief executive Frederico Curado.
Around the gleaming new factories stand hectares of empty land. Embraer and the local authority hope smaller suppliers will be persuaded to set up shop, creating the country's first true aerospace cluster.
It may not quite be Seville - with its large Aeropolis technology park next to the giant production hangars of Airbus Military - but Portugal hopes Evora may be the cradle of a modest, but important, aerospace industry.