Comment: Embraer deserves to steer its own tanker

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Nearly two years have passed since Embraer and the Brazilian air force formally launched the KC-390 tanker-transport. Six governments have committed to buy as many as 60 aircraft in total, and Embraer is nearing the end of the supplier-selection phase.

But time marches quickly on the KC-390 schedule. First flight is scheduled in 2014, first delivery in 2016.

The KC-390 is the latest project aimed at challenging the virtual monopoly enjoyed for decades by the Lockheed Martin C-130, which Embraer labels a heavy airlifter and the US Air Force calls a tactical transport.

Therein lies the challenge. Not only must Embraer overcome a historically entrenched competitor, it also has to transcend the legacy of many similar attempts that have suffered huge cost overruns or simply failed.

 © Embraer

The right model for managing the KC-390 programme is essential to producing competitive aircraft.

However, Embraer has disclosed that the Brazilian air force will make final decisions on major suppliers. This does not bode well for a development programme, unless the service follows Embraer's recommendations.

Of course, Embraer officials say they are content with the air force's current role.

After using the same model to field the Super Tucano and military versions of the ERJ-145, Embraer has earned the right to be confident. That's a good thing, because the KC-390's future may depend on it.