Embraer has completed its three-year, $50 million project to bring business jet production and a global executive aviation customer centre to Melbourne international airport in Florida.

The 5 December opening of its 5,390m² (58,000ft²) customer centre, where US and European business jet buyers will converge to choose options for their jets and to take delivery, was capped off by the roll-out of the first US-made Embraer business jet from the companion production plant, opened in February this year.

The inaugural US-built jet is a Phenom 100 owned by US-based managed and fractional fleet provider Executive AirShare, which is the largest operator of Phenom business jets, with 13 Phenom 100s and five Phenom 300s by month's end, said AirShare chief executive Robert Taylor.

The company has orders for 22 more Phenom 100s up to 2015, Taylor added. "We're glad to have it here in Florida," he said. "It saves on the cost of going down to Brazil, and we can come and look at the aircraft as it is being built."

Executive AirShare also operates 10 Beechcraft King Air turboprops and three Beechjet 400s, although Taylor said he is phasing out the Beechjets in favour of the Phenoms.

The build process in Melbourne is identical to Embraer's Phenom 100 production in Brazil, with Portuguese instructions translated to English throughout the paperless 7,435m² production facility, said plant quality manager Arturo Garcia.

He said the facilities are built to withstand a category-four hurricane, a nod to Florida's notorious hurricane season.

Garcia said the single lean manufacturing five-station line, which can simultaneously build Phenom 100s and Phenom 300s, begins with subassemblies received from container ships from Embraer's Botucatu, Brazil plant, a process that takes three weeks from start to finish. Garcia said 60% of the Phenom's components come from US or Canadian suppliers, and those are delivered directly to the plant. The aircraft build takes about six weeks. Once interiors shipped from Brazil are installed, completed aircraft are moved to a 3,440m² facility nearby, where technicians can paint two aircraft at a time.

Production flight tests will be handled by two pilots on staff in Melbourne, although the flight department may have to grow as production increases, said Marco Tulio Pellegrini, senior vice-president of operations for Embraer executive jets. Pellegrini said test flights include a two-hour production flight test and a 3h maturity flight, typically over a two-day period. On the delivery date there is an additional 1-2h customer acceptance flight.

Embraer chief executive Frederico Curado said the Melbourne facility will deliver the first Phenom 100 in the next couple of weeks and build a mix of about 30 Phenom 100s and Phenom 300s in 2012. The rate will double again to 60 aircraft a year in 2013, he said. Full capacity is 96 aircraft a year, or eight a month. "I'm very hopeful we'll reach full capacity, hopefully not many years ahead," he said.

The production facility has 75 employees. About a quarter are former NASA contractors who worked on the Space Shuttle programme at the Kennedy Space Center. About 50 employees staff the customer centre. The production plant will ramp-up to 200 employees by mid-2012 working two shifts a day, five days a week. Workers are not unionised, he said.

Customers picking up their Phenom in the USA as opposed to Brazil save about three days in ferry time, although prices are expected to be almost identical for aircraft purchased from either location.

Embraer has a backlog of 350 orders for the two jets, with similar order levels this year as compared with last year, said Pellegrini.

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Source: Flight International