Brazil's Embraer has officially unveiled a business aircraft variant of its 37-seat ERJ-135 regional jet, following a $1 billion launch order from US fixed-based operator and charter company Swift Aviation.

The launch of the $19 million aircraft, dubbed the Legacy, could be the first in a family of Embraer business jets, with the second model likely to focus on a derivative of its ERJ -170, 70-seat regional jet, scheduled to enter service in 2002.

Swift Aviation's deal includes 25 firm orders and options, believed to represent the largest business jet contract ever placed by a private, non-fractional ownership operator.

Phoenix, Arizona-based Swift Aviation is due to take delivery of the first aircraft in September next year, one month after certification. The company has committed three aircraft to its 10-strong Swift Air charter fleet, comprising the Cessna Citation X, Dassault Falcon 2000, Gulfstream IV, Boeing 737and 757, while the rest which will be delivered at a rate of around five aircraft a year, could be leased or possibly sold.

The Legacy concept was conceived last year after consultation with potential customers. Embraer's executive vice-president Sam Hill says: "We know there is a sizeable market for an affordable, super mid-size aircraft. The Legacy's cabin [at 40m3(1,400 ft3 ) ] gives around two thirds more interior space than other aircraft in its class and we therefore expect it to be very well received".

The aircraft will be pitched against the Bombardier Continental, Galaxy Aerospace Galaxy and Raytheon Hawker Horizon. The Brazilian aerospace company forecasts a production rate of five aircraft in its first year, 16 in 2002 increasing to 24 aircraft from 2003.

Aircraft completions will be undertaken by Embraer "to control quality and timing" and the Jose dos Campos-based company is in the final stages of negotiations with a number of subcontractors from the USA and Europe.

The aircraft will offer a maximum cruise speed of Mach .78, a service ceiling of 39,000ft (11,900m) and range of about 1,730km (3,200 nm) with eight passengers, provided through the installation of an extra fuel tank in the belly carrying 3,200kg (7,000lb) of fuel.

Other modifications include the addition of winglets as standard and changes to improve the aircraft's short-field performance, as well as the Rolls-Royce AE3007A1P turbofans used to power the Legacy's 50-seat ERJ 145 stablemate.

Three versions will be available: 10-seat business aircraft variant, 20-seat corporate shuttle and a government VIP configured Legacy.

The Greek Government, which already has several military versions of Embraer regional jets on order, has signed for a single VIP-configured aircraft.

Source: Flight International