Latin America's aerospace industry is expected to benefit from both increased defence spending and burgeoning commercial opportunities. Industrial offsets are expected to be part of any fighter sales to Chile, Brazil and Argentina, and aircraft purchases by the region's airliners could bring subcontract work into local factories.

It is not yet clear what offsets Chile will expect in return for a fighter order but contractors expect its state-owned aerospace company to play a role. The company has previously upgraded air force F-5s and Mirages with Israeli assistance, and assembled the Casa C101 advanced trainer/light attack aircraft under licence. Enaer's own products have included the Pillan primary trainer, developed from a Piper airframe, and the Namcu light aircraft which it is working to certificate and market as a civil trainer.

Argentina's sole aerospace manufacturer was privatised as part of the deal with Lockheed Martin to upgrade the ex-US Marine Corps A-4s. Formerly part of the air force, FMA - renamed Lockheed Martin Aircraft Argentina - is being restructured as a regional maintenance centre for military and commercial transports. The company is also seeking aerostructures work and the possibility remains that production of the FMA-designed Pampa trainer could be resumed. The manufacturer would also push for work on any fighter eventually acquired by Argentina and is bidding to support and ultimately upgrade the A-4s to be acquired by the Brazilian navy. Often overlooked in a review of the region's aerospace industry is Colombia's El Gavilan, which is close to certificating the Gavilan utility aircraft after prolonged delays. Dwarfing these efforts, and those of Argentina and Chile, is Brazil's long established aerospace industry, now largely transformed with the successful privatisation of aircraft maker Embraer. The company is riding a growth curve fuelled by sales of its ERJ-145 regional jet and the launch of its smaller derivative, the ERJ-135, which has more than offset the slowdown of its previously popular EMB-120 regional turboprop.

Embraer delivered 31 ERJ-145s last year, compared with just 10 EMB-120s, and plans to boost production to 66 this year, plus 12 EMB-120s. Output is planned to increase to 72 ERJ-145s, 20 ERJ-135s and 12 EMB-120s in 1999 and to reach a combined total of 108 ERJ-135/145s, plus eight EMB-120s in 2000. The company will ramp up production of the EMB-312/314 trainer/attack aircraft to 48 a year in 2000.

Strong sales of the 50-seat ERJ-145 and launch of the 37-seat ERJ-135 have also meant increased business for Chile's Enaer, a risk sharing supplier of both programmes. Embraer itself is a risk sharing partner on Sikorsky's S-92 Helibus medium helicopter programme, supplying the sponsons and, through its EDE equipment subsidiary, the landing gear.

As trade between Latin American countries increases, and with cross-border investment, Brazil's aerospace industry could find itself the focus for increased co-operation within the region, particularly if armed forces and airlines find themselves operating similar equipment.

Source: Flight International