Embraer is studying the possible development of a tactical military airlifter as part of expansion plans to balance its product portfolio and further cut its dependence on the regional air transport market.
The company will not confirm the existence of the study, but says that it continues to look at new directions under its strategic expansion policy that led to the 2005 decision to embark on the Phenom 100/300 light jet projects and become a leading player in the business aircraft market by 2015. The airlifter project, which is understood to be based around a turbofan-powered Lockheed Martin C-130-size concept, is one of several military/utility studies, say senior industry sources.
Embraer has also discussed the project with potential partners and suppliers, including engine manufacturers. Potential powerplant options have been studied in the 17,000-22,000lb-thrust (75.6-98kN) range, including engines such as Pratt & Whitney's PW6000 and Rolls-Royce's BR715. The former is in limited production for the Airbus A318 while the latter is in low-level production for spares only following the ending of the Boeing 717 line this year.
Parts suppliers such as Volvo Aero say some BR715 production is being maintained to sustain the line in the event of a new requirement materialising.
Embraer says the EMB-314 Super Tucano and airborne early warning, surveillance and maritime patrol versions of the ERJ-145 "are the only projects we are promoting at this point". Thanks to those and the AMX attack aircraft developed with Alenia, the company says it has developed links with "more than 20 foreign military air fleets".
Embraer enjoyed record income of $446 million in 2005 compared with $136 million in 2003, but its latest venture indicates an eagerness to reduce its reliance on commercial air transport. R&D costs are set to soar from 2005's $148 million to about $194 million in 2006 and $188 million in 2007 as spending on the Phenom 100/300 projects peaks. The airlifter study would be a departure from the company's approach to defence. Military products have traditionally been developed with a "low level of investment and no capital risk", says Embraer.