Had a political decision gone another way almost 10 years ago, the infant Portuguese aerospace industry might have taken a very different path. Long before the arrival of Embraer and the promise of a partnership on the KC-390, Portugal was set to throw in its lot with Airbus Military. Participation on the A400M programme could have led to Portuguese companies working alongside their Spanish cousins to feed the Seville-based operation.
But Lisbon cancelled its planned acquisition of three of the military transports in February 2003, months before the formal launch contract was signed, citing lack of funds. Although such a modest order was never going to provide Portugal with an economy-transforming offset deal, many believe that even limited industrial participation would have been transformational for a sector with little experience in building aircraft parts.
© Airbus Military
There is a question, however, over whether Portuguese industry was ready a decade ago to contribute in a meaningful way to the A400M supply chain. "Our companies did not have the necessary knowledge," says José Neves, business development director with technology company GMV, who was involved with the discussions at the time. "Only OGMA had the necessary capabilities." The government's more Atlanticist outlook was also a factor with Lockheed Martin - Portugal's air force operates six C-130Hs - exerting some influence against the proposed purchase, says Neves.
Not that Portugal has turned its back on Airbus Military, operating 18 of the Spanish-based manufacturer's smaller transports, the C-212 and C-295. The country's other main current procurement is another EADS-led programme, with 10 NH90 tactical transport helicopters on order.
The KC-390 deal with OGMA now gives Portugal's small suppliers a second chance to be part of an all-new military transport programme, one that may in the long run prove more beneficial for the industry than a tie-up with the airframer next door.