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KC-390 partnership may signal coalescing of earlier agreement

Boeing has agreed to partner with Embraer on its KC-390 tanker-transport programme; the move may be a sign that a broader agreement signed earlier in April is starting to coalesce.

"It's a pre-emptive offset," says analyst Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group. "They had this sort of framework agreement, but this is more of a concrete step towards cooperating on an actual programme."

While the move will help bolster the Brazilian company's efforts to develop the KC-390, Aboulafia questions how meaningful the agreement truly is. The details of the agreement are too vague to gauge how deep any collaboration might run. Neither Embraer nor Boeing could comment by press time.

"It's not really clear what scope for cooperation there is between Boeing and Embraer aside from individual programmes," Aboulafia says. "One reason this works is because Boeing has no presence in the military medium lift market."

 Embraer

 ©Embraer

For Boeing, the agreement will help secure offsets for the 36 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets which it hopes Brazil will buy. "Boeing needs help getting into the Brazilian military market," Aboulafia says. But as for cooperation beyond the immediate need to provide offsets, the prognosis is murky.

Meanwhile, Embraer will be able to leverage Boeing's military aircraft expertise and it will be able to leverage the global defense titan's powerful marketing apparatus. Moreover, while the Brazilian airframer has built smaller military aircraft like the A-29 Super Tucano, it has no experience in building military transport aircraft.

The KC-390 is aimed squarely at the Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules' core market, but the Brazilian aircraft is not likely to make much headway in the US market. The US Department of Defense seems to prefer turboprops rather than jets for the tactical tanker-transport segment, Aboulafia says. That is primarily because the US Air Force and US Marine Corps' need to aerial refuel helicopters.

But Boeing/Embraer team could compete on the international market. "Boeing could definitely help there-both in terms of marketing and logistical support," Aboulafia says.

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