Embraer expects to sign the first firm order for the KC-390 airlifter and tanker in the first quarter of 2014, as the pace of development and testing accelerates 20 months ahead of the scheduled first flight milestone.
"We will fly this aircraft at the end of next year, which is like saying, tomorrow - it's so close, but we'll do it," says Paulo Gastão Silva, Embraer's KC-390 programme director.
Embraer is already on contract to build the first two KC-390 prototypes for the flight test programme. Six countries have signed commitments to buy 60 more of the twinjets: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, the Czech Republic and Portugal.
The manufacturer is now releasing engineering drawings for suppliers to start building the first components for the KC-390, after clearing the critical design review with the Brazilian air force in March 2013.
Building the first aircraft will help Embraer refine its cost models enough to establish the baseline price for the aircraft. The company has kept its internal estimates for the KC-390 secret so far.
Embraer has released a market forecast showing potential demand for 728 aircraft in the KC-390 class, valued at more than $50 billion, or roughly at least $69 million per aircraft. Embraer Defense Systems chief executive Luiz Carlos Aguiar, however, says the overall market assessment is not a basis for setting the cost of the new aircraft.
Aguiar says the Lockheed Martin C-130J airlifter is sold on the international market within the range of $90-120 million, and Embraer is committed to beating the price of the US-built type.