Embraer's decision to invest in Portugal has been a catalyst for the Iberian nation's emerging aerospace sector, which has high hopes of becoming a key player in European industry.

So said Sergio da Cunha Oliveira, general executive manager of the Portuguese Aerospace Industry Association, here at the show with the country's first-ever national pavilion.

The Brazilian airframer has in the past five years become a stakeholder in state-controlled aerostructures, maintenance, repair and overhaul house Ogma and is building two aerostructures plants - one for composites, the other for metals - that are due to open next year.

The move will give Portugal's nascent aerospace, security and research businesses a chance to "prove that they can work as part of a supply chain for an integrator", said Oliveira. "The aerospace market is very conservative and it is difficult for new players because they don't have the references."

Another market for Portuguese companies is Spain. Because Lisbon's defence budget is tiny - and likely to get smaller as a result of fiscal austerity - local industry must spread its wings, said Oliveira. "We have to think in terms of a wider Iberian market. It is a no-brainer. Spain has an established aerospace industry."

However, the country turned down a major opportunity to integrate with its next-door neighbour when it rejected early last decade an earlier plan to participate in the Airbus Military A400M programme. "If you look at the impact the A400M had on Seville, helping to create a whole cluster of suppliers in the region, it was a huge mistake from my perspective," said Oliveira. "If Portugal had become involved at an early stage it would have been significant."

Source: Flight Daily News