Jacksonville Business Journal - by Mark Szakonyi
Mark Szakonyi, Reporter
The 50 jobs Embraer plans to add to Jacksonville and the $4 million it will invest in the area if it’s awarded the needed defense contract is “just the beginning,” said Gary Spulak, president of Embraer Aircraft Holding Inc.
Spulak told Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll and Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R.-Fla., at Jacksonville International Airport yesterday that the five-year contract to build light attack aircraft, known as Super Tucanos, could lead to future work considering the aircraft’s mission versatility. The aircraft are attractive to U.S. allies and could supplement the U.S. Air Force’s aging F-16 fleet, he said.
Jacksonville economic development leaders hope Embraer follows Boeing Co. in entering the Jacksonville market modestly and ramping up as it finds success with the area’s work force and business atmosphere. Embraer will receive about $550,000 in local and state tax incentives if it opens up in Jacksonville, and about $30,000 will come from the city.
The Brazilian aircraft manufacturer said it has considered Jacksonville the best place to expand for several years, and the company would have made good here in 2004 if not for the cancellation of a $879 million contract with Lockheed Martin to build a spy plane. The creation of 200 new jobs and a $10 million investment were nixed after it was found that Lockheed Martin’s electronics were incompatible with Embraer’s ERJ-145 aircraft.
Embraer expects to learn in June whether it won the $950 million Department of Defense contract. If it does, work will begin in early 2013 at a now vacant 40,000-square-foot hangar at JIA. The average worker will earn about $49,500 annually.
Embraer’s major competitor for the contract is the AT-6 built by Hawker Beechcraft Corp. of Wichita, Kan. The first two aircraft completed through the contract would be used by the Afghanistan National Army Air Corps, but it’s unclear how many more aircraft would be built and who would use them.
“I’ve been to Afghanistan several times and I can see why they need this type of light aircraft,” Crenshaw said.
Embraer executives said the rugged Super Tucano can take off from unpaved runaways and has a top speed of about 350 mph. The aircraft’s electro optical sensor ball allows it to be used for surveillance missions.
Its infared capabilities also allow it to be used for law enforcement capabilities and counterinsurgence missions. The Super Tucano is also about a sixth of the cost of an F-16 and needs 10 percent of the jet fighter’s resources to operate, Embraer executives said.
According to “Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft 2008-9,” the aircraft has a flight endurance of more than six hours, can be armed with a heavy machine gun on each wing and can carry bombs, cannon and rocket pods.
The plane, which costs about $9 million apiece, won favor with the U.S. Special Operations Command when its operators tested the plane in 2009, according to Strategy Page, a military news website.
The Super Tucanos are inspired by the A-1 Skyraider, a popular ground support aircraft used during the Vietnam War.Colombia and Brazil have ordered a total of 144 Super Tucanos. About 650 older versions of the plane are used by 15 air forces for primarily internal security and border protection, according to Strategy Page.
Flightglobal, an aerospace news site, said the U.S. Air Force would use a small number of the aircraft, with the rest being bought “on behalf of cash-strapped partners in irregular warfare campaigns.”