Meanwhile, Embraer has signed a 10-year lease for an A-29 final assembly facility at the Jacksonville (Fla.) International Airport after the Air Force lifted a stop-work order issued after Beechcraft filed its latest protest. The service cited the importance of delivering the aircraft to Afghanistan quickly, since U.S. forces plan to withdraw next year. After botching the first procurement, deliveries are now slated to begin next summer, about 14 months late.
This new Florida facility is a key part of Embraer's strategy to grow its U.S. presence. Securing “the American market opens the door. We cannot even measure how much [business] this will be,” says Luis Aguiar, CEO of Embraer Defense and Security.
Underscoring Beechcraft's challenge is that few U.S.-developed aircraft that have lost contract awards at home have succeeded internationally. But, Beechcraft CEO Boisture remains optimistic. “The loss of LAS doesn't preclude us from heaving a healthy program for years to come,” he says, adding several countries—though he declined to identify them—have inquired about the AT-6. Boisture says these potential sales could far exceed those for the LAS program. Still, however, the A-29 will be part of the service's foreign military sales program, offering benefits for countries in the market for this capability and wishing to interoperate with U.S. forces.
While in bankruptcy, Beechcraft restructured, shedding its unprofitable business jet lines and focusing on the trainer/attack segment, along with its piston/turboprop lines.
Boisture says the military business still accounts for one-quarter of revenue for the privately owned company.
Its best seller has been the T-6. Derived from the Pilatus PC-9, the aircraft was selected for the U.S. Air Force/Navy Joint Primary Aircraft Training System (JPATS) program, which led to significant foreign orders. Beechcraft recently delivered the 800th T-6 to the Navy. But the program has orders only through 2016, prompting Beechcraft to reduce the production rate and furlough 240 employees.
Beechcraft continues to have success with placing the King Air in special mission roles—an area bolstered by the unique requirements of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars—and there is little competition for the venerable twin-turboprop line. But most of those contracts involve small procurements.
Even so, Boisture says there's life for both the trainer and the attack variants. “The outlook on light-attack is a very positive one because we have an excellent weapon system that we developed,” he tells Aviation Week. “We are optimistic.”
The AT-6 is not an unknown in international markets, as the trainer has been used in 25 countries. The stigma has been that the AT-6 grew out of modifications to a platform designed for training, while the Super Tucano was designed specifically for the attack role.