Portugal’s first KC-390 enters final phase of testing

The first of five Embraer KC-390 Millennium tanker-transports for the Força Aérea Portuguesa (FAP; Portuguese Air Force) has entered its final phase of testing ahead of its planned arrival in Portugal.

The aircraft – which currently wears the Brazilian test registration PT-ZDK but will be serialled 26901 – is currently undergoing final testing at Embraer’s facility in Gavião Peixoto, São Paulo, where test and certification flights are being conducted to meet Portugal’s specific requirements and to certify the aircraft with the Brazilian authorities.

Portugal has five Embraer KC-390 Millennium tanker-transports on order, with an option to acquire a sixth example. The first aircraft is set to arrive in Portugal in the near future for integration work, with deliveries to the FAP set to begin in early 2023.
Portugal has five Embraer KC-390 Millennium tanker-transports on order, with an option to acquire a sixth example. The first aircraft is set to arrive in Portugal in the near future for integration work, with deliveries to the FAP set to begin in early 2023. Embraer

According to the FAP, this final test phase is being carried out “under the watchful eye of the KC-390 Program Monitoring and Inspection Mission” and precedes the platform’s arrival in Portugal, where it will be integrated with NATO-standard equipment and certified by the country’s National Aeronautical Authority with support from the Portuguese aerospace company, OGMA. It has not been stated when the first KC-390 will arrive in Portugal for this additional work, but it is anticipated to take place before the first deliveries commence in early 2023.

The Portuguese Ministry of Defence (MOD) began its association with the platform on September 10, 2010, when it signed a Declaration of Intent to confirm its participation in the KC-390 programme. Since 2013, OGMA has been producing components for the KC-390 and will ultimately become the European maintenance centre for the type. Brazil-based Embraer has been a majority shareholder in OGMA since the firm was privatised in 2004.

On June 9, 2017, Portugal became the first international customer for the KC-390 when it announced it would purchase a fleet of five aircraft – with an option for a sixth – to replace the FAP’s ageing fleet of Lockheed C-130H Hercules tactical transports. An order for five aircraft was confirmed on July 11, 2019, with a formal contract signature following on August 22, that year.

Portugal's first KC-390 Millennium gets airborne for a test flight in Brazil. The type has currently been ordered by four nations: Brazil, Portugal, Hungary and the Netherlands.
Portugal's first KC-390 Millennium gets airborne for a test flight in Brazil. The type has currently been ordered by four nations: Brazil, Portugal, Hungary and the Netherlands. Embraer

In preparation for the KC-390’s arrival in early 2023, work is being conducted on the infrastructure at Beja Air Base (AB), where the FAP’s Millennium fleet will be based. The hangar previously used by Esquadra 103 (103 Squadron) and its Dassault-Dornier/Breguet Alpha Jet As for fast-jet pilot training has been chosen to host the new KC-390 fleet. However, prior to the new tanker-transport’s arrival, a brand-new squadron building – containing multiple offices, briefing and preparation rooms and other facilities – is being constructed. It will also play host to the single KC-390 simulator included in the acquisition contract. A new Ground Support Equipment building is also being built adjacent to the hangar.

At present, four nations have ordered the KC-390: Brazil, Portugal, Hungary and the Netherlands. Brazil has received at least five examples of the type, with 22 planned in total. The nation initially sought to acquire 28 KC-390s, but this was reduced to 22 in February 2022 due to funding cutbacks in the defence sector.

Aside from Portugal, the type has seen further success in Europe. Hungary signed a contract for two examples on November 17, 2020, with the first example set to be delivered in 2023. In a shock move, the Dutch MOD announced it had ordered five C-390Ms on June 16, 2022. The platform is expected to enter Dutch service in 2026 and will replace the Royal Netherlands Air Force’s legacy C-130H fleet. While Argentina, Chile, Colombia and the Czech Republic all signed Declarations of Intent to participate in the KC-390 programme in 2010 – each with plans to acquire the type for their own use – there have been no firm orders thus far.