ATL-100, the first complete aeronautical program in Portugal

24 January 2021

An exclusive interview with Miguel Braga, Director of CEiiA, responsible for one of the most ambitious projects in the Portuguese aeronautics industry: the ATL-100.

In a partnership between Portugal and Brazil, CEiiA and DESAER will develop, manufacture e assemble the ATL-100, the first complete aeronautical program in Portugal.

With a capacity for passenger transport of up to 19 passengers and for cargo of up to 2.5 tons, the ATL-100 will be for civil and military use and was designed with the purpose to meet regional transport needs in already densely populated areas and in more remote regions, requiring little infrastructure support on the ground and the possibility of landing on short, unpaved runways.

AED Cluster Portugal interviewed Miguel Braga, Diretor of CEiiA (Aeronautics and Defence),to talk about this ambtious project.

 

AED: How did this initiative came up?

MB: In the first half of 2019, CEiiA was approached by Desaer, a Brazilian company based in São José dos Campos, created in 2016 mainly by former Embraer engineers and staff, to assess our interest in joining an aeronautical program that was to be thought out and with a concept already quite advanced. The main reason for this approach, as Desaer managers then confided, is the reputation that the Portuguese aeronautical sector has in Brazil today, first and foremost for our participation in the Embraer KC-390 Program, but also for the growth path that many of our companies, with different structures, systems and operations, have done over the recent years. CEiiA carefully considered the invitation, analyzed the concept of the aircraft then in projection, the complexity of the program and considered that it is an airplane with the complexity, scale and ideal characteristics to move up the value chain and give logical sequence to the competences we have gained with more than 600 thousand engineering hours that we have already involved in the KC-390.

AED: What market segment are you aiming for and how does it relate to the current context of COVID-19 and the disruption it introduced in the aviation world?

MB: The ATL-100 is a non-pressurized aircraft, with a fixed ground train, with low manufacturing and assembly costs, which aims to be competitive in a market where, on the one hand, the largest OEMs have been progressively over the years failing to produce this type of planes and, on the other hand, in the next 15 years more than 5000 planes will stop flying. It is designed to work in countries and regions with weak road infrastructures, from Africa and Latin America, in which it takes a long time to get people, goods or equipment to more remote regions (and time is money), also serving the purpose of making many aerodromes and small airports, today little or not used, an alternative for the ease of the ATL-100 to land on very short runways and with minimalist conditions.

AED: What innovative features does the ATL-100 bring to the world of aeronautics as a product and how does it differ from the competition?

MB: The first differentiating factor is the final price of the aircraft and even more the hourly cost of operation, taking into account that the projections and, more than that, the letters of interest that we already received show that logistical operators, for example, are more interested in paying for the operation of the aircraft than in acquiring it. The configuration of the ATL-100 will make it possible to transform the cabin of the cargo plane into a passenger and vice versa in less than two hours, allowing you to make the most of each trip segment depending on the destination or the time. But the biggest differentiation is the fact that the aircraft is from the beginning designed to evolve at the level of electric motors, for the use of hydrogen, becoming progressively carbon neutral, embodying a global trend for a sustainable aircraft.

AED: A factory of origin will be built, a unique opportunity to also integrate differentiating aspects in the production process. Will the context of industry 4.0 be relevant to the competitiveness of the solution?

MB: We are looking at different alternatives, we will certainly have a final assembly line built from scratch, because there is none in Portugal so this will be a novelty. The infrastructure will be located in Ponte de Sor, in Alentejo. As for manufacturing, because we want the airplane to be the most Portuguese possible, we will look at the capacity available nationally in terms of the tools and the airplane part and from there think about what we still lack. Note that today we have very advanced manufacturing capacity in Portugal, not only in Alentejo, but in other areas of the country, such as Embraer, OGMA, Lauak, Caetano, Mecachrome, Motofil, Incompol and so on. We are not going to replicate, but to value and grow the capacities that Portugal has been able to create.

AED: With an investment of around 140M €, it is estimated that the ATL-100 aircraft project will create around 1200 direct jobs in the Alentejo region.
These are two great direct benefits that are easily measurable and very important, both for the sector and for the national economy. However, it is known that in this type of comprehensive projects, the indirect impact can be equally significant.

  • How will CEiiA involve the Portuguese supply chain in this process?
    MB: Following what I said above, we want the largest possible national incorporation. The ATL-100 is a Portuguese-Brazilian aircraft, we are proud of that fact, but it will grow in Portugal, leaving Alentejo to the world.
  • Thus, it is expected that there will be a great national integration. Are we ready for the challenge?
    MB: Portugal has already demonstrated on other occasions that it is prepared for great challenges, also in aeronautics, we engineered two thirds of the largest aircraft ever built by Embraer, we produce in Portugal three important segments of the same aircraft, our companies work with Airbus, with Leonardo Helicopters, with Kopter, with TAP, with NAV, with our Armed Forces. We will need to be ambitious, to take risks, to leave our comfort zone. If we want, we will know how to be prepared.
  • Is there a defined timeline for intensifying the dialogue with local partners?
    MB: We are finalizing the first RFPs necessary for an adequate budgeting of the aircraft and we are talking to the possible suppliers of avionics, engines, necessarily international. From here, there is naturally room to integrate, customize and develop to measure. There will be news during the first quarter.
  • Thinking internationally, how can this initiative change the image of Portugal abroad? Can it be expected to have positive effects?
    MB: Surely. We will rise in our international positioning as a whole, as a country, with benefit for all our companies in the consolidation of their current markets and in the opening of new ones.
  • ATL-100 will be a light aircraft. After consolidating the knowledge that will come from this project, could this be the beginning of an even more ambitious journey?
    MB: Definitely. As said before, our path is to produce in Portugal a carbon neutral aircraft.

AED: How does CEiiA see the role and importance of AED Cluster Portugal in this challenging initiative?
MB: Over the years, AED has made a path of affirmation and recognition, not only with its members, but also with the main international stakeholders in the sector, so this institution will be an essential partner of the ATL-100 program. We were very pleased to have José Neves in the first public presentation of the plane and we count on AED to be at our side on this path.

 

The factory where the aircraft will be assembled will be in Ponte de Sor, while in Évora and Beja will be two workplaces for the engineering research and development that the project requires.

CEiiA is hiring for this project, with a team dedicated to hiring engineers with different profiles, creating qualified jobs, which will be based in the Alentejo region, helping to reduce inequalities between the coast and the interior of the country.

Despite some uncertainty in the planning aligned in the middle of 2020, with some delays motivated by the exceptional moment that we live, it is predicted that until mid-2024 the flight test of the first prototype will be carried out and that the first series aircraft will still be produced in 2026.

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