The Ministry of Defence of the Czech Republic and Brazilian aircraft maker Embraer confirmed the start of negotiations on October 17, 2023, regarding providing two Embraer C-390 Millennium medium military transport aircraft to the Czech Republic’s armed forces. The contractual agreement is slated to be executed in 2024.
Following Portugal, which signed a contract for the delivery of five aircraft in 2019, with the first aircraft arriving in October 2022; Hungary, which secured a 2020 contract for two aircraft with deliveries occurring in 2023-2024; the Netherlands, which reached an agreement in 2022 for the delivery of five aircraft commencing in 2026; however, a definitive contract has not yet been executed, and Austria, which is currently engaged in negotiations to procure five KC-390 aircraft, Czechia will become the fifth foreign customer for the Embraer C-390 (KC-390) aircraft.
Portugal C-390 is a NATO-configured aircraft with a dual integrated communications system, IFF for Modes 4/5 with cryptography, a radio for secure voice communications, and Viasat’s Link-16 datalink are all included. Thales supplies the military GPS.
Currently, the Czech Air Force lacks medium military transport aircraft. For many years now, the armed forces have been hiring private transporters, frequently from Russia in the past, for flights to more remote places or paying for hours in a joint NATO transport squadron. These flights can take place anywhere from a few hours to several days. However, because larger aircraft rentals are not always readily available, it is essential to purchase a larger aircraft. Procuring two C-390s will substantially bolster their operational capacities.
In the Czech Republic, the C-390 aircraft was displayed twice, in 2016 and 2022. Aero Vodochody Aerospace, a Czech corporation, has been a subcontractor for producing various components for Embraer C-390 aircraft for several years.
Since 2011, Aero has worked together with Embraer on many projects. They are responsible for producing important components of the C-390 aircraft, such as the entire leading edge of the wing, the doors, the cargo ramp, and the second section of the rear fuselage of the C-390 aircraft. The Czech aviation industry has reaped significant benefits because of the aircraft’s tremendous success in the commercial market. Every C-390 aircraft sold anywhere in the world will increase the amount of goods exported by the Czech industry and may result in new jobs in the Czech Republic.
AERO designed, developed, and certified some components of the C-390 transport aircraft. Now, Embraer is increasing the scope of its collaboration with AERO, which will remain one of the company’s most important suppliers. According to Viktor Sotona, the CEO and President of Aero, the value of this cooperation is expected to greatly exceed the contract’s overall value to acquire the C-390 for the Czech military. He said this is positive news for Aero and the entire aviation industry in the Czech Republic.
The C-390 Millennium and its configuration for air refuelling, the KC-390, represent a new generation of multi-role military transport aircraft. They offer unmatched mobility and cargo capacity, quick reconfiguration, high availability, increased comfort and flight safety, and low operating costs throughout their lifetime – all within a single platform. The aircraft belongs to the category of medium-sized aircraft because it has a cargo capacity of 26 tonnes, equivalent to up to 7 standard military pallets. A pair of IAE V2500 turbofan engines power it. Additionally, the aircraft can be outfitted with a firefighting module, which, if deployed, can substantially contribute to the suppression of fires in the Czech Republic and throughout the entirety of the Central European region.
Czech Hunt for a Medium Transport Aircraft
In the mid-1990s, upon the retirement of the antiquated Russian Antonov An-12 transport aircraft, the Czech Republic needed a transport air force of medium size. It initially relied on diminutive An-24/26 transport aircraft, superseded by the European C-295 “CASA.” Experts noted even at that time that while the C-295 was a successful design, its performance was inadequate, and it would be necessary to replace it with a bigger aircraft comparable in weight to the legendary C-130 Hercules. The possibility of acquiring two C-130s from the surplus of the United States Armed Forces was considered, but the agreement with the Americans was not honoured.
A document was signed in September 2010 by the Brazilian Minister of Defence, Nelson Jobim, and the then-Minister of Defence, Alexandr Vondra, to outline the Czech aviation industry’s participation in the KC-390 programme and the Czech Armed Force’s prospective acquisition of multiple aircraft. In 2016, during a demonstration in Prague, there was speculation that the Czechs might purchase two of these aircraft.