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A brief history of the aerospace industry in Brazil

by | Jul 8, 2023

In recent decades, the aerospace industry in Brazil has expanded. One aspect of the industry’s growth that has been achieved in recent times is its expanded activities in the defense-related export sector. The country’s industry has been transformed from an exclusive supplier to the private sector to more significant military-related sales to leverage growth in international markets further.

In this article, we present some interesting points about the history of the aerospace industry in Brazil.

Santos Dumont

The founder of the aerospace industry in Brazil is recognized to be Alberto Santos Dumont or just Santos Dumont. Considered the father of the aviation sector, he was fascinated by combustion engines from a young age. He had a dream to create a device that allowed man to fly. In 1906, Santos Dumont and the famous 14-Bis plane managed to accomplish this feat. In a flying club in France, a device heavier than air flew, before a supervisory committee, approximately three feet from the ground and for a distance of about 200 feet.

After this first achievement of the aerospace industry in Brazil,  a similar flight was carried out for a distance of about 720 feet at a height of approximately 20 from the ground. As a result of these initial achievements, Santos Dumont became known worldwide and placed the country on the route towards the development of the aerospace industry in Brazil.

Single engine monoplane São Paulo (1910)

After the first achievements registered by Santos Dumont, the father of Brazilian aviation developed an aircraft that was known as the “Avião São Paulo,” or the São Paulo Airplane. This was the first fully built aircraft in Brazil. Its prototype was flown over the city of Osasco. It was piloted by the French aviator Dimitri Sensaud Lavaud.

Until this time, the early initiatives that led to Brazil’s aerospace industry’s development were the result of individual efforts. However, the personal initiatives carried out by hobbyists inspired feats that contributed uniquely to the creation of the industry as it is today.

World War I

After the First World War, an aircraft manufacturing factory in Brazil was established. Brazilian industrialist Henrique Lage initiated this project. Lage was a specialist in maritime shipping lines. He believed that aviation constituted a promising manufacturing trend and decided to reorient the direction of his business.

Through his Companhia Nacional de Navegação Aérea (CNNA), Lage signed a contract for production for customers in Great Britain. As a result of this, CNNA started to produce airplanes and aeronautical engines in Rio de Janeiro,

Advances in the aerospace industry in Brazil in the 1940s

In the 1940s, a new phase of the aerospace industry in Brazil began with the creation of more than 20 companies in the sector.

The large-scale emergence of the aerospace industry in Brazil was motivated by the creation of the Brazilian Ministry of Aeronautics as well as by the demand for aerospace industry output precipitated by the advent of the Second World War in Europe.

The creation of Embraer

Embraer (Empresa Brasileira de Aeronáutica S/A was founded in 1969. It was a critical component of a project to implement Brazil’s military plans and was co-founded by the aeronautical engineer Ozires Silva. This plan sought to establish a domestic and sovereign aerospace industry in the country, such as those for the oil and steel industries.

Embraer was established with mixed capital, with 51% of the shares belonging to the State and 49% the property of private capital. As a milestone of its creation, the Brazilian engineers that were a part of the project were challenged with creating a 12-seat twin-turboprop plane. That airplane would become known throughout the world by the name of Bandeirante.

In the 1990s, the company went through a privatization process. Embraer remains in the hands of private capital to this day.

The trajectory of the aeronautical industry in Brazil

Since the beginning of its trajectory, the Brazilian national aviation industry has sought to establish itself in an economically sustainable way.

The first phase of the aerospace industry in Brazil was its inception with pioneers such as Santos Dumont. The second was marked by events that took place in the 1930s. At that time, the Department of Civil Aviation was created. In the 1940s, Brazil established its Ministry of Aeronautics. Finally, the creation of Embraer took place at the end of the 1960s.

The third phase corresponds to post-privatization. The main characteristic of this phase is the Brazilian aerospace industry’s new international reach. As a result of its robust development, Embraer reached third place in the world among the largest aerospace manufacturers, following only Boeing and Airbus.

This characteristic demonstrates the potential of Brazil’s aerospace industry and the valuable opportunities that may continue to arise.

The current state of the aerospace industry in Brazil

Brazil has a well-established aerospace industry with several notable achievements. Here are some key features of the current aerospace industry in Brazil

Embraer: Embraer (Empresa Brasileira de Aeronáutica) is the largest aerospace company in Brazil and one of the world’s leading regional aircraft manufacturers. It produces various commercial, military, and executive aircraft, including the popular E-Jet series. Embraer has a strong presence in both the domestic and international markets.

Military Aviation: Brazil has a significant focus on military aviation. The country has developed indigenous military aircraft, such as the AMX fighter and the Super Tucano turboprop aircraft, which are widely used by the Brazilian Air Force and exported to other nations.

Space Industry: Brazil has a space program led by the Brazilian Space Agency (AEB). It has developed the VLS-1 (Satellite Launch Vehicle) and operates the Alcântara Launch Center. The space industry in Brazil focuses on satellite development, space research, and applications such as remote sensing and telecommunications.

Research and Development: Brazil invests in research and development (R&D) activities related to aerospace technology. ITA mentioned earlier, is a prestigious institution that offers aerospace engineering programs and contributes to technological advancements in the sector. There are also partnerships between universities, research institutes, and the industry to promote innovation.

International Collaborations: Brazil actively collaborates with other countries and participates in international aerospace programs. For instance, Brazil is a partner in the Airbus A380 program and has contributed to the development of various components for the aircraft.

Job Creation: The aerospace industry provides employment opportunities in Brazil. It encompasses various sectors, including manufacturing, engineering, research and development, maintenance, and support services. The industry’s workforce comprises highly skilled professionals contributing to the country’s development of human capital.

Economic Growth and Revenue Generation: The aerospace industry in Brazil contributes to the nation’s economic growth and generates revenue through multiple channels. Domestic aerospace companies like Embraer contribute to the country’s export earnings by selling aircraft and related services to international markets. The industry also fosters innovation and technological advancement, attracting investments in Brazil and driving economic activity.

Technology Transfer and Spillover Effects: The aerospace industry in Brazil often involves collaborations with international partners, enabling technology transfer and knowledge exchange. These partnerships can lead to spillover effects, benefiting other sectors of the economy. For example, advancements in aerospace technology can have applications in areas such as telecommunications, defense, and materials science.

Workforce and Supply Chain: Brazil has a skilled workforce in aerospace engineering and related fields. The country has developed a robust supply chain to support the aerospace industry, including producing components and systems.

Export Potential: Brazil’s aerospace industry, mainly through companies like Embraer, has a strong export orientation. The country exports aircraft, components, and related services to customers worldwide. These exports contribute to Brazil’s trade balance and help generate foreign exchange reserves.

Challenges and Opportunities: Like any industry, the Brazilian aerospace sector faces challenges, including competition from established players, technological advancements, and funding constraints. However, Brazil also has growth opportunities, such as expanding its market share in regional aircraft, leveraging its military aviation expertise, and exploring space technology advancements.

Overall, the aerospace industry in Brazil has, from its beginnings to the present, become a strategically important component of the nation’s economy. It continues to create jobs,  spur economic growth, and technological development,  generate export earnings, preserve national security, and drive research and development. It catalyzes innovation and high-value manufacturing, enhancing Brazil’s global competitiveness in the aerospace sector.


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