The current dilemma faced by Brazilian aviation company Embraer is examined in a trio of reports that make up this issue’s cover article. Embraer was founded as a state-owned company in 1969, after a long period during which the country assimilated and developed essential skills at the former Center for Aerospace Technology (1946) and the Technological Institute of Aeronautics (1950). The company gained new impetus when it was privatized in 1994, performing so well in the following decade that it grew to become the third-largest commercial aircraft manufacturer in the world. Now, on the eve of its 50th anniversary, the company is considering new structural changes.
Embraer has a decision to make, having received a proposal from US company Boeing—the global giant is interested in purchasing a majority stake in Embraer. The Seattle-based company promises to offer new financial, commercial, and technological resources, but Embraer’s autonomy would undoubtedly be compromised. Some of the experts that spoke to Pesquisa FAPESP reporter Yuri Vasconcelos argue that Boeing has more to gain from the alliance and that Embraer’s future does not depend on the deal, but others claim the opposite is true.
The situation is also a concern for the Brazilian government. When Embraer was privatized, the state retained a special “golden share,” allowing it to veto changes to the company’s corporate structure. In addition to commercial aircraft, Embraer has been developing military aircraft ever since its inception, and it has recently been working on other solutions for the defense sector. A partnership with Boeing could complicate these projects.
Another major issue concerns the fate of the technical staff at a business that is considered the crown jewel of Brazilian engineering. No other company has such a high proportion of engineers among its employees and such an impressive record of research and development—Embraer has designed 37 of the 46 aircraft models that it has manufactured over the last 49 years. The article on page 26 takes a closer look at the engineering talent at the two companies, and the report on page 24 gives an overview of the international aviation market.
While airplane manufacturing has helped raise the country’s profile worldwide, Brazil has been known for its ethanol production for over 40 years. An extensive report by editor Fabrício Marques (page 58) describes how the country’s leading role could be reshaped by overcoming the technological challenges faced by producers of second-generation ethanol, or cellulosic ethanol. The difficulties vary according to the raw material (bagasse or sugarcane) and in an effort to make cellulosic ethanol competitive with other renewable and fossil fuels, producers are trying to develop more efficient and cheaper yeasts, stronger equipment, and faster production processes.
This issue contains three articles on geoscience. In an interview, Igor Pacca talks about the origins of institutional geophysics research in São Paulo. One of the first professors at the Institute of Astronomy, Geophysics, and Atmospheric Sciences (IAG) of the University of São Paulo (USP), Pacca has dedicated himself to the field of paleomagnetism, studying the history of the Earth and the movement of the continents through the evolution of the planet’s magnetic field. This magnetic field is generated by an ocean of liquid iron in the Earth’s core, which creates a huge bipolar magnet. The report on page 47 describes how the strength of this field is becoming weaker over time, which could lead to another inversion of the planet’s magnetic poles, a phenomenon that last occurred 780,000 years ago. The retrospect section (page 92) tells the story of the first geology courses created in Brazil, driven by the search for oil.