(Adds reaction from Brazilian union, company comment)
By Brad Haynes
SAO PAULO, Aug 7 (Reuters) - Brazilian planemaker Embraer SA said on Friday that the first Legacy 450 jet from a factory in Melbourne, Florida, will roll off the line in December 2016, as the company migrates business jet production there in a bet on the U.S. market.
Embraer’s executive aviation chief, Marco Tulio Pellegrini, said in an interview that the new Legacy 450 would give the company more exposure to the North American market, which it expects to buy half of all new business jets in the next decade.
“The movement to Melbourne is a strategic decision to be in the world’s biggest executive aviation market,” Pellegrini said. Embraer’s U.S. headquarters are in Melbourne, where it already has an assembly line for its entry-level private jets.
The decision sparked backlash from the metalworkers’ union in Sao Jose dos Campos, Brazil, where Embraer is based, which said Pellegrini’s comments to Reuters contradicted promises made by the company.
Embraer responded in a written statement that Legacy production at the Melbourne plant has been part of its public plans since 2013, adding that the balance of production between Florida and Brazil would depend on market conditions.
The union will hold a workers’ assembly next week and intends to protest the ramp-up in U.S. production of the Legacy 450 and 500, union vice president Herbert Claros da Silva said in a telephone interview.
Union leaders have already come out strongly against the production of the Phenom 100/300 family of light jets at the Florida location. The union said in May it would launch a campaign to keep Phenom production in Brazil.
Last year a walkout over pay kept production at the Sao Jose factory idled for nearly five days.
Pellegrini said at a press event later on Friday that the company expects the Legacy 450, which seats seven to nine passengers, to be the best seller in the “mid-light” market.
Competition in that segment includes Bombardier’s Learjet 45XR and 75 and Textron’s Cessna Citation XLS and Latitude models.
The Legacy 450 is the smaller sibling of Embraer’s mid-size Legacy 500, which received its flight certification last year and has been delivered to half a dozen customers already. Pellegrini said the two jets had been designed specifically for the needs of corporate flight departments, which he called the tastemakers of executive aviation.
Embraer shares fell 2 percent on Friday, tracking a nearly 3 percent drop in the benchmark Bovespa stock index. (Reporting by Brad Haynes; Additional reporting by Asher Levine; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli, David Gregorio and Leslie Adler)