(Adds quotes, details, changes dateline)
GAVIÃO PEIXOTO, Brazil, Oct 21 (Reuters) - Embraer's new military cargo jet could be adapted to serve niche civilian markets including the oil and mining industries, executives with the Brazilian plane maker said after unveiling the aircraft on Tuesday.
Paulo Gastao, director of Embraer's KC-390 program, said ordinary civilian cargo operators tend to operate cheaper refurbished airliners, but specialized industries would be more willing to pay more for the speed, range and payload the new jet promises.
"In oil, mining and other industries a civilian version of the aircraft could make sense. We're monitoring the market constantly," Gastao told journalists at the roll-out in the state of São Paulo.
Still, Jackson Schneider, the head of Embraer's defense division, said the company is focused on delivering 28 military aircraft to its first client, the Brazilian Air Force, beginning in late 2016.
Brazil's defense ministry has invested heavily in the KC-390 program, providing $2 billion in development costs and signing a 7.2 billion reais order.
Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Portugal and the Czech Republic have also requested 32 of the new cargo jets. Over the next 15 years, Embraer sees a market for more than 700 planes worth over $50 billion in the segment.
If the KC-390 is airborne by the end of the year as planned, Brazil will take the initiative in a segment where peers have stumbled, leapfrogging programs launched by Russia, India and China over the past decade. It would be the largest plane ever made in Latin America, with a belly big enough to fit a Blackhawk helicopter.
In a direct challenge to Lockheed Martin Corp's storied Hercules airlifter, Embraer is promising a jet that flies higher, fuller and faster, and at a lower price.
Schneider declined to give details of pricing, but he said KC-390 will be "extremely competitive," promising the lowest cost in its segment over the life cycle of the aircraft.
Embraer is betting it can not only match the gold-standard Hercules but outperform it on many fronts by using jet engines instead of the sturdy turboprops that have powered Lockheed's workhorse since the 1950s.
Upsetting the common wisdom on tactical transport, Embraer is hitching its hopes to the same family of engines powering the Airbus A320 airliner, and promising an edge when it comes to maximum payload, cruising speed and altitude. Lockheed argues nothing can match the durability of the turboprop. (Reporting by Brad Haynes and Cesar Bianconi; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Paul Simao)