Flying high: Embraer's alcohol-powered crop duster easily wins converts.

Author:Rapoza, Kenneth

No one but an oilman likes oil. Brazil's farm managers agree. So much so that they have been willing to fly a new alcohol powered crop duster illegally in big agribusiness states like Mato Grosso.

Paulo Urbanavicius, until recently director of Industria Aeronautica Neiva, says that to save money on gas prices, farmers could no longer wait for the Brazilian government to approve the model EMB 202 Ipanema crop duster for flight and have been willing to break the law to fly on much cheaper ethanol. The price of gas is about US$1.30 per liter in Mato Grosso, Urbanavicius says. "They can get alcohol for a quarter of the price." New director Acir Luiz de Almeida Padilha Junior replaced Urbanavicius in June. Neiva is a subsidiary of the aerospace firm Embraer, one of Brazil's homegrown multinationals.

The Ipanema, named after one of the most popular strips of beach in the world, is already spraying crops in Brazil on a conventional, gas-powered motor. All Neiva intends to do is add a converter kit to the small plane's engine that will allow it to fly on sugar-cane alcohol. Alcohol power is not a new concept in Brazil. Brazilian carmakers have even taken their own hybrid to market this year. The new "flex-power" car, which runs on either gasoline or ethanol, is Brazil's version of the Japanese carmakers' gas-electric model.

Most of the summer was spent trying to get certification from various government-affiliated bodies in accordance with federal aviation rules. The government was supposed to give Neiva's product its domestic market blessing in May. Then the date moved to the end of August.

Eighty crop dusters of various makes are waiting in the wings to have their engines made convertible to alcohol. Neiva intends to deliver 79 alcohol-ready Ipanemas to market by year's end and the company forecasts a market of 250 aircraft in the next five years unless gas prices drop drastically, making alcohol less attractive. The plane sells for $247,000, compared to $230,000 for gas-powered crop dusters.

Export value for the product is still in question. "We are looking at other markets," Urbanavicius says, "but the main market for Ipanema right now is Brazil."

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