Brazil’s Embraer passes another critical milestone in its meteoric development this month with EASA certification of the largest of its four-member family of E-Jets, the 108- to 118-seat Embraer 195. Although it marks the formal market introduction of the last airliner project on Embraer’s research and development ledger, the approval by no means signals the end of the company’s work in the commercial realm, or even on this series. In a sense, it represents a beginning, as Embraer can now turn its full attention to building production efficiency and, more importantly to its customers, adding facility and reliability to the airplanes themselves.
Scheduled for first delivery to the UK’s own Flybe next month, the 195 looks and acts much like its smaller but better selling sibling, the Embraer 190. However, the latest airplane’s extra two and a half rows of passenger seats and another 1,962 pounds of basic operating weight exact a 200-nm range penalty, a key consideration for some of Embraer’s early customers. Consequently, sales figures have tilted lopsidedly in favor of the 190, which by early last month had drawn firm orders for 256 copies, compared with just 36 so far for the 195.
Teething Troubles Eased
If the disparity in sales seems like a disproportionate reflection of a 200-nm difference in range and a 636-foot increase in takeoff field length, it just so happened that the E-Jets’ two biggest customers–JetBlue and Air Canada–needed every bit of the performance the new AR version of the 190 could muster. Conversely, Exeter-based Flybe needs all the seats it could squeeze into the E-Jet’s double-bubble fuselage for the low-fare, low-yield model it has adopted with its existing fleet of Bombardier Q400 turboprops.
Now flying 15 BAE Systems 146/Avro regional jets and some 30 of the 52 Q400s it has on firm order, Flybe plans to completely decommission its fleet of British quadjets in favor of 14 of the Brazilian twins, each configured in a high-density, 118-seat layout. The $470 million contract calls for delivery of one airplane a month until November of next year and includes options for another 12 copies. BAE 146 replacement targets cover most of Flybe’s international route map, which includes cities in Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland and Austria.
Now that Embraer and Honeywell have eradicated many of the bugs that infected the Primus Epic II avionics system standard in all the E-Jets, Flybe expects to encounter less service-entry teething pain with the 195 than others suffered with their 170s and 190s. Complications involving the integration of the 170’s avionics forced more than one certification delay. More recently, JetBlue announced that lower-than-planned utilization and completion rates of its new Embraer 190s contributed to its first quarterly loss in its history.
Although JetBlue pinned most of the blame for the fourth-quarter loss on higher fuel costs, the references to the 190’s avionics problems drew an inordinate amount of attention, at least in the estimation of Embraer executive vice president Fred Curado. “If you really listen and read what they have said about the airplane, they never really blamed the aircraft for their losses,” said Curado. “Every new aircraft, of course, has a learning curve. I don’t think the 170/190 was particularly different or bad. Again, I think we had this little unfortunate coincidence. But, anyhow, what really matters is the operation is much, much better now.”
JetBlue CEO David Neeleman substantiated Curado’s claims when, by the time the company reported its first-quarter earnings, he said dispatch reliability had risen above 98 percent, which, he added “is getting closer to the dispatch reliability…on the [Airbus] A320.” By early May the company was flying its first two Embraer 190s eight hours a day and reported that “they are doing a perfect job.”
A highly sophisticated and integrated set of electronics, the Epic avionics suite has proved a “challenge” to certification authorities as well, said Curado, producing a higher than normal level of sensitivity to safety concerns. “It’s important to understand that the most focus so far has been on certifying the software, which was something absolutely new to the certification authorities,” he said. “So the concerns about integrity and safety were very, very high because the level of integration of this software is unprecedented…If there’s any discrepancy, anything, the rule is just stop and then you have to reset the aircraft, causing a delay.”
Embraer continuously loads new avionics software in the E-Jet fleet, the next upgrade destined for certification with the 195 this month. Recent follow-on certification items for the Embraer 170 have included Category IIIa autoland, which allows the 70-seat jet to approach and land in visibility as low as 600 feet RVR. The 170 and 190 have also received certification for dual head-up displays, while the 170, 175 and 190 have all won autoland approval.
Eventually, Embraer plans to have all its E-Jets certified to Category IIIb, which allows landing in visibility as low as 150 feet. By the end of the year, Embraer expects to gain approval for 75-minute extended twin-engine operations (ETOPS) in the 190, as well as approval for the steep approach into London City Airport for the 170.
Despite the cost, effort and irritation that often accompanies new technology, Embraer’s goal to reach the mainline market segment demanded a bolder design approach than it took in the smaller regional jets with which it entered the market. “It’s not just a question of being fancy, it’s a question of future value of the assets,” said Curado. “Clearly the financial community has a better appetite for the E-Jets than the CRJs, with all due respect to our friends in Canada.”
The series’ latest technological advance involves Embraer’s new aircraft health analysis and diagnosis (AHeAD) system, an Internet-based monitoring program designed to use an airline’s ACARS to transmit real-time systems data from airplanes in flight to prepare maintenance crews for any unscheduled repairs needed upon their arrival. Republic Airways and JetBlue have agreed to begin testing the new system this summer.
This month Embraer begins certification flight testing of Rockwell Collins’ head-up guidance system (HGS) for the Embraer 190, allowing the airplanes to land in full Category III conditions. Embraer (Chalet C33) expects to gain full Cat III certification for Flybe’s 195s some time next year.