Dubai Air Show

Embraer E-Jets fit in at many Arab airlines

 - November 12, 2009, 9:16 PM

Embraer sees Arab operators of its 64- to 114-seat E170/175 and E190/195 regional jets (E-Jets) as providing a good example of what it views as the “right-sizing” of passenger services. By matching capacity to demand such carriers can enhance yield through increased flight frequency rather than continuing possibly marginal operations with larger single-aisle aircraft such as Airbus A320s, Boeing 737-500s and McDonnell Douglas MD-90s.

According to the Brazilian airframer, 78 percent of all E-Jet flights in Middle East and Africa are right-sized, compared with a global average of 53 percent. A further 14 percent are being operating to new markets that would not support larger aircraft, compared with 17 percent worldwide. The remaining 8 percent of E-Jets flights are serving natural market growth, said Jose Luis Molina, Embraer’s airline market vice president for Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Globally, increasing demand drives almost 25 percent of E-Jet flights, he added.

Molina conceded that use of larger aircraft generates lower seat costs, but he pointed out the seductiveness of arguments used to justify providing higher capacity. “Focusing on cost-per-seat is dangerous because empty seats are expensive and you cannot fly empty [however cheaper that would appear to be],” he said. In Embraer’s view, intraregional frequencies in the Arab market need to be improved, since 55 percent of flights do not offer same-day returns. For example, Etihad Airways operates an A320 daily round-trip between Abu Dhabi and Jordanian capital Amman, while on the Kuwait City-Jeddah, Saudi Arabia route three operators–low-cost carrier Jazeera Airways (A320) and flagcarriers Kuwait Airways and Saudi Arabian Airlines (MD-90)–provide only single afternoon/evening flights, according to Embraer.

Four Arab airlines have placed orders for almost 50 E-Jets that operate a network of more than 160 routes crisscrossing the Middle East, Gulf and eastern North Africa areas and reaching into southern Europe. Apart from right-sizing, Embraer said other E-Jet routes in the region are low-risk, frequency-building, long, thin operations.

EgyptAir Express is an example of right-sizing. Its E170s provide 10 daily round-trips between Cairo and the popular tourist destination of Sharm el-Sheikh on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. Since the airline introduced the E170 two years ago, it has increased frequency by right-sizing capacity to Luxor, another domestic tourist route.

Previously operated three times a day (twice in early morning and once in the late evening), the route now sports three additional E-Jet flights, with another E170 providing the late evening service and a narrowbody flight at midnight. In addition, EgyptAir Express has replaced three single-aisle daily flights on the Cairo-Hurghada route with three E170 flights and two by larger single-aisle models, showing how the smaller aircraft have complemented existing equipment as a market has expanded.

On the 25 remaining EgyptAir Express routes, Embraer claims the 12 E170s provide greater comfort and exceed passenger expectations (compared with similar-size turboprop equipment) and allow the airline to explore new intraregional markets.

Saudi Arabian low-cost carrier Nasair has used its six E190/E195s to open new routes that can be developed for subsequent operation with A320s, according to Embraer. A subsidiary of Riyadh-based National Air Services, Nasair flies 25 routes with the aircraft, which also are used to provide “adequate” capacity in mid-sized markets and to permit aggressive growth. It has a further four E-Jets on order.

Royal Jordanian Airlines flies its two E175s and five E195s on almost 50 routes, including four very long routes from Amman: to Muscat in the extreme east of the Arabian peninsula (3 hours 20 minutes), to Aden in Yemen (3 hours 25 minutes), to Kiev (3 hours 30 minutes), and most distant to Tunis in western North Africa (3 hours 54 minutes).

A major carrier, Royal Jordanian introduced E-Jets three years ago to support its strategy of feeding long-haul flights through the Amman hub. The aircraft also have been used to open new routes and increase frequency on existing routes. In September, the E175s recorded average daily use of 8:55 hours, with the E195s close behind at 7:34 hours each.

Embraer said Saudi Arabian Airlines has returned some loss-making routes to profit by employing E170s on those previously served by much larger A320s and MD-90s. It has operated E-Jets since 2005 on more than 60 routes throughout the Arabian Peninsula.

It has been particularly successful in right-sizing its fights and then increasing frequencies in growing markets. For example, on the Riyadh-Nejran route, Saudi Arabian initially used E170s to introduce a middle-of-the-day flight and to replace one of two MD-90 flights with two flights before replacing the remaining MD-90 and then introducing a sixth daily E170 operation.

In addition, there are two E-Jet customers in sub-Saharan Africa. Kenya Airways operates three Embraer 170s, while Linhas Aereas de Mocambique in Mozambique has ordered two E190s.

Embraer claims good performance among its customers’ fleets in the region: during summer 2008 E-Jet operators in the Middle East recorded a 99.11-percent scheduled reliability compared with the global E-Jet figure of 98.95 percent. During early 2009, Royal Jordanian achieved perfect 100-percent reliability with its E170s during the February-July period.

The manufacturer supports the aircraft in the region through spare-parts holdings in Amman, Cairo and Riyadh and Jeddah. It also offers a full-flight simulator for crew training in Jeddah.

In the first half of next year, Embraer expects to decide where to locate a planned spares warehouse for the region that also will accommodate some equipment currently held at its European warehouse in Paris. Short-listed sites reportedly include Abu Dhabi, Amman, Bahrain, Doha and Dubai.