Farnborough Air Show

Embraer mulls next member of E-Jet family

 - July 16, 2010, 2:12 AM

Embraer has narrowed down the possibilities for its next phase of product development to two options, company CEO Frederico Curado told AIN on the eve of this Farnborough airshow. Either it will re-engine its existing line of E-Jets or develop an all-new, larger airliner–or even perhaps opt for both, likely by the end of this year.

“We don’t have a hard deadline,” said Curado, “but I would guess probably before the year ends we’ll either have a decision or at least some sort
of conclusion [about what direction we will likely go.]”

Curado said that the chances of Embraer developing a new turboprop have degraded to virtually nil, as the company has apparently reached the conclusion that the market can support no more than two Western suppliers of turboprop-powered airplanes. Bombardier builds the Q Series and ATR is preparing to introduce the new ATR 600 series, featuring a new cockpit and upgraded Pratt & Whitney Canada PW127M engines.

“An artificial demand in the market [as a result of pilot unions’ scope clauses] did create a strong demand for 50-seater RJs,” said Curado. “In that sense, one can say it’s a niche product. I do not see a similar situation with the E-Jets–an optimized four abreast aircraft of 75 to 120 seats. I think there is a natural demand in the market for that, so rightsizing in that market will always be there. The way I look at the E-Jets is as a family of aircraft that, if we manage its evolution properly, can have a lot of longevity.”

Re-engining Possible
Introduced in 2004, the E-Jet family in ordinary circumstances should produce market demand for at least 20 years. However, the fact that engine technology has developed faster and more convincingly than Curado even imagined five years ago raises the question of whether or not the E-Jets will need an upgrade to reach their lifespan potential. Promising a 15-percent improvement in fuel burn, new engines could reduce operating costs by 5 to 6 percent, he said.

Hence, Embraer has engaged in serious talks with the three possible contenders: Pratt & Whitney, with its PW1000G Pure Power; General Electric, with
a version of the new Leap-X, now under development by the Snecma-GE CFM International partnership; and Rolls-Royce, which in late May celebrated the successful running of the latest core engine build in its E3E (efficiency, environment, economy) two-shaft research program.

Curado had long expressed reservations about the PW1000G, once known as the Geared Turbofan, but he has more recently articulated a less pessimistic view, due mainly to all the successful testing the engine has undergone both in the air and on the ground.  

“I’ve always tried to be very sober on this issue,” said Curado. “One thing I have to say, however, [is that] the level of comfort–not only with us, but in the market–about the potential for the GTF is increasing,” said Curado. “There’s hard data; there’s evidence now to support [Pratt & Whitney’s] contentions much more than a year ago.”

Clean-sheet Design
Meanwhile, the company continues to tudy the possibility of a so-called “clean-sheet” airplane that would compete with the larger of the two C Series models–the CS300–as well as with the Airbus A319 and Boeing 737-700. In fact, depending on the availability of the needed resources and the demand Embraer finds, the company could develop both a re-engining program for the E-Jets and an all-new airplane simultaneously, said Curado. “They’re not exclusive to each other,” he said. “It could be both. Of course, besides all the market analysis–the evaluation of our ability to penetrate into markets–besides that, resources are also important.”

One might assume that Embraer’s decision to re-engine the E-Jets could depend on whether the C Series renders its E190/195 obsolete. But notwithstanding the serious effort Embraer has committed to studying new engine possibilities, Curado said the E190 and E195 as they now exist could compete effectively against the C Series CS100. “We believe the 195 as it is today is a pretty competitive airplane,” he said. “I’ve always been very clear, and I still have my opinion, that the smaller C Series is a direct competitor to our 195. The larger C Series is a direct competitor to the A319 and 737-700. It’s an occupied market. There’s no niche, there’s no room there. I’m not saying the aircraft has no demand. I’m saying there’s not a vacant market there. It’s going to be a straight competition to existing aircraft, both in the smaller and the upper end.

“So why consider the new engine for the family? Number one, of course, we have to constantly listen to our customers; we have to be sure that they have the best value possible,” said Curado, adding that Embraer would like to see a 12- to 15-percent improvement in fuel burn from any new engine it eventually chooses. He also said he doesn’t believe the E195 necessarily needs more range, however, despite the fact that that the CS100ER, at 2,950 nm, would have considerably longer legs than the Embraer 195AR, whose range the company lists as 2,200 nm.

“Obviously there are markets where we cannot perform and the C Series can perform,” admitted Curado. “But those represent a small portion of the total network, so we believe that actually plays to our [weight] advantage. We think that by having a more optimized aircraft for the largest share of the networks, you’re basically flying in an optimum way most of the time.”

Curado declined to commit to a service-entry date for either a re-engining or an all-new airplane, although Embraer executive vice president Mauro Kern told AIN earlier this year that a new airplane would have to reach the market some time between the middle and second half of this decade. Kern leads a new division called New Programs-Airline Market, which Embraer recently formed specifically to explore options for a successor to its E-Jet line. Recruited to lead the division full-time, Kern last served as executive vice president for the airline market–a position Curado abandoned when he took the reins of the airframer.