Final E-Jet cleared for August service entry

 - September 13, 2006, 12:44 PM

Brazil’s Embraer has passed another critical milestone in its meteoric development with Brazilian and EASA certification of the largest of its four-member series of E-Jets, the 108- to 118-seat E195. Virtually identical to the smaller E190 except for the addition of a 7 foot, 11 inch-long fuselage plug and related systems modifications, the pair of E195 prototypes needed to fly for just 475 hours to satisfy testing requirements.

The newly created National Civil Aviation Agency (ANAC) issued Brazilian approval on June 30, marking the first such aircraft certification for the new airworthiness authority. ANAC replaced Centro Tecnico Aeroespecial (CTA) as the country’s official certification body in March.

Although the E195 looks and acts much like its smaller and better-selling sibling, the latest airplane’s extra three 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 E190, which by early last month had drawn firm orders for 256 copies, compared with the E195’s comparatively paltry 36.

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 E190 could muster. Conversely, E195 launch customer Flybe needs all the seats it could squeeze into the E-Jet’s fuselage for the low-fare, low-yield model it has adopted with its existing fleet of Bombardier Q400 turboprops.

Scheduled to take delivery of its first E195 this month, Exeter, UK-based Flybe operates 15 BAe 146/Avro RJs and some 30 of 52 Q400s on firm order. The airline plans to completely decommission its fleet of British quad-jets 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.

A Smoother Transition
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 should expect to encounter less “teething pain” with the E195 than other airlines suffered with their E170s and E190s. Even before entering service, the E170 had to contend with certification delays due to complications involving the integration of its avionics with the airplane’s other systems. Most recently, JetBlue announced that lower-than-planned utilization and completion rates of its new E190s contributed to its first ever quarterly loss.

Although JetBlue pinned most of the blame for the fourth-quarter loss on higher fuel costs, references to the E190’s avionics problems drew an inordinate amount of attention in the estimation of Embraer executive vice president Fred Curado. Nevertheless, it seemed clear that utility updates had produced more than their share of false error messages, and that the Primus Epic suite proved “a challenge” to certification authorities, whose lack of familiarity with the system produced heightened safety concerns.

It appears now that Embraer and Honeywell have addressed the issue to the satisfaction of JetBlue CEO David Neeleman, who by the time the company reported its first-quarter earnings in late April said dispatch reliability had climbed 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 E190s eight hours a day and reported that “they are doing a perfect job.” In fact, when JetBlue decided to stem capacity growth this year, it chose to defer delivery of 12 A320s and sell between two and five of the bigger aircraft rather than alter its Embraer fleet plan.

Embraer, meanwhile, continues its campaign to build production efficiency and, more important to its customers, add still more facility to the airplanes themselves. Honeywell’s Primus Epic software load 4.4 gained certification along with the E195 and offers existing E190 operators the same improvements, as does sister load 17.4 to operators of the E170 and E175. This month Embraer expects Honeywell to complete another set of upgrades, known as loads 4.5 and 17.5. Curado speculated that most operators would likely skip loads 4.4 and 17.4 in favor of the latest package, despite the availability of fairly simple retrofits.

Recent follow-on certification items for the E170 have included Category IIIa autoland, which allows the 70-seat jet to approach and land in visibility as low as 600 feet RVR. The E170 and E190 have also received certification for dual head-up displays. Last month Embraer began certification flight testing of Rockwell Collins’ head-up guidance system (HGS) for the E190. By the end of this year Embraer expects to have Category IIIa HGS and 75-minute ETOPS approval for the E190 and Category IIIa autoland certification for the E175. It also expects the E170 to win approval this year to fly the steep approach at London City Airport (LCY).

“At this stage we have a promising indication that the E190 will also be compliant with LCY steep approach/ noise requirements,” Curado told AIN. Next year the company expects the E195 to win Category IIIa HGS endorsement, and the E190 to gain Category IIIa autoland and 120-minute ETOPS approval. By the end of 2008 it expects the E195 to win approval for Category IIIa autoland.

Embraer’s goal of reaching the mainline market segment demanded a bolder design approach than the company took with its smaller regional jets. Before they commit to financing any substantial fleet acquisition, lenders want to feel relatively confident that the assets will hold their value. Less than sanguine projections for CRJ
and ERJ values have forced operators in recent years to rely heavily on government loan guarantee programs to finance those airplanes. According to Curado, the E-Jets’ technical sophistication will help boost their residual values.

The E-Jets’ latest technological advance involves Embraer’s new aircraft health analysis and diagnosis 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 arrival. Republic Airways and JetBlue have agreed to begin testing the new system this summer.