JetBlue’s new EMB 190 fills blue-yonder niche

 - October 23, 2006, 7:36 AM

A chill in the air and an unseasonably hard rain did little to dampen the enthusiasm last month in São José dos Campos, Brazil, as U.S. carrier JetBlue accepted delivery of Embraer’s first 190 twinjet.

The ceremonies in the Embraer hangar opened with an amateur musical video performance by members of the Embraer team responsible for designing and building the 100-passenger airliner.

When the music ended, the video screen disappeared, and the curtain was pulled back to reveal the first 190, in JetBlue livery.

“Today is the day JetBlue customers and crewmembers have been looking forward to for years,” said JetBlue CEO David Neeleman.

The New York-based airline has placed firm orders for 101 Embraer 190s and taken options on another 100 through 2016. JetBlue expects to take eight 190s this year and another 18 next year. Deliveries of the first 101 airplanes will continue through 2011. It is the largest single order to date for aircraft from Embraer’s 170/175 and 190/195 series.

C&D Aerospace of Huntington Beach, Calif., is providing cabin components for the 190 in kit form for installation at Embraer’s São José dos Campos plant. The cabin is configured in a single class, with two seats on either side of the single aisle for a total accommodation of 100 passengers, with approximately half the all-leather seats offering 32-inch pitch and the remainder 33 inches.

According to Scott Savian, C&D v-p of sales and marketing, the Embraer 190 cabin is “the most fully integrated interior of its type I’ve ever worked on.

“Virtually every cabin component was designed, engineered and built at C&D Aerospace, from seats, sidewalls and storage bins to lavatories and galley.” Savian further pointed out that the seat design provides more leg room between the new seats, regard-less of the seat pitch chosen. Luiz Sergio Chiessi, Embraer’s director of market intelligence, added that the design allows a full passen-ger arrival turnaround in about 15 minutes.

Embraer notes that the 190 aisle and seats are both wider than those of the A320, and that the Brazilian airplane offers more overhead storage-bin volume per seat than the Boeing Business Jet.

Cabin Entertainment

While there may be no “free lunch,” there are plenty of free cabin amenities, including audio headsets. Each 190 will be equipped with 6.8-inch seat-back monitors to allow individual viewing of up to 36 free video channels provided through DirecTV (except between JFK and Newark and Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic).

The aircraft will also carry free XM satellite radio entertainment with up to 100 channels, and on flights longer than two hours a selection of movies will be available from InFlight Premium Entertainment at $5 per film. Flights between JFK and Newark and Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic do not offer DirecTV but do provide the InFlight Premium Entertainment program as a complimentary service.

The first 190 is expected to enter service with JetBlue next month, but the company has yet to reveal the first route, saying only that it is likely to originate from John F. Kennedy Airport in New York.

Customers will find the same livery on the 190s as on the A320s. Each tail will carry the dark blue/light blue on white, but each in a different pattern and design.

The airplane is being labeled as the Embraer 190AR, meaning that it has additional range. The increase in range–from the original 1,800 nm to 2,100 nm–came at the urging of JetBlue as well as from other potential customers. An Embraer spokesman said some structural reinforcement–to the tune of about 220 pounds–was necessary to allow an increase in the mtow and permit the existing fuel tanks to be filled to the maximum.

Embraer expects to receive approval from UK aviation authorities for its 170 for the London City Airport steep approach by the end of next year and anticipates similar approval for the 190 will follow.

JetBlue COO Dave Barger described the 190 as a “perfect” complement to JetBlue’s fleet of 81 A320s. More than that, he added, “The 190 also represents what I call our ‘Pathfinder’ with regards to opening up new routes.”

Barger said some of the Embraer 190s will indeed be used to open new routes. Other 190s will replace A320s on routes where the 190s can operate more efficiently. Rather than retire its A320s, the company will look at new routes that are more appropriate for the A320’s longer range and greater passenger capacity.

Pilot Training

JetBlue plans to ensure a certain level of cross-qualification training that will allow pilots to transition easily between the A320 and the Embraer 190. This, said Embraer, permits better use of training resources without the restrictions normally associated with mixed-fleet flying.

The CAE-built simulators at Orlando take advantage of a high degree of commonality between JetBlue’s two aircraft types and permit a certain ease of crew cross-qualification.

Orlando, Fla., is the home of JetBlue University, where all initial training for pilots and flight attendants is conducted. The facilities have both A320 and Embraer 190 full-motion simulators, and approximately 120 JetBlue crewmembers support the center.

The so-called scope clause that has given other U.S. carriers serious heartburn during negotiation with pilot unions as smaller regional jets were added is not an issue at JetBlue. First, the company notes, the Embraer 190 is not a regional airliner, but an addition to the existing fleet that will allow more efficient operation over a wider range of routes and into smaller underserved destinations. Second, JetBlue is not a union shop.

JetBlue is reluctant to discuss the break-even load factor for the 190, although Embraer suggests in its literature this is about 65 percent. A spokesman for JetBlue, however, points out that “break-even” in reality depends on many factors, including cost per seat mile, fuel costs and route competition.

The airline has emphasized the efficient operation of its new 190, pointing out longer maintenance intervals, shorter down times and maintenance costs expected to be about 12 percent lower than those of its A320 fleet.

According to Embraer, its “E-fleet”–which consists of the 170, 175, 190 and 195–is part of a natural evolution from the 50-seat regional market.

Chiessi said Embraer holds  firm orders for 412 E-fleet airplanes and options on another 373. The company has delivered 66, and the backlog stands at 346.

The Brazilian manufacturer has firm orders for 187 Embraer 170s from nine airlines, including Saudi Arabian Airlines, Finnair, LOT Polish Airlines, Republic Airlines and US Airways. It has firm orders for nineteen 175s (15 from Air Canada and four from LOT Polish Airlines).

Embraer has firm orders for 183 copies of the 190, from Air France subsidiary Regional, Air Canada and Copa of Panama, as well as from GECAS and JetBlue in the U.S. The 195 has attracted firm orders for 29 airplanes from Flybe in the UK and Swiss International Airlines.

He also noted that the company is starting to receive numbers back from the seven operators of its 170 and 175 twinjets that show dispatch reliability of 99.4 percent.

Asked his strategy for the success of a low-cost carrier, JetBlue’s Neeleman was blunt: “Do it right and do it smart, or end up like some of our competitors.”