Embraer’s executive jet line poised for takeoff

 - March 31, 2008, 9:25 AM

With production of its new Phenom 100 very light jet starting this month, Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer has served notice that its goal of becoming a major player in the business aviation industry is no flight of fancy.

Embraer announced the creation of its executive jets division in the spring of 2005, simultaneously revealing the launch of the Phenom 100 very light jet (VLJ) and the larger Phenom 300 light jet, both clean-sheet designs. At that time, the only business jet the company offered was the Legacy 600, an executive version of its ERJ 135 regional jet.

Certification of the Phenom 100 is scheduled for mid-summer, and at a media briefing and facilities tour early last month, managing director of the Botucatu assembly plant Almir Borges said Embraer will be producing six Phenom 100s a month by year-end. As production ramps up through 2009, he added, the rate will reach 17 airplanes a month.

Embraer expects to deliver as many as 15 Phenom 100s this year and nearly 170 next year, according to Embraer executive jets executive v-p Luis Carlos Affonso.

Pre-assembly of the Phenom 100 fuselage and wings is being done at Botucatu, after which aircraft are trucked to Gavião Peixoto for wing-mating, final assembly, cabin completion, exterior paint, flight testing and delivery. The separation of the two production phases, said Borges, is a function of two “very different” core competency requirements and is expected to streamline the production process.

Embraer is pricing the Phenom 100 at $2.95 million for North American customers whose aircraft meet FAA certification requirements. For European customers whose aircraft must meet the more rigorous EASA requirements, including a second DME and weather radar, the aircraft is priced at $3.05 million.

The production model will feature some modifications developed during the flight-test program. They include aerodynamic wing fences for lower approach and takeoff speeds, a dorsal fin enlargement and ventral fin. Affonso said the dorsal fin, in addition to robust construction, has allowed the elimination of a de-icing boot on the vertical fin.

Embraer considered and rejected winglets partly because of the weight sensitivity of such a small airplane. He also noted that the benefits of winglets on a straight wing such as the Phenom 100’s are minimal.

Even as Embraer prepares to begin production of the Phenom 100, the first Phenom 300 is taking form in the same Botucatu shop.

While it might be easy for some observers to think of the Phenom 300 as a derivative of the Phenom 100, this couldn’t be further from reality, cautioned Affonso. While the airplane has the same fuselage cross-section as the VLJ, the $6.65 million Phenom 300 has a projected maximum takeoff weight of a little over 19,000 pounds, about double that of the Phenom 100.

Embraer expects to have the first Phenom 300 in the air this spring and is aiming for certification in the middle of next year.

When both programs reach maturity and full production late next year, Embraer expects to be building 22 aircraft–17 Phenom 100s and five Phenom 300s–a month.
Affonso said Embraer now has firm orders for 700 copies of the two airplanes.

Legacy and Lineage
Meanwhile, Embraer has not ignored the business jet derivatives of its airliners.

The most recent is the $42.95 million Lineage 1000, a 19-passenger business jet variant of the E190. The first is already having an executive interior installed at PATS Completions in Georgetown, Del. A PATS spokesman said the cycle time for the Lineage 1000 will be as little as six months, and delivery of the first is expected in mid-summer this year to Aamer Abdul Jalil Al Fahim of Abu Dhabi. A second Lineage is due to arrive at PATS just as the first is rolling out. When the cabin finish is complete, the airplanes will be flown back to São Jose dos Campos, where exterior paint will be applied and final flight testing done before delivery.

Embraer plans to deliver as many as six Lineages next year, most of which are expected to go to PATS for cabin completion work. As part of the agreement, PATS will develop the supplemental type certificates but Embraer will own them.

The modular design and choice of options for the interior offer considerable room for customization, said Affonso, with as many as 5,000 possible cabin configurations. Embraer, he added, is not inclined to sell the airplane green, pointing out that “the end result would be a much more expensive interior that would require a much greater cycle time.”

The Legacy 600, a super-midsize executive jet built on the ERJ 135 regional jet platform, is Embraer’s initial foray into the business aircraft market.

The Legacy went into service in 2002. Last year the company delivered the 100th aircraft off the line, and rather than leveling off, demand for the $26.93 million, 19-passenger twinjet has continued to climb, according to the company.

Embraer had projected deliveries of 30 Legacys last year but exceeded expectations by six airplanes. That represents a 33-percent increase over Legacy total deliveries in 2006 and 80 percent more than in 2005.

Last year, the Legacy received a facelift that included such standard and optional items as a drop-floor that increases centerline headroom to six feet; fully berthable seats from B/E Aerospace; slimmer lighting valances that add still more headroom; and iPod docks. The galley got a major makeover with such standard and optional improvements as increased counter space, a dual-compartment ice drawer, larger trash container, larger water tank, wine chiller, refrigerator, convection oven and espresso maker.

The World of Midlight and Midsize
Even with two business jets in production, another just days away from production and a fourth expected to go into production in the middle of next year, Embraer isn’t finished with its market assault.

Last September, the company introduced two new-concept aircraft–the Midlight Jet (MLJ) and the Midsize Jet (MSJ).

The MLJ has the same cabin cross-section and wing as the larger MSJ. Embraer describes the 2,300-nm-range MLJ as “perfect for regional flights.” The MSJ is a design that would allow operators “true coast-to-coast, [3,000-nm] range” with four passengers in a flat-floor, stand-up cabin.

A program launch has yet to be confirmed, but Affonso said the board of directors is aware of the programs. He further noted that a five-year development cycle is probable, “so a launch in 2008 would mean an in-service date of about 2013.” And he added that the larger MSJ would probably come first, followed by the MLJ as a derivative.

With so much activity, Embraer has an optimistic market outlook. The company sees increases in corporate profits and growth in individual wealth as factors driving the demand for private jets. Added to that is the growing congestion and security hassles faced by airline customers.

New business models, he said, “will bridge the gap between current alternatives” and create additional demand. Also, he explained, in recent years the income of wealthy individuals has grown faster than the economy. At the same time, corporate profits “have been increasing and are expected to continue to increase.”

Embraer, he said, foresees delivery of 13,150 executive jets over the next decade, with a total value of $201 billion.

He further pointed out that while the U.S. has traditionally been the largest world market for executive jets, that demographic is starting to change as economic growth in other parts of the world accelerates.

“Our view for the next 10 years is increasingly positive,” he said. “Our vision in 2005 remains unchanged, [as does] our decision then to invest in the future.”