Embraer’s Legacy road show in full swing

 - April 23, 2008, 12:59 PM

After a long wait, Embraer’s Legacy business jet received European Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) certification on July 5. FAA approval, expected some time ago but delayed by the events of September 11, was expected during the following few weeks, according to the company, but had yet to surface at press time.

A 14-week, 20-city North American tour that ends later this month has generated a few surprises for Embraer’s Legacy marketing team. The tour is carrying a cabin mockup of the Legacy 14,000 mi on an 18-wheeler from Minneapolis to Dallas and from Boston to Monterrey, Mexico and 10 cities in between. Meanwhile, the first completed and flying Legacy has been on tour in Europe, having made its May debut on the continent at the European Business Aviation Conference and Exhibition (EBACE) in Geneva.

The tours were not meant to generate direct sales, according to Embraer, but rather to provide exposure for the new entrant. The order book for the business jet version of the Brazilian manufacturer’s ERJ-135 regional jet holds firm commitments for 74 and options for 94 more, but interest in the aircraft has come from sources the company would not necessarily have predicted. For instance, the Legacy is available as either an executive transport with seats for eight to 10, or as a corporate shuttle accommodating up to 18 in 39-in.-pitch, first-class configuration.

“We expect to sell about 240 aircraft in the next 10 years,” said Sam Hill, Embraer’s executive v-p based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., “but we initially thought that 90 percent would be in executive configuration. Now it looks like the split will be closer to 60/40. We’ve been surprised by the level of interest in corporate shuttles.” The Legacy shuttle airplane comes without the VIP version’s extra fuel tanks, winglets and added avionics, but costs only $16.5 million compared with $20.4 million for the executive-configured Legacy. The shuttle airplane’s range is calculated at 1,850 nm while the exec Legacy with its conforming extra fuel tanks can go 3,100 nm.

Another surprise has been a level of interest from Gulfstream operators, not as a replacement for their current aircraft, but as a complement. U.S. sales manager Mike Gearhart told AIN that the road team, so far, has hosted an average of 100 to 150 visitors at each stop. The comment he has heard over and over from pilots and passengers alike is, “I had no idea the cabin was this big.” Gearhart said each stop on the tour has yielded between two and six new prospects that warrant follow-up to schedule a demonstration flight.

“We don’t have the range, speed or altitude capability of a Gulfstream,” said Gearhart, “but a number of pilots–and even some Gulfstream marketing personnel we’ve met–see this airplane as an excellent complement to a GIV-SP or GV. Though it can’t complete all the mission profiles the larger airplane can, it has the cabin size the passengers are used to and, at $20.4 million complete, is more in the range of a super-midsize jet in acquisition and direct operating cost.”

Hill took the silver-lining approach to the certification delays, saying the extra developmental time had allowed Embraer to refine the Legacy. For instance, it was initially expected to have a balanced field length of 6,350 ft. Improvements have reduced that to less than 5,800 ft. Hill said, “That adds between 3,500 to 4,000 airports to the list of available destinations for the Legacy.”

Its 3,100-nm range makes the Legacy a dependable New York-to-Los Angeles airplane, nonstop. Hill said, “For the operator who makes most trips within that range, but occasionally needs to go to Europe, this is a good airplane.” For a flight department that already operates a Gulfstream or Global Express, the Legacy will provide a like-size cabin and much lower direct operating costs.

Another selling point for the Legacy is its support network. With hundreds in service as regional airliners worldwide, the Embraer family of jets has far-reaching parts and technical support. “We have $290 million in spares worldwide,” said Hill. Additionally, each Legacy owner will have a dedicated service team. North American operators’ teams will be based in Nashville, Tenn. Go-teams will be available for immediate dispatch for aircraft-on-ground (AOG) situations.

Low-utilization maintenance programs have been established for corporate operators who expect to fly less than 1,500 hr per year. Under the airline maintenance schedule, service and inspection intervals are determined exclusively by hours of operation. An A check comes at 400 hr and a C check at 4,000 hr. In corporate livery, flying far fewer hours per year, a Legacy would add a calendar limitation to its maintenance intervals. For instance, A checks will be performed at 400 hr or six months; C checks at 4,000 hr or 48 months. The reason for adding calendar time to the requirement is that some maintenance procedures involve replacing hoses and seals that can deteriorate over time, regardless of the number of hours spent aloft.

Some of the Legacy buyers that have several aircraft on order are shuttle customers who have plans for regular service between fixed city pairs. For those operations that will fill schedules closer to those of the airlines, Embraer has authorized an airline-style, hour-based maintenance schedule.

Hill said Embraer has been in discussions with several fractional operators, but added, “The acquisition phase [of the fractional market] has slowed considerably.” He also said that most existing fractional operators already have ordered aircraft in the size and range category of the Legacy, though at higher cost. Hill said some fractional providers had told him they wished he had announced the Legacy sooner (the project was unveiled at the Orlando NBAA Convention in 1997), before they had committed to the aircraft they now have on firm order.

Though interior designer Nordam configured the original Legacy interior, Embraer has assumed greater responsibility for completion and design work. The company takes pride in the assertion that its $20.4 million price includes a realistic amount for paint and interior. “We now have 38 designers at West Palm Beach [Fla.],” said Hill. “With six or more seat layout designs, that covers more than 80 percent of the desired seating arrangements.” Varying from the set format could get expensive, Hill said, with any major design change involving as much as an 18-month delay for head-impact-criteria (HIC) testing. “It costs about $250,000 to do a HIC test,” he said.

Hill said customers could order a “green” Legacy, if they so desired, estimating the price at around $16.5 million “depending on what cabin preparation was required.”

Does Embraer intend to expand its Legacy business jet line to include its new ERJ-170 airframe? Hill said he would accept bids on a shuttle version today, but the company expects to wait until year-end to decide whether to proceed with an executive version of the stretched airframe. “We have yet to determine if the market is big enough, and if we can come in at the right price,” said Hill.

There’s no question that the delay in U.S. certification has slowed the marketing surge. But with the moribund economy, it’s questionable whether an FAA-blessed Legacy program would have taken off like a rocket, anyway. Gearhart told AIN, “We watch the stock market. There has been a lot of wait and see. Some companies have loosened up a little–not their purse strings, necessarily. But there has been some serious analysis about whether an aircraft will be right for them after the expected economic turnaround.” For its part, Embraer has begun advertising in the Wall Street Journal and initiated direct-mail campaigns to aviation-specific target companies, as well as Fortune 500 businesses. The coming months will determine whether Embraer has been prescient with its marketing slogan for the Legacy: “The business jet for the new economy.”