Embraer to launch new airliner

 - April 30, 2010, 4:33 AM

Brazil’s Embraer will decide on the platform for a new aircraft program by year-end, executive vice president Mauro Kern told AIN last month. Kern’s revelation came just days after the company announced the establishment of a new division called New Programs-Airline Market to explore options for a successor to its line of 70- to 110-seat airliners.

Embraer will initially staff the new division with between 30 and 40 employees, said Kern, then expand it to employ “in the hundreds” by the time the company decides on a new platform by year-end. Recruited to lead the new division full time, Kern last served as executive vice president for the airline market–a position he filled for now CEO Frederico Curado when Curado took the reins of the company from retired chief executive Mauricio Botelho.

“It looks like we’re coming closer on a decision on what to do next,” said Kern. “And [the new division] is about bringing more energy and focus to that.”

The company has talked of developing a larger model to compete with Bombardier’s C Series, stretching the existing E195 airframe or even perhaps introducing a new large regional turboprop.

Kern still wouldn’t identify the most likely project, but he did note that recent market trends have curtailed interest in a turboprop somewhat. Although he said that studies continue into turboprop platforms, Embraer’s first concern will likely center on how best to approach the 100- to 120-seat jet market, as well as a strategy for addressing the segments covered by the C Series and potentially re-engined Boeing and Airbus single-aisle airliners.

“As time passes, the scenarios are becoming more clear in terms of what our competitors are doing or intend to do,” said Kern.

“And the technology scenarios– the engine manufacturers’ visions and ideas and willingness and aggressiveness–are all becoming more and more clear.”

Depending on how ambitious the project becomes and what strategies the competition pursues, Kern said Embraer aims to introduce the new airplane some time between the middle and second half of this decade.

Much will depend, he said, not only on the results of technical studies, but also on talks with potential suppliers and risk-sharing partners. Kern would not talk in terms of the level of investment Embraer will need to commit, nor would he say whether the project would require the construction of a new plant.

The latest organizational changes at Embraer come at a time when new aircraft offerings appear to have left no segment of the market from 100 to 220 seats uncovered, particularly if Boeing and Airbus choose to re-engine their respective single-aisle jets. Embraer’s perennial rival– Canada’s Bombardier–has staked a claim to the 110- to 145-seat segment with the Pratt & Whitney PW1000G- powered C Series, while China’s Comac takes direct aim at Boeing and Airbus with the 150- to 190-seat C919, powered by CFM’s new Leap-X.
No Word on Engine Selection
Curado had expressed some skepticism about the P&W entry when it emerged as the Geared Turbofan. However, Embraer other- wise has kept notably quiet about its engine preference.

“Selecting an engine for any application is something really sensitive,” said Kern. “So it’s not easy for me now to get into specifics on how we see the different technologies or what each manufacturer is delivering… There are fundamental differences in terms of technology, in terms of configuration. We see that the three engine manufacturers have radically different opinions about the best way to go. And a big part of the job that needs to be done is to have a very good understanding…a clear and, I would say, not emotional, not passionate understanding of what these technologies can deliver, not only in terms of fuel burn but maintenance costs and reliability.”

Meanwhile, Kern would offer no indication as to whether the decision on the engine might come before the actual launch of the airplane.

“The engine is certainly a key variable in all of this,” said Kern. “But it’s not only engines; it’s about what other key technologies we will have readiness for and will be required at the time we need to have the airplanes out there…[It’s about] materials and aerodynamics, systems and avionics; there are a number of things. You know we have several different technology development fronts today, and we will need to make a decision and carry out all the tradeoff studies to be sure which of those technologies bring the best value for the airlines and then decide whether to incorporate them or not.”