The Middle East and northern Africa have become fertile areas for marketers at Brazil’s Embraer, now the undisputed leader in terms of fleet presence in the region among the world’s regional airliner manufacturers. Of course, the nearly decade-long effort to gain a foothold in a region long considered the virtually exclusive domain of widebodies didn’t yield immediate results, but Embraer’s persistence has undoubtedly paid handsome dividends.
Speaking with AIN in the weeks leading up to the Dubai Air Show, Embraer Commercial Aviation vice president for the Middle East and Africa Mathieu Duquesnoy noted that the E-Jet family ranks as the second most-operated aircraft type within the Middle East after the Airbus A320. Fifteen E-Jets are flying with Saudi Arabian Airlines, 15 with Nasair, 12 with Egyptair, eight with Royal Jordanian, five with Oman Air and three with Libya’s Petro Air, accounting for 78- to 79-percent of the market for regional jets carrying more than 70 seats.
“We used a lot of efforts to prove the case for this segment, and that, of course, was the first milestone for us: to demonstrate the requirement for this size of the equipment,” said Duquesnoy. “So we did a lot of work on the marketing side educating the Middle East to go for this smaller capacity equipment…In North America and in Europe, we had this 50-seater revolution. This never happened in the Middle East for a lot of reasons. That’s why you have more [70-seat] E170s in the Middle East than [100-seat] E190s.”
“Rightsizing” proved key in this part of the world, said Duquesnoy, as carriers began to appreciate the value of flying airplanes such as the E170 in markets formerly served by single-aisle mainline jets or even widebodies. Some six years after the first E170 entered service in the region, carriers now show a readiness to switch to 100-seaters, he added. “It’s about to happen,” Duquesnoy insisted. “So we have a lot of interest in the 100-seater from all these airlines …What is very interesting is that the product is very well accepted in this demanding part of the world,” explained Duquesnoy. “Passengers are spoiled by the likes of Emirates, Etihad and Qatar, but they really see value. Why? Because the E-Jet enables the connectivity that the bigger aircraft cannot accommodate.”
Oman Air, for example, now flies high frequencies between Oman and Abu Dhabi; Egyptair used the E170 to establish its Egyptair Express subsidiary, connecting Cairo to such tourist destinations as Sharm el Sheikh and doubling domestic traffic within three months of adopting E-Jets. In the Levant, Royal Jordanian has developed a high-frequency model with its E175s and E195s that has shown particular promise for further development in that part of the world, said Duquesnoy.
In North Africa, Embraer just started operations with Royal Air Maroc with two E190s for what Duquesnoy called a test period prior to the airline’s expected launch of a request for proposal later this year.
Even in the Gulf region Embraer sees opportunities, particularly with the likes of Qatar Airways, long considered a prime target for the Bombardier CSeries. “Yes, of course, we are talking to Qatar Airways as we are talking to all parties in the region,” said Duquesnoy. “And obviously we feel there would be great possibilities in the development of a partnership between Qatar Airways and Embraer.”
Of the four types of E-Jets in the region, only the E195–the largest of the family–flies with Royal Jordanian, which operates the airplane on routes as long as four hours to points such as Kiev, Tunis and Muscat as a so-called complement to its A320 service.
Certainly Embraer would like to see more cross-border use of the E-Jets in the region, but so-called liberalization in the Middle East has proved slow in coming. “It is getting there,” said Duquesnoy. “Of course it takes time for this to happen, as it took time in other parts of the world. But there is no reason why it would not happen. So we’ve seen some countries that have started to open up–the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia being a good example–with the additional licenses that have been granted now [to Qatar Airways and Gulf Air].”
Although the likes of Emirates have long eschewed the use of regional jets in favor of dedicating resources to more profitable trans-global networks, Duquesnoy said Embraer talks with “everybody” because, ultimately, the company believes the region needs the same sort of “connectivity” as in North America, Europe and, increasingly Asia. In response, Embraer opened a spare parts distribution center in Dubai and a service center in Egypt; meanwhile, two E-Jet flight simulators–one in Jordan and the other in Saudi Arabia–serve the region.
“We want to continue to develop this network of solutions because this is what the market requires, and this is what ultimately brings value to operators,” stressed Duquesnoy. “It’s interesting to note that some of our operators in this part of the world [demonstrate] among the highest reliability of the worldwide fleets, even though we know that the Middle East is a complicated environment to operate in, with the sand, with the humidity and the hot temperatures.”
E-Jets in the region fly with adaptations specifically designed for such a harsh environment, said Duquesnoy, including modifications to the hot sections in their General Electric CF-34 turbofans and improvements to their Hamilton Sundstrand air management systems.
Of course, Middle East airlines will also reap benefits from a new wingtip design and other aerodynamic improvements that the company expects will, together, yield a 5-percent fuel burn improvement by the second quarter of 2014. Then, by 2018, schedules call for the first E190E2 to reach the market, yielding a further “double digit” operating cost improvement. “This is going to give us some more leverage to consolidate our position in the Middle East by obviously getting additional orders, both on the existing family and on the E2,” said Duquesnoy.