The Embraer E-Jet E2 program continues to progress precisely on schedule, leaving now former commercial aircraft COO Luis Carlos Affonso quite comfortable with his legacy as he assumes his new role of vice president of corporate strategy and innovation. Issuing perhaps his last update on the E-Jet effort to AIN just ahead of the Dubai Airshow, Affonso reported that the E190-E2 program had accumulated 1,600 flight hours out of an expected total of 2,000, and that Embraer had performed all of the most challenging aspects of flight and ground testing with minimal need for configuration changes. Program teams recently have completed tests associated with aeroelastic characteristics and natural icing, while cabin evacuation drills met certification requirements by what Affonso called a very good margin under the 90-second limit.
Embraer has completed all structural testing on the static test airframe and begun fatigue trials on an airframe dedicated to that task. It also has successfully finished all of the testing that typically carries a high risk for revealing redesign requirements, such as tire burst tests.
“I would say the amount of rework is significantly lower than we had in previous programs,” said Affonso. “But it’s always expected that you have to do something.” Affonso explained that engineers found “nothing big” in terms of a need for changes to the airplane’s aerodynamic configuration, but rather minor adjustments to slat and flap positions and modifications involving the mechanisms associated with those devices to reduce drag.
Next, schedules called for function and reliability testing, which Affonso said the company would perform with one of two E195-E2 flying prototypes. Having flown the first E195-E2 on March 29, Embraer planned to fly the second right around the time of the show’s opening. “Because the E195-E2 will benefit from many of the tests done on the 190, we are really using the 195s to help and support the 190 campaign,” explained Affonso.
Although the actual flight testing deviated little from the original plan, Embraer did need to “optimize” testing sequences to accommodate problems Pratt & Whitney encountered with the PW1000G family of geared turbofans destined to power all three E2 variants. Affonso said the airframer continues to follow “very closely” airlines’ in-service experience with the engines on the Airbus A320neo and Bombardier C Series. While Swiss International Airlines and Air Baltic have reported good results with the PW1500Gs on their CS100s, Airbus customers, particularly in India, have encountered early removals of PW1100Gs from their A320neos due largely to air seal leaks and premature wear of combustor liners.
Affonso expressed satisfaction with Pratt & Whitney’s response to Embraer’s concerns and confidence that the issues would not affect the E2’s production schedules. “As we had planned, not being the first application is paying off,” he noted. “Because a lot of the issues will be corrected in our engines, or the solutions have already been identified. We are monitoring this very closely but we believe the engine will not be a show-stopper for us.”
Meanwhile, Pratt said it has found a solution to earlier problems involving excessive rotor bowing, forcing extended engine re-start intervals. “When we enter into service, [the rotor bow condition] will have already been fixed,” insisted Affonso. “Our customers will not see that problem, even though we have seen it during the flight test campaign...We have tested different Fadec software that will cope with this issue in our application, so at EIS [entry into service] this problem will not be there.”
Pratt & Whitney also has addressed quality problems associated with the engine’s hybrid aluminum-titanium fan blades to Embraer’s satisfaction, and has added considerable production capacity with the addition of a new facility at its AutoAir plant in Lansing, Michigan. “Again, we have been following this very closely, so our engineering teams as well as our production engineering guys have been visiting several Pratt & Whitney facilities to see the measures they’ve taken for ramp up,” reported Affonso. “And, of course, because our ramp-up will be a smooth ramp-up, this also will help.”
In terms of Embraer’s production plans, the company has taken what Affonso characterized as a conservative approach, first building E1s on its so-called hybrid production line to limit risk of introducing the E2s onto a newly reconfigured workstation arrangement. Although Affonso reported that the company has decided on the number of airplanes it plans to build during the first year of production, he chose not to reveal the rate, adding that in the interest of ensuring the readiness of its supply chain and product support organization, Embraer will not risk taking a too ambitious approach.
“We are very fortunate that our current generation of E-Jets continues to be very successful,” he noted. “So we can be conservative in the ramp-up; for our benefit and the benefit of our customers.”
Schedules call for the E190-E2’s entry into service with first operator Wideroe Airlines in April. The airline has already begun training its first tranche of E2 pilots on first-generation airplanes to prepare for the transition, while maintenance personnel and Embraer specialists have begun meeting in Brazil and Norway to ensure operational readiness.
By the time Wideroe starts flying the E190-E2 in revenue service, Azul Airlines of Brazil will itself have begun preparing to serve as the launch operator for the E195-E2. Designed to carry as many as 146 passengers in a single-class layout, Embraer’s biggest jet took its first flight at least three months earlier than the second-half 2017 date range the company originally targeted. Although the two E195-E2s will need to fly fewer hours than will the four airplanes in the E190-E2 program due to several common systems, the fact that each of the three E2 variants uses its own wing design means Embraer will have to perform a dedicated testing schedule to validate flying qualities and performance. The company, therefore, has given itself until early 2019 to gain certification.
For the E195-E2, the decision to use dedicated wings has already paid dividends, resulting in a 450-nautical-mile increase in range compared with the originally specified 2,000 nautical miles. Announced in February 2016, Embraer’s decision to add 4.6 feet of wingspan—and thereby increasing aspect ratio—improved lift-to-drag ratio and allowed for an increase in maximum takeoff weight by 4,400 pounds. More recently, Embraer managed to add another 150 nautical miles to the E195-E2’s range, taking it to 2,600 nautical miles after gaining what Affonso called a better understanding of the capabilities of the airframe from 190-E2 test results. “So without really significantly increasing the structural weight of the airplane, we were able to increase the maximum takeoff weights and carry more fuel,” he explained.
While increasing maximum takeoff weight in the 195-E2 suggests no real operational penalty, the mtow of the last and smallest member of the E2 family—the E175-E2—exceeds pilot union limitations imposed on their operation at regional affiliates of the three legacy airlines in the U.S. Unfortunately for Embraer, the labor contracts’ amendable dates don't fall until near or after the E175-E2’s original EIS target of early 2020. As a result, Embraer delayed entry into service by a year to allow the airlines time to negotiate with their pilots to relax the limitations appearing in the so-called scope clauses of their contracts.
Nevertheless, said Affonso, “the 175 is a go,” and the company has established a dedicated team to work on its development. Embraer has now cut first metal for the type and released engineering drawings.
“There are different opinions, but my opinion is that the scope clauses will be relaxed over time,” said Affonso. “We don’t know when, but we want to be ready when it happens...Because there’s no airplane available, I don’t see why people would entertain the conversation about changing the scope clause. But when the airplane is available and has the ability to deliver important savings and efficiencies to the airlines, I’m sure they will pay attention to that.”