Embraer Sees E-Jets Advancing Air Transport’s Covid Recovery

 - May 24, 2021, 10:35 AM
Embraer Commercial Aviation CEO Arjan Meijer (Photo: Embraer)

Embraer expects to emerge from the Covid crisis in a relatively strong competitive position as a fundamental shift in traffic patterns portends increasing interest in smaller narrowbodies such as the E195-E2, according to Embraer Commercial Aviation CEO Arjan Meijer. Following a 2020 campaign that saw Embraer Commercial ship just 44 airplanes due to customer deferrals and two months of inactivity at the start of the year as it worked on the "carve out" of the division for its since aborted integration with Boeing, the company will likely see improvement on deliveries this year as more markets open with improving epidemiological circumstances. A recent pair of orders covering 17 E175s by Alaska Airlines and its regional partner SkyWest sent what Embraer considers a clear signal of improving market conditions. But even before securing those deals, Embraer added 10 new E-Jet operators resulting mainly from used aircraft transactions since the start of 2020.

Of the three variants, the one that has drawn the most interest from airlines recently—the E195-E2—is also the largest, carrying as many as 146 passengers in a single-class layout. Embraer plans to deliver the first of four next month that were ordered by Switzerland’s Helvetic Airways, which coincidentally will become the first to fly one of its eight E190-E2s in revenue service into London City Airport, where E-Jets already account for 70 percent of all movements. That model gained approval to operate into the short-field, obstacle-limited airport last week.

Meanwhile, the smallest of the E2s—the E175-E2—continues to struggle to find a market outside the scope-clause-limited U.S., prompting Embraer to delay its introduction again by another year, to the second half of 2024. Nevertheless, Embraer is no less committed to that airplane for the medium- and long-term, said Meijer.

“We consider the E175-E2 an integral part of the E2 family,” he insisted. “If there would be a customer today wanting the aircraft, that would have been a different discussion, but with Covid, the whole world is in a little bit of a pause and we said, ‘Let’s focus on the 190 and 195 short-term.’”

In fact, the latest delay of the E175-E2 in no way reflects a desire to defer research and development spending since the onset of Covid and the April 2020 collapse of Embraer’s proposed partnership with Boeing, said Meijer. 

“In the broader sense, Embraer has spent a vast amount of money in the last couple of years developing the E2, developing the KC-390 on the defense side, and developing the executive aviation new types with the Praetor being the last addition,” he explained. “We’re still spending money on the E2 program; we haven’t stopped that. And we’ve also been very vocal to the market that we’re very interested in going after the [turboprop] market.”

Meijer added that Embraer remains “very active” in the design of a turboprop that would seat between 70 and 90 passengers and use a traditional engine configuration. He also stressed that Embraer will proceed with the project only with the help of a strategic partner. 

Hoping for an entry-into-service date of 2027, Embraer will need to move soon toward a launch to meet that relatively near-term target. “We will use this year to develop that aircraft further and we hope to be able to bring that to a more firm position in 2022,” Meijer said.

Still, product definition has progressed to the point where the company expects the airplane to fit between the ATR 72 and De Havilland Dash 8-400 in terms of performance while offering better economics, a lower noise profile, and what Meijer called a superior passenger experience.

In the longer term, Embraer expects the new turboprop to serve as a platform for other technological advances. However, the design, as it stands, does not assume any radical new engine technologies. “All options are on the table, but for now we have worked on the assumption it will be a traditional engine to start with, and from there we’ll move forward and see what’s possible,” explained Meijer.

While the company cannot afford to lose focus on its long-term aspirations, it first must get through 2021 and the likely two or three years of Covid-related market suppression that most analysts expect. “We certainly hope that we’ll be climbing out of the crisis this year,” said Meijer. “This is a year of recovery and then the next couple of years we hope will be even more growth. So, yes, we’re intending to do better than last year. And I think with the appetite that we [see] from the market, both on the E1 and E2 sides, we’re very confident about the segment.”