Embraer Confirms Launch Delay for Proposed Turboprop

 - January 26, 2023, 11:45 AM
The proposed Embraer turboprop's rear-mounted engines could allow for adaptation for hydrogen power by 2045. (Image: Embraer)

Embraer’s plans for a new conventionally powered turboprop have yet to crystalize as executives reconsider their timeframe targets for an industrial launch. While the company continues studies into the airplane’s technical characteristics, the previous launch target of the middle of this year appears unlikely to hold given that talks with potential suppliers will extend beyond original expectations, Embraer Commercial Aircraft CEO Arjan Meijer told AIN on Thursday.

“We aren’t going to hit the deadlines that we gave before and we won’t give a new deadline because we don’t want to be in a defensive position,” he said. “We’re not there with the system providers across the board. We’re trying to hit the design spot for the turboprop from all the different aspects, so if we don’t get there, we’re not launching. We need more time.”

Nevertheless, the delay won’t necessarily change the 2028 entry into service date the company last projected, Meijer added. “We can delay and still make the 2028 [target], he explained. “But at this point, I don’t know how much time we need…It’s not always helpful to run up to a deadline. You need to let these things evolve.”

Of course, a lengthy entry-into-service delay could affect the total market for a conventional turboprop given the likely introduction of technology such as hybrid-electric power in the mid to late 2030s. In fact, ATR has revealed plans to introduce a hybrid-engine-powered turboprop in 2030, although that project remains the subject of study by engineers and market analysts and few details on its technical characteristics have emerged.

Embraer head of engineering Luis Carlos Affonso has estimated that a 15-year window exists between the introduction of a conventionally powered turboprop and one powered by new technologies. Meanwhile, Meijer said the believes it will take longer for new propulsion technologies such as hybrid-electric and hydrogen to advance enough to efficiently power a heavier, larger turboprop suitable to carry between 70 and 90 passengers such as Embraer has proposed. A so-called sustainability roadmap published by Embraer last year shows the introduction of a hydrogen-powered turboprop in 2045.

Embraer’s proposed new conventionally powered turboprop design has already evolved significantly since its conception in 2017. Most notably, it has changed the position of the engines from under the wings to at the rear of the fuselage—a move meant to ease maintenance tasks, mitigate noise, and simply improve the airplane’s aesthetics. Meanwhile, its decision to use a metal fuselage based on the one developed for the original E-Jets will mitigate development risk, said Meijer.

With the replacement of the engines from under the wings to the back of the fuselage, Embraer already has begun considering its current plans' adaptability to future propulsion developments such as hydrogen.

In terms of where among the company’s commercial aircraft product offerings the turboprop will fit given an apparent overlap with the current E-Jets, Embraer executives say they see no risk of cannibalizing its jet market with the new propjet. Although planning to design the smaller of the two models to fit 70 seats in a single-class configuration, Embraer sees airlines choosing a multi-class application carrying closer to 50 seats, particularly in the U.S. The 90-seater will find a home in places such as Asia, where characteristics such as a 20 percent speed improvement over today's ATRs and higher seating capacity will, according to Embraer, help it erode the competing company’s currently dominant position.