THE NEW millennium brought with it a dignified success for Embraer, allowing the company to climb to new heights. The Brazilian manufacturer, gleaming from its ERJ family success particularly in North America, launched the E-Jet: a 70-120 seat regional family, powered by GE CF34 turbofans. In time, the E-Jet family has replicated it’s smaller sibling’s achievements, having managed to fend off strong competition from Bombardier and fill a healthy order book.
Nevertheless, demand for larger regional jets is now waning. 2012 has proven to be a difficult year for Embraer, netting a disappointingly small number orders as they enter the final stretch. Delivery backlogs have fallen to a 6 year low and if the manufacturer does not receive any more E-Jets orders, those deliveries could technically be completed by Q4 2013 should the current production rate be maintained.
The threat of a cash-flow choke has prompted Embraer to unveil a series of upgrades to its aircraft. In late 2011, it was announced that the E-Jets family would receive a significant overhaul, including a new wing and engine with an EIS of 2018. Described as an “evolution” of current E-Jets, the new family, dubbed the “E-Jets G2” will bear resemblance to the development of the B737NG. Keen not lose any market share, this EIS date could be brought forward to as early as 2016. The manufacturer is currently evaluating engine choices, and is reportedly considering a GE CF34NG for the E175, and the Pratt and Whitney Geared turbofan for the E190-195. The smallest model, the E170, has seemingly been excluded from the G2 treatment, echoing decisions to ostracize the A318 and B737-600 from further upgrades.
Meanwhilst, interim improvements on current designs are also being brought to the table. These will reduce the operational costs of the E190 “plus” by 3% and the E175 “plus” by 5%. No detailed specifications have been revealed as to how these improvements will be realised, however Embraer have said the improvements will occur incrementally between next year and 2014.
The risk of demand in this sector drying up, or more realistically, being replaced with turboprop designs (as witnessed with the ERJ145 and CRJ200 families), cannot be avoided. Not satisfied with keeping all their eggs in one basket, competitor Bombardier have invested heavily in the CSeries, a 100-149 seat design powered by geared-turbofan engines which could lower operating costs over existing airliners by over 20%. Embraer have kept fairly silent on their developments in this sector. The manufacturer quelled any talk of a larger aircraft being developed however it would be coy to believe this is not being seriously studied.
Initially, a stretched E195 design was floated to customers. The E195X would have seats for 130 passengers but greatly sacrificed range. The concept was quietly discarded in mid-2010. In its place, Embraer announced that, like Bombardier, they too were looking into the possibility of a larger 5-abreast aircraft. The 100-149 seat market has been curiously mute, presenting the ideal opportunity for Embraer to begin their pursuit of a more varied market. Embraer CEO Frederico Curado is wisely ensuring that any plans are kept under wraps until the last possible moment, presumably to avoid disturbing the experts, Airbus and Boeing, in this field. Bombardier’s CSeries sales figures has not yet warranted its validity, though the completion of flight testing could welcome a flurry of pending orders.
2012 has not been Embraer’s year, it has seen the E-Jet lose sales campaigns to turboprops and the CRJ, as well as a surprise order from SkyWest for Mistubishi’s MRJ. A lack of orders and an precariously small backlog can set off alarm bells, however it would be foolish to presume that one of the world’s largest aerospace corporations doesn’t have a few aces up its sleeve. 2013 looks set to be the year that reveals what those aces may be.