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Embraer eyes the Middle East with E2 revamp

Posted 5 October 2017 · Add Comment

Traditionally, regional jets have not sold well in the Middle East. Now, as Alan Dron finds out, Brazilian manufacturer Embraer believes that the new E2 version of its E-Jet range may change that situation.

It has become an airline industry axiom that small airliners struggle to win orders in the Middle East – particularly in the Gulf.
Turboprops, popular in virtually every other geographic region, are largely notable by their absence in the Middle East (Nesma Airlines in Saudi Arabia is one of the few exceptions that proves the rule) while even the ‘sexier’ regional jets have found the going tough.
Certainly, some Middle East operators do use them – Embraer’s first generation of E-Jets can be found in service with Egyptair Express, Royal Jordanian and Oman Air, for example – but they are present in far lower numbers than in Europe, North America or Asia-Pacific.
For years, the minimum ‘entry price’ to the region’s market has generally been an Airbus A320 or Boeing 737.
John Slattery, ‎president & CEO Embraer Commercial Aviation, believes that the company’s new E2 version of the popular jet (almost 1,500 of the first-generation variants have so far been sold with 284 firm orders and 445 options for the new family members) has a better chance of cracking the Middle East.
“The challenge in the Middle East is that it’s a hot and harsh environment. While your [Boeing] 777s and [Airbus] A380s have the opportunity to ‘breathe fresh air’ and fly long distances outside the region, an aircraft like ours tends to stay in that environment for a long time.”
That environment, he says, has led to the existing General Electric CF34 powerplant on the E-Jets being more expensive to operate than engines on other aircraft. “With the Pratt & Whitney GTF on the E2, with its higher bypass ratio, our expectation, and P&W’s expectation, is that the cost of operation will be better because of its fundamentally different architecture.
“I think with the GTF-powered E2, we will have a resurgence of momentum in the marketplace.”
As well as the new engine, the aircraft’s performance has been improved, even over and above the previously announced benchmarks. The E190 E2’s maximum range in normal circumstances is 2,850nm (5,275km); the aircraft’s hot and high performance has now been tweaked, due to a combination of factors such as flaps and slats optimisation and greater reduction in drag from the airframe than originally envisaged.
The benefits will vary slightly depending on the temperature and altitude of any given airport, but typically could amount to an extra 200nm (370km). Short field performance has also been marginally improved, giving an extra 100nm (185km) range.
More generally, the E2’s performance has been further revised upwards following aerodynamic changes. The E195 E2’s range was originally due to be 2,000nm. “Last year, we increased the wingspan by 1.5 metres: that took it to 2,450nm,” said Slattery. “With empirical evidence from the flight-test programme, we’ve now taken that to 2,600nm. We’ve been able to increase maximum take-off weight from 60,700kg to 61,500kg.”
Other recent milestones in the test programme have included the successful completion of wing-bending tests, which saw the E2’s wing being bent 3.2 metres higher than it should be, or 150% higher than the load test criteria.
The first of the new range of aircraft, the E190 E2, is due to enter service with Norwegian airline Wideroe in the first half of 2018, with the larger E195 E2 following a year later with Brazilian carrier Azul.
The smallest of the three versions, the E175 E2, has had its service entry date delayed by a year to 2021, due to the strength of the larger two aircraft in the marketplace and because there is currently little sign of the long-running problem of scope clauses at US regional carriers being resolved. These set limits on the size of aircraft that the regionals can fly under agreements with the pilots’ trade union.
That marketplace is substantial. Embraer’s latest 20-year forecast for the regional jet segment, issued at the Paris Air Show, predicts 6,400 aircraft will be required worldwide out to 2036.
However, despite the Brazilian company’s confidence that its re-engined variant will reinvigorate its presence in the Middle East, it still foresees just 220 aircraft – 3% of the total – finding their way to the Middle East. Africa, another region whose potential has been talked about for many years, but which stubbornly remains on the horizon, will account for the same percentage.
By far the largest numbers of aircraft will be destined for North America (32%) and Asia Pacific (27%).
Slattery believes there will be a continuing movement from turboprops to jets. He points, for example, to major Bombardier Q400 user Horizon Air that is moving to E175E2s and believes that airlines will increasingly turn to turbofans for sectors of more than 300nm (555km).
Embraer calculates that there will be 5,500 aircraft in the 70-150-seat category that will require replacement in that timescale, notably ageing A319s and Boeing 737s.
Slattery stresses that Embraer has no intention of intruding into the territory occupied by the two major OEMs, but likewise believes that the accepted wisdom of the benefits of having a single-type fleet is on the way out.
Airlines that have made their money out of serving major city pairs will increasingly find themselves operating to secondary and tertiary cities, for which a typical narrow-body carrying upwards of 150 passengers will be too large. Slattery believes that, increasingly, they will look for a smaller aircraft, such as the E-Jet, to complement the larger aircraft: “I believe we’re at the front end of a wave augmenting their mainline fleets with a larger regional jet.”
The largest member of the E2 family will give superior operating costs, believes Embraer, to the smallest members of the Airbus A320neo and Boeing 737 MAX ranges, but although its performance overlaps to some extent with that of the A319neo and MAX 7, the company is at some pains to stress that it does not intend to compete directly with the larger aircraft.
Bombardier’s CSeries regional jet strayed into that territory and found itself facing ferocious competition from Airbus in particular, which was determined not to have the Canadian aircraft poach its customers.
Having said that, Slattery does believe that the E195 E2’s improved capabilities will allow it to access a larger number of airlines than the E-Jet range could in the past. He also believes that regional jets can be effective at ranges as short as 300nm (555km), generally thought to be the preserve of turboprops, with their lower costs.
The E2 range, like other members of the new generation of regional airliners such as the CSeries and the Sukhoi Superjet, will also provide improved ‘living conditions’ for passengers compared to their predecessors. This will be particularly noticeable in the luggage capacity of the cabin. Whereas many regional airliners until now have had limited space in the overhead bins, the E2’s bins will be 40% larger than those of the earlier E-Jets and will be able to accommodate a roller bag for every passenger.
Middle East airlines will be keen to run the rule over the new aircraft to see if the improved performance makes them more attractive for their purposes.
 

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