Embraer E-Jets – the secrets of their success

As airlines search for ever-more economical ways of serving their markets, the ‘crossover jet’ category of small airliners provides Embraer with a potential route into an expanding portfolio of customers. Alan Dron asks if it’s living up to the hype

The past 20 years have seen the arrival of a new type of airliner. Smaller than traditional single-aisle types, they were initially classed as ‘regional jets’ but are increasingly referred to as ‘crossover jets’. They span the size gap between regional aircraft (both turboprops and earlier-generation jets) and mainline narrowbody jets such as the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 families that account for the vast bulk of the world’s airliner population.

Brazilian manufacturer Embraer has successfully tapped into this new crossover category with its ‘E-Jets’, now in their second generation of models. Embraer has one major rival for the crossover jet market: the Airbus A220 (previously known as the Bombardier CSeries), which has also found a ready market, with more than 800 sales to date. (For Embraer sales figures, see below)

One possible factor that may favour the Brazilian aircraft is that it built up a considerable customer base with its smaller, previous-generation E135/E145 range, which sold widely and is now increasingly appearing with new owners as second-hand equipment in regions such as Africa.

Embraer’s newest livery to promote the Profit Hunter E195-E2 is called ‘Tech Eagle’, in recognition of the growing number of new E2 customers around the world with the motto: “Like an eagle, the E2 flies efficiently and silent”
Embraer’s newest livery to promote the Profit Hunter E195-E2 is called ‘Tech Eagle’, in recognition of the growing number of new E2 customers around the world with the motto: “Like an eagle, the E2 flies efficiently and silent” Embraer

This may prove profitable as airlines increasingly upgrade their equipment to meet growing market demand, as expanding middle classes in Africa and Asia increasingly use their increasing disposable incomes to take to the air.

In its latest market forecast, released at this year’s Paris Air Show in June, Embraer sees global demand over the next 20 years for new airliners in the up-to-150-seat category reaching 11,000 aircraft, with slightly over half – 55% – replacing older aircraft and the remainder coping with growth in the world’s markets.

Of those 11,000 machines, the Brazilian OEM calculates that 8,790 will be jets (split 52% to 48% between replacements and growth aircraft), while 2,210 will be turboprops. Embraer believes that smaller jets will increasingly complement mainline narrowbodies.

Analysts have frequently commented on the relatively slow sales of the E2 series since its first example was delivered to Norwegian regional carrier Widerøe in April 2018.

Daniel Galhardo Gomes, Embraer Commercial Aircraft’s strategic marketing director, said a significant reason is that many E1s are still relatively young aircraft, with only ten to 15 years ‘on the clock’. Their operators thus see no reason to rush to replace them with the E2s – especially, says Galhardo, as the E1 has shown itself to be very reliable in service.

So, why did Embraer launch the E2 series when its predecessor was still a player in the marketplace?

“There was an opportunity to evolve our E-Jet family,” said Galhardo. “We saw the industry moving towards more efficient engines, and we thought ‘We can’t let the E-Jet fall behind; we have to update it.’

“That engine improvement came earlier than we were expecting, but it was an important evolution we had to follow.”

The eye-catching ‘Tech Shark’ paint scheme was applied to an E190-E2 that appeared at the 2022 Singapore Airshow. The aircraft left Brazil on February 9 and arrived at Singapore’s Changi Airport on February 12
The eye-catching ‘Tech Shark’ paint scheme was applied to an E190-E2 that appeared at the 2022 Singapore Airshow. The aircraft left Brazil on February 9 and arrived at Singapore’s Changi Airport on February 12 Embraer

This meant changing the E1’s General Electric CF-34 powerplants for Pratt & Whitney PW1900G geared turbofans, including a redesigned high aspect ratio wing and new avionics.

One model of the E1 range remains in production. The E175 was designed to cater to US regional airlines providing feeder services to the country’s majors. These regional airlines are bound by tightly drawn ‘scope clauses’ that limit the size of aircraft they can operate so as not to put at risk the jobs of pilots employed by the majors by allowing their work to be outsourced to the regionals. The pilots’ trade unions have been diligent in enforcing these agreements.

Currently, the maximum number of passengers that can be carried by a regional airline aircraft is 76. There is also a limit on a regional plane’s certified maximum take-off weight, which cannot exceed 86,000lb.

“Scope clauses are not rational,” argues Galhardo. “They are pretty much a negotiation piece between the airlines and the pilots’ unions. The pilots’ unions are very strong because of the shortage of pilots in the US and because of market dynamics.” He believes the time will come when scope clauses will have to evolve because of factors such as the need for more environmentally friendly aircraft and passengers’ changing expectations of their flight experience.

That time may not come until the end of the decade, however – hence the pause in developing and producing an E2 variant of the E175.

Embraer agreed to the sale of 19 E175 jets to Skywest, Inc. for operation in the United Airlines network. The 70-seat aircraft will be delivered in a three-class configuration. Deliveries will begin in late 2024
Embraer agreed to the sale of 19 E175 jets to Skywest, Inc. for operation in the United Airlines network. The 70-seat aircraft will be delivered in a three-class configuration. Deliveries will begin in late 2024 Embraer

The E175-E2 would have offered greater capacity to the regional airlines, and the aircraft was designed in the belief that scope clauses would have been amended to allow it to be acquired by the US carriers by the time it came to market. This has not happened, so development has been delayed until 2027, a decision also influenced by the need to rethink investment plans in light of the financial impact of the pandemic.

Also, said Galhardo, the E175-E1 continues to tick up a steady level of orders from airlines, not just in the US. Nigeria’s Air Peace, for example, has recently ordered five.

The aircraft is now the only turbofan in its size class (typically, 76-88 passengers). China has its ARJ21, but this does not have certification by the US or European regulatory authorities, rendering it an insignificant rival outside China or Chinese client states such as Laos.

Galhardo believes E2 sales will accelerate: “We’re just now moving into that replacement phase. That perhaps explains the perceived low backlog numbers early in the programme.”

“But on the other hand, we also see some airlines changing strategy. For example, KLM [CityHopper] is adding E195-E2s to add capacity in their markets. Also, coming sustainability requirements may speed up some replacements in regions, like Europe.”

KLM CityHopper, the Dutch flag carrier’s regional subsidiary, operates a mix of E175s, E190s and E195-E2s; the last offers 32 more seats than the E190s’ 100.

“We expect to see an increase in the replacement of our first-generation jets in the coming years,” said Galhardo, “because of reduced CO2 emissions and the up-gauging of some regional connections.”

Canadian regional operator Porter is building up a substantial fleet of E2s to service destinations both in Canada and across the border in the US
Canadian regional operator Porter is building up a substantial fleet of E2s to service destinations both in Canada and across the border in the US Embraer

Almost all the early sales of E2 machines were to airlines that were not operators of the previous E1 aircraft.

KLM is an exception, partly because of the airline’s sustainability drive, as is Aerolineas Argentinas, which in October announced an order for 12 E195-E2s, apparently to replace some of its 26 earlier-generation E190-E1s. Embraer understands that two other major European users of the E1, Lufthansa Group and LOT, the Polish national airline, are actively looking at E2s to refresh their inventories.

Embraer does not release production rate figures, but guidance earlier this year said it anticipated producing 65 to 70 E-Jets in 2023. It remains on track to meet this estimate.

“Crossover is a very interesting segment,” Galhardo said, as aircraft in this category offer solutions to several airline requirements.

It can ‘right-size’ capacity on routes previously operated by narrowbodies that have become too large for demand on the sector; conversely, it can provide extra capacity on routes where demand has grown beyond that served by a single narrowbody but where an additional single-aisle mainline aircraft would be too much; it can be the ideal aircraft with which to open and nurture new routes; and its smaller size (and consequently lower costs) make it a useful option when increasing frequencies on sectors.

Those lower costs have been achieved because the E190/195 were purpose-designed, whereas the aircraft that they often replace, the A319 and 737-500 or -700, are ‘shrinkages’ of the most cost-efficient main member of their families, namely the A320 and the 737-300 and -800.

However, not only economics will define airliners’ future success or failure.

Leisure operator TUIfly in Belgium has taken delivery of three E195-E2s specifically to operate holiday flights out of Antwerp Airport, which has a short runway of just 1,510m in length. Despite this, the E195 can reach the Canaries or Turkey with a full load of 136 passengers
Leisure operator TUIfly in Belgium has taken delivery of three E195-E2s specifically to operate holiday flights out of Antwerp Airport, which has a short runway of just 1,510m in length. Despite this, the E195 can reach the Canaries or Turkey with a full load of 136 passengers Embraer

Geopolitical trends may increasingly affect the air transport market, with the global economy fragmenting into two competing economic blocs headed by the US and China. This could mean that trade may increasingly be affected by political, not economic, factors.

Perhaps with one eye on this trend, Embraer is currently in talks with the governments of several fast-growing economies (particularly airline economies), namely Turkey, India and China, over the possibility of setting up new production centres there.

These could range from, at their simplest, completion centres for ‘green’ airframes, with interiors being installed and paint schemes applied, to full-scale final assembly lines, replicating the original in Brazil.

At the European Regions Airline Association annual meeting in Innsbruck in October Embraer Commercial Aviation’s CEO, Arjan Meijer, said that discussions were ongoing and ”very strategic” with the governments of those countries.

He said: “They involve assembly lines, completion lines; they involve working with local production, getting the Chinese supply chain involved, and of course, we need to work with the aircraft manufacturers there to make that happen as they have a vested interest.”

Galhardo agreed there are clear potential benefits from setting up such facilities. “Of course, it’s an opportunity to increase our presence in some regions. China, for example. It’s important to build relationships with the government and our presence in the country.”

Like Meijer, Galhardo said that, in China, India, and Turkey... “We see with that kind of strategy we can improve our capability to deliver more aircraft.

“I think it’s an interesting kind of partnership, where we see a win-win situation where we increase our presence in the region and open more possibilities.

A Portugalia Airlines’ E190-E1 in the colours of TAP Express, the Portuguese flag carrier’s regional operation, visits an unusually sunny London City Airport
A Portugalia Airlines’ E190-E1 in the colours of TAP Express, the Portuguese flag carrier’s regional operation, visits an unusually sunny London City Airport Alan Dron

“But the stars need to align, so discussing a timeline is difficult.”

Embraer has had a presence in China, with a final assembly line in Harbin, in the northeast of the country, producing previous-generation E145s. However, this saw just 45 aircraft rolling off the line in 13 years. Galhardo believes things would be different this time if new co-operation with China materialises.

Previously, the market in China grew very quickly, and how it was organised turned out unsuitable for a 50-seat regional jet like the 145, he explained.

“A 50-seater jet is a very good product to feed hubs and increase frequencies in busy markets, but how the Chinese market evolved was different. They didn’t use hubs; it was more point-to-point connections and grew really fast, so the market was more suitable for larger aircraft.”

He believes that the Chinese market now realises that a hub-and-spoke network is required to improve the system’s efficiency.

One other potential factor in the E2’s’ favour, Meijer said at the Paris show, is that the E190/195 slots neatly between China’s recently introduced ARJ21 regional jet, which typically seats between 78-90 passengers and its even newer C919, which is roughly the same size at the Boeing 737 or Airbus A320 and typically seats between 165 to 192, depending on cabin layout.

The Brazilian jets span the gap between the two Chinese aircraft, with the E190-E2 carrying 97-114 passengers and the E195-E2, 120-146.

Embraer executives have stressed that current conversations with China, India and Turkey are strategic and not one-sided discussions; the various national governments are actively engaged.

Of course, the possibility of Airbus following the same path with its A220, the E2s’ main competitor, can not be ruled out. China is a strategic partner to the European manufacturer, as evidenced by Airbus’ first final assembly line outside the borders of its four founding European countries, which opened in Tianjin in 2008. This FAL produced the A320 single-aisle family and was joined by a Completion and Delivery Centre in 2017 for the A330, marking Airbus’ first wide-body jetliner centre outside its founding countries.

Large numbers of Embraer E175s serve with US regionals – in these cases, Envoy Air in the colours of American Eagle. The 76-seat E175 is the largest aircraft allowed to be operated by the regionals under the terms of restrictive scope clauses
Large numbers of Embraer E175s serve with US regionals – in these cases, Envoy Air in the colours of American Eagle. The 76-seat E175 is the largest aircraft allowed to be operated by the regionals under the terms of restrictive scope clauses Embraer

In terms of crossover jets, Meijer said at the Paris Air Show that airlines were increasingly starting to see the benefits of introducing smaller aircraft that could complement their narrowbodies, pointing to Omani LCC SalamAir as one such example; in 2022, the Muscat-based carrier ordered six E195-E2s to add to its current fleet of A320s and A321s. Meijer noted that SalamAir had realised it needed an aircraft smaller than the Airbuses. It could offer approximately the exact seat cost but a trip cost around 30% lower than the European narrowbodies.

Meijer echoed Galhardo’s belief that the airline sector is approaching a period of replacing its E1 inventories that will likely last until the end of the decade. Additionally, around 1,000 A319s, 737-500s and -700s are fast requiring renewal.

Embraer believes that the cargo sector is another area that holds significant opportunities, which the company’s E-Freighter range is well-placed to fill. “At the moment,” Galhardo said, “there’s a huge focus on small and large turboprops” – such as Cessna’s new Courier that will be used as a feeder freighter by FedEx Express and the ATR twin turboprop (both used and new-build) – “and there’s a minimal number of crossover-sized freighters in the 10 to 20-tonne capacity segment.”

To help fill this gap, Embraer is assembling the first new-build E-freighter, with a service entry planned for 2024 with Kenya’s Astral Aviation. And second-hand E1 examples are already being converted to give them a second life as cargo hauliers, with Brazil’s Azul the first to take this into service.

Embraer believes this market segment could yield 600 potential sales over the next 20 years. The growth in demand for cargo aircraft, especially in the fast-growing e-commerce sector, means that an estimated 63% of those 600 aircraft will be needed to service this expansion, with just 37% replacing older aircraft.

A Lufthansa Group E190-E1 of Italian regional airline Air Dolomiti awaits passengers at Florence’s Amerigo Vespucci Airport. Air Dolomiti feeds passengers into Lufthansa’s hubs, notably Munich
A Lufthansa Group E190-E1 of Italian regional airline Air Dolomiti awaits passengers at Florence’s Amerigo Vespucci Airport. Air Dolomiti feeds passengers into Lufthansa’s hubs, notably Munich Alan Dron

Turboprop

For some time, Embraer has been looking to launch a new-generation turboprop to accompany its E-Jets. However, this project is – at least temporarily – on ice.

The Brazilian OEM has had plans for a new-generation turboprop in the 70 to 90-seat category for years and has taken these proposals to airlines.

Prospects are promising; the only real competition is ATR’s ATR 72-600. The De Havilland Canada Dash 8-400, for many years ATR’s main competitor, has had production paused by its owner as it moves its factory from Toronto to a new assembly plant near Calgary.

The Canadian company anticipates bringing a modern version of the Dash 8-400 to market in 2027-28.

Industry observers say that Embraer proposed an aircraft that used a modified E2 fuselage with rear-mounted turboprop engines rather than underwing turbofans. The new aircraft would be aimed at burning 15-20% less fuel per seat than older-technology aircraft, a degree of improvement that would undoubtedly interest airlines wanting to cut fuel burn and emissions. Indeed, at the 2022 Farnborough Air Show, Embraer said it had around 250 letters of intent for the new aircraft.

However, in December 2022, the company announced that development was being paused.

“[Our] market studies and discussions with airlines show strong global demand for an advanced, next-generation turboprop aircraft,” Embraer said. “However, the program only works if it meets performance, maintenance, and sustainability targets. Today, the options available from a few suppliers are not yet there concerning all targets.”

The main problem is the lack of a suitable new-generation turboprop engine.

GE Aerospace is believed to have decided not to bid an engine for the project. Rolls-Royce and Pratt & Whitney were willing to propose but seemingly could not meet Embraer’s targets for fuel burn and other technical aspects.

Industry observers have pointed out that there may be a shrinking window of opportunity for one more conventionally powered turboprop to be launched before new propulsion techniques become the norm. If a conventionally powered turboprop is delayed beyond the end of this decade, it may have too short a service life to be commercially viable.

Meanwhile, Embraer is pressing ahead with smaller aircraft that may use these new propulsion systems, using hydrogen as fuel.

In its Energia project, Embraer originally proposed four aircraft, ranging from nine to 50 seats, with various power options – all-electric, hybrid-electric, hydrogen hydrogen-electric and hydrogen-conventional propulsion.

In December last year, it narrowed down its efforts to two of those designs – 19-seat and 30-seat regional airliners with either hybrid-electric (traditional engines for cruise, with electric for extra power for take-off) or hydrogen-electric (hydrogen tanks and fuel cells mounted in the aft fuselage with electric motors housed in rear-mounted nacelles) power systems. These would potentially enter airline service in the 2030-35 timeframe, slightly later than the proposed new turboprop.

Given the current level of maturity of new propulsion technologies, Embraer believes that the size of aircraft that can be powered by hydrogen or a hybrid powerplant is below 50 seats – probably a 30-seater. For a fully electric aircraft, that perhaps falls to 19 seats.

“If we want to use these new technologies like battery or hydrogen, we need to control the weight of the aircraft and its payload. Otherwise, the weight of batteries will increase exponentially,” Galhardo said. “Also, the range has to be at a certain level where we don’t demand too much energy from this aircraft. So, that leads us to smaller aircraft. A bigger plane with a small range wouldn’t work.”

It also probably makes more sense to start small with the new technologies and evolve, step-by-step, into bigger aircraft. However, any new aircraft using these new propulsive technologies must also have enough seats to make the design commercially viable. There has to be a sweet spot.

The next decade is likely to see members of Embraer’s proposed Energia family taking to the skies, operating with zero or close-to-zero emission powerplants
The next decade is likely to see members of Embraer’s proposed Energia family taking to the skies, operating with zero or close-to-zero emission powerplants Embraer

Production numbers

Embraer has produced more than 1,750 of its E-Jets to date. The breakdown of model numbers delivered is as follows:

E1 Series

E170 191

E175 822*

E190 568

E195 172

*The E175-E1 remains in production, primarily (but not wholly) to cater for US feeder airlines limited by scope clauses. As of October 2023, 740 had been delivered, with an order backlog of 82.

E2 Series

E175 Production delayed to 2027 (est)

E190 34 (18 delivered)

E195 236 (63 delivered)

The sales success of the E-Jet range is readily apparent from the special logo on this E195-E2 destined for KLM CityHopper
The sales success of the E-Jet range is readily apparent from the special logo on this E195-E2 destined for KLM CityHopper Embraer