Now firmly positioned into its second half-century of operations, Embraer has always battled with the dominance of other manufacturers but now claims a lead in the sub-150-seat market. On its 51st birthday, Key.Aero looks back at the airframer’s remarkable rise
Exactly 51 years ago, in a bid to develop an aircraft industry in the country, the Brazilian aerospace manufacturer Embraer was established by the country’s government.
Since then it has grown into a multifaceted private company which offers products in the business, commercial and military aviation sectors.
The airframer’s first civilian type, the EMB 110 Baneirante, was originally designed and flown before the formation of the company. The 15 to 21-seat twin turboprop was conceived by French engineer Max Holste in the late 1960s. The type saw success in both military and civil applications.
Military examples then dominated the manufacturer's line-up during the 1970s and 1980s. It debuted its first dedicated regional airliner, the EMB 120 Brasilia in 1985.
Aimed directly at the export market, the type was the first in a series of highly successful regional airliners, a market that Embraer would go on to capture and lead in.
Embraer Regional Jet Family
The Brazilian firm’s next big move was to transition away from turboprop airliners, and into the world of regional jets.
In the late 1980s, it perceived that there would soon be a new market for regional jet aircraft, where the increased speed, comfort and passenger appeal would outweigh the decreased fuel economy compared with turboprop types.
As a result, the company designed the ERJ145, a 50-seat turbofan-powered regional airliner. The narrowbody was produced between 1992 and July this year, following the delivery of its final airframe.
After the introduction of the type, two shortened versions (ERJ 140 and ERJ 135) were developed. Each shared the same crew type rating, allowing pilots to fly any of the three without the requirement of further training.
The family of aircraft have seen great success with regional airlines in the United States. Primary users of the jet included ExpressJet, Envoy Air, Piedmont Airlines and CommutAir.
Envoy is currently the largest operator with 102 in service, followed closely by ExpressJet with 101. Overall, 1,222 airframes were built over its 28-year production run – 847 of which are still in service.
The E-Jet family is arguably the company’s most successful development to date. The aircraft series consists of narrowbody short- to medium-range aircraft capable of carrying between 66 and 124 passengers commercially.
First introduced at the Paris Air Show in 1999, the series entered production three years later in 2002.
Originally, the airframer proposed a derivative design which took elements from the ERJ 145 and included a larger-diameter fuselage and a new wing. Pursuing this approach would reportedly have produced a programme cost of around $450m.
In the end, Embraer chose to adopt a clean-sheet design for the aircraft family which resulted in a higher cost of around $850m but allowed for a truly new product offering which could be the reason it has seen so much success.
Upon its launch in 1999, Embraer offered the E-Jet in two variants, the E170 and the E190 each with capacity for around 72 and 98 seats, respectively.
After a positive response from the airline industry, the airframer launched the E175 and E195, both of which were simply stretched variants of their counterparts.
As of June, this year, 1,566 airframes have been produced – the most for any commercial Embraer aircraft. The E170/75 is the most popular E-Jet with 768 still in service. Republic Airways operates the greatest number with 212 in its fleet. There are currently 655 active E190/195s, 60 of which are flying with New York-based JetBlue.
As a result of the success Embraer had experienced with the E-Jet family, in 2013 it decided to launch an updated version that boasted new avionics, fly-by-wire controls, engines and wings.
Called the E-Jet E2, the aircraft enabled Embraer to remain competitive in a now-crowded market full of re-engined fuel-efficient iterations of legacy aircraft like the Airbus A320neo, Bombardier CSeries (now A220) and Boeing 737 MAX.
The first variant, the E190-E2 took its maiden flight on May 23, 2016, and was certified in February 2018. The main selling point for the type is the improved fuel burn compared with the previous generation. Embraer targets 16 to 24% lower consumption and a 15 to 25% reduction in maintenance cost per seat.
The new Pratt & Whitney PW1000G geared turbofan engine contributes to a large proportion of the fuel savings – around 11% of the E190-E2s total 17.3% improvement. Additional reductions come from enhanced aerodynamics, the new high aspect ratio wing, and the fly-by-wire system.
While orders have been steady, they’ve not been at the scale previously seen with the first-generation jet. The manufacturer boasts of order backlog of 151 airframes from 13 separate customers.
Joint Venture Woes
In December 2017, Boeing and Embraer were discussing the potential for a combination. In July the following year, the two airframers announced a memorandum of understanding to establish a joint venture, in which Boeing would acquire an 80% stake in Embraer’s commercial aircraft division.
It was noted at the time that this would be beneficial for both parties because Boeing needed smaller aircraft, namely the E-Jets, and the Brazilian manufacturer wanted the marketing power of the larger firm because the E2s were selling slower than they would have liked.
After being approved by Embraer’s shareholders in February 2019, the new venture was then waiting for regulatory approval. In a surprise move, on April 24 this year, Boeing terminated the deal stating that the Brazilian firm did not satisfy the conditions of the contract.
Embraer strenuously rejected Boeing’s justification, saying in a press release that the US company sought to avoid its commitments and that it would “pursue all remedies against Boeing for the damages incurred.”
Despite this, Embraer’s 51 years of existence have been incredibly successful. The fact it has not only managed to compete but lead in the sub-150-seat market is a testament to the quality and unique product offering of the manufacturer.
The Brazilian firm has managed to stay off competition from the likes of Bombardier, Airbus and Boeing and it will be exciting to see what else they achieve within the commercial aviation industry in the future.