Sept. 10, 2015, © Leeham Co. Embraer is the dominant producer of commercial aircraft in the 70-125 seat sector, having overtaken Bombardier in the last decade following the development and 2004 introduction of the E-Jet. Bombardier’s CRJ family struggles, hampered by a sales force that neglected it and the Q400 turbo-prop as attention focused on the new CSeries.
Embraer in recent years faced new competition. However, the early entries—AVIC’s ARJ21 and the Sukhoi Superjet SJ100, both in the 70-90 seat sector, proved little to worry about. The ARJ21, now eight years late, proved to be a technological and industrial dud, a project that was more about learning how to design and build an airplane than producing a commercially viable one.
The SSJ100, while winning favorable reviews, was and continues to be plagued by a poor production system and in recent years the political overhang of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its war in Ukraine.
Shortly, though, the E-190 faces a new challenger: the Mitsubishi MRJ90. It’s two years late, now forecasting an entry-into-service of 2017—just one year ahead of the redesigned E-190, the E-190 E2. The MRJ90, a 90-seat clean-sheet design, is Japan’s first commercial airliner since the NAMC YS-11 turbo-prop of the 1960s. The MRJ90’s first flight is scheduled for the second half of next month. Full flight testing moves to Washington State in the first quarter next year.
Paulo Cesar, president and CEO of Embraer’s commercial aircraft unit, sees a bigger challenge for the MRJ: US labor contracts.
The vast majority of the orders come from the USA’s SkyWest Airlines and Trans States Airlines, which provide contract flying for US major carriers. The problem: the MRJ90 weighs more than is allowed under the labor contracts of the majors.
“The program is very late,” Cesar notes. “The expenditure on the program is very high. The customer base is still very narrow. The aircraft is Scope Clause-constrained in the United States. For that size aircraft, the bulk of the market is in the United States. If the Scope Clause does not change, there will be a big impact on the program.”
Cesar acknowledges that the smaller Embraer E-175 E2 has the same issue. The 175 E2, like the larger E-190/195 E2, has new wings, new engines and new systems. The current design, the E-175 E1, falls under the Scope Clause weight restrictions.
“The problem is the same for the E-175 E2,” Cesar says. “However, we have the 175, which is selling well in the United States. We have gotten 80% of the market opportunities in the US in the last two years. The 175 E1 is a very efficient aircraft. The 175 E2 will deliver even more efficiencies. If the Scope Clause does not change by the EIS of the 175 E2 (2020), we will continue to have the E1.”
Separately, Embraer’s military unit is developing the KC-390 multi-role tanker transport, a twin-engine jet using International Aero Engines V2500 powerplants, the
same ones used on the Airbus A320ceo family and the old McDonnell Douglas MD-90. The KC-390 is the size of a Boeing 737 with a fuselage diameter of the Boeing 767. It’s intended to fit in with the Lockheed Martin C-130 and Airbus A400M transports.
Some observers believe that lessons learned from developing this airplane, Embraer’s largest, will lay the foundation for an eventual new family of commercial jets larger than today’s E-Jets.
The KC-390 has flown, but flight testing and development has stalled due to government budget cutbacks.
“We had to make adjustments,” Cesar said. “Brazil is going through a very difficult period. We have in Brazil what I call a perfect storm in terms of economy, which is not doing well, and also big political trouble. The combination of the two is affecting Brazil a lot.
“In addition to that, there [are charges of] corruption in the [state] oil company. Brazil is facing a period of testing for the Brazilian democracy and institutions. I believe that we will have to wait a little to see what the outcome is. Brazil is the eighth largest economy in the world. There are 200 million people, so it’s an economy that is very diversified. What we are seeing now is very challenging.”
Cesar said that there is talk of impeachment of the President. “Whether or not there is an impeachment, that’s what we are discussing.
“The budget has been cut. The Brazilian government is running a big deficit. There will be a delay of the program of maybe a year or a year and a half. We don’t know exactly yet. We don’t how much [cut] will be this year or next year.“