Oct. 18, 2021, © Leeham News: It was October 2015 when Bjorn Fehrm and I first went to Sao Jose de Campos to visit Embraer’s headquarters. Among the topics discussed then was the prospect of developing a new turboprop airliner. The E2 program was well underway and one day, Embraer’s engineers would need something else to do.
At the time, officials weren’t enthusiastic about a turboprop. The cost to develop one was estimated to be about $2.5bn, about the same as the E2, they said. But the market was much smaller, only about 2,000-2,400 airplanes over 20 years.
Much has changed in six years. The E2 program is all but finished, with only the E175-E2 left. Periodic performance improvement packages will be developed. The proposed joint venture with Boeing, in which Embraer’s engineers were going to play a big role in two new airplane programs, is dead.
EcoAviation demands have risen to the forefront. Bombardier exited the Q400 turboprop business and the buyer, Longview Aviation Capital, “suspended” production during the COVID pandemic. Few believe it will be restarted. Airbus, which owns 50% of ATR, made hydrogen power a top priority. ATR may be the vehicle through which initial development is sold as a turboprop.
When Embraer began showing the turboprop concept, it was a traditional design: a low wing airplane with wing-mounted engines. The E2 fuselage would be used, bringing unparalleled passenger comfort far beyond anything in the ATR or Bombardier series.
Today, the engines would be mounted on the rear fuselage. Advanced engines will reduce fuel consumption and emissions. The airplane could later be converted to hydrogen power.
Adapting the E2 fuselage will lower the development cost, but the termination of the Boeing JV and the fall-out of the pandemic took a financial toll on Embraer. A partner providing money or industrial support or both is needed. Officials hope to launch the program next year with an entry into service in 2027—a timeline some greet with skepticism.
Arjan Meijer, the president and CEO of Embraer Commercial Aviation, outlined the development strategy of the Turboprop Next Generation (TPNG) in an interview during the IATA AGM Oct. 3-5 in Boston.
“We have the E2 in operation,” Meijer said. “I think it’s fair to say that the largest versions of any family are most of the time strongest unless there are some specifics like a Scope Clause in the US. The 190 and the 195 E2 are the bigger members of the family. We still plan to 175 E2, but we believe in above and below that, we have a gap in our product offering.”
This was one of the reasons why Embraer wanted to look into turboprop, he said.
“The second reason is we believe that today there is no really good aircraft in that segment that people like from an interior perspective, that people like from a noise perspective, or that airlines like from a cost perspective. From all those perspectives, we’ve been working on a TP for a long time. I think the development costs of a TP are not as high as the development cost of an E2 families, so it will be significantly lower,” Meijer said.
Meijer said Embraer can do a lot of “recycling” on this aircraft. The TPNG uses the E2 cabin. Advanced technology on the E2 can also be applied to the TPNG.
“The number we have in mind on the investment is significantly lower than $2.5bn,” Meijer said. But he declined to offer one.
“One of the other changes that we made is we put the engines on the tail instead of under the wing. There were a couple of reasons driving that. First of all, the looks of the airplane, just to call it like that, it’s really different. It distinguishes itself from existing turboprops. The functional benefit is that by taking the engines further away from the cabin, it will positively affect the onboard noise, so for the noise profile, it’s a lot better for the passengers in the airplane,” he said.
Another reason is the ground handling of the aircraft. “The accessibility of the gate to the aircraft is easier. There were several reasons to go into the direction of this new design. Then there is environmental angle. That’s another driver.”
Meijer said the first TPNG will have a more traditional engine, but Embraer believes the platform can be used for future technology. Hydrogen fuel is a future possibility, “but it’s all very early on. This is not going to happen in the next 10 years. This technology probably will take more time. Embraer is very focused on the segment below the turboprop for the next couple of years, how to bring an aircraft to market there that has a much better CO2 footprint.”
Embraer is at electric and hybrid power as well. But electric and hybrid are going to be really difficult to apply for the technology, Meijer said.
This story will continue in a future post.