ANALYSIS: Why Embraer’s narrowbody call could be smart move

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Embraer's decision to focus on developing a major upgrade for its E-Jet family rather than following its rival Bombardier into a head-to-head fight with mainline airliner manufacturers has been well received by analysts. However questions remain about which supplier will be chosen to power the re-engined family, and whether the Brazilian airframer will decide to stretch the existing family beyond the existing 110-120-seat E-195 variant.

Yesterday's announcement by Embraer follows a lengthy evaluation of a potential new five-abreast design to compete in the 130-160-seat segment. The decision to shelve the all-new move comes after the "window of opportunity" was closed when Boeing launched the re-engined 737 Max, says Embraer commercial aircraft Paulo Cesar Souza e Silva. Instead, he adds, Embraer "will focus on our current segment".

Aviation analyst Les Weal, who is director of valuations and appraisals at Flightglobal's data and consultancy arm Ascend, thinks that Embraer's decision is the right one. "Taking on Airbus and Boeing is for the brave or those with very deep pockets," he says. "Life has just got tougher for the competition such as the Mitsubishi MRJ and Bombardier CS100," he adds.

"Rather than have every aircraft manufacturer converge on a narrow seating band, in fact there is now sufficient overlap in the range of seating on offer from all the new build and re-engined products, to enable them to capture customers at the core of their own market segments," says Ascend's Global Head of Consultancy Eddy Pieniazek.

The enhancements being considered for the E-Jet centre on an all-new engine to replace the General Electric CF34. Embraer has not revealed details about which engines could be in the running for the upgrade.

Other enhancements under evaluation include a composite fuselage. The current family, which straddle the 70-120 seat sector, have a four-abreast cabin. Embraer had been considering a large fuselage cross-section for the all-new aircraft to enable a five-abreast configuration like the Bombardier CSeries, which is more suitable for a family in the 130-160 seat sector. But with that plan now shelved, Silva says that the top-end of the re-engined family could be extended through the introduction of E-195 stretch seating 130 passengers.

"It remains to be seen if there is indeed a stretch to the E-Jet airframe, and which engine(s) is chosen," says Pieniazek. "After that, the coming decade will have been pretty much defined in terms of what models will be available, and when, in the narrowbody market."

Incumbent E-Jet supplier GE is currently developing an advanced turbofan in the same power class as the CF34-10, called the "Passport".

 

Ascend senior analyst George Dimitroff sees Pratt & Whitney's PW1000G geared turbofan as another potential candidate with the smallest variant of the engine that powers the MRJ family. "The CF34-10E is 57in [145cm] in diameter, the PW1215/1217G is actually 1in smaller at 56in," he says. "With some space to spare under the wing the engine could even grow a little which might improve the efficiency over the MRJ."

To date, Embraer has sold 1,100 E-Jets and delivered around 800 aircraft. The backlog represents around three years of production at current output rates. "The market has embraced E-Jets and it appears that airlines are content with re engined products," says Weal.