E-Jets Verdict: Broken armrests & Avionics problems

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Broken armrests

There were a few early teething problems with the E-170’s cabin, with LOT suffering breakages of passenger armrests during the first year. “The armrests were not strong enough and the problem was we were unable to buy replacements because an agreement with Embraer forbade the parts manufacturer selling to us. But these problems were resolved by the end of 2004.”

Finnair was an early European operator of the E-170 – putting its first aircraft into service in September 2005 and is also a customer for the larger E-190 – the first of which was delivered in December. The airline’s E-Jet fleet now comprises 10 E-170s and three E-190s, which it deploys on regional routes from its Helsinki hub. A further seven E-190s are due to arrive over the next two years.

Finnair’s E-170s are configured with 76 seats at 31in (79cm) pitch, with a curtain dividing the cabin service between business and economy, while the E-190s have 100 seats at the same seat pitch.

The airline deploys its E-170s mainly on shorter sectors, including some domestic routes where they have replaced ATR turboprops and Boeing MD-80s. Longer sectors into continental Europe and the UK are served, to cities such as to Geneva, Manchester and Milan. Finnair has used the E-Jets to launch new destinations where demand had not been high enough to justify services with its larger aircraft, or to existing destinations served by Airbus A320s to allow frequencies to be increased. Finnair is adding southern European destinations to its network as the larger E-190s join the fleet.

Finnair’s Visuri, who was technical fleet manager for the E-170 and the A320 when the Embraers entered service in 2005, says that overall the airline has been pleased with the performance of the regional jet, although the initial teething problems were “slightly greater than we expected”. He adds that “Embraer is proud of the aircraft and they want to make it better...they really work hard to fix a problem”.

Visuri also says that some of Finnair’s teething problems were not necessarily down to the aircraft: “Maybe we should have been a bit better prepared as well.”

Finnair’s first batch of E-170 mechanics received hands-on training with LOT, but unlike the Polish carrier, the airline did not deem it necessary to fly a mechanic on the aircraft during its introduction.

“We’ve been very pleased with Embraer’s support – we had a good briefing from Embraer, who made regular visits before service entry to discuss problems,” says Visuri. He adds that the airframer has a “very active resident representative” at the airline who “has always been on call. We also had an AOG [aircraft on ground] engineer in the beginning.”

For European operators Embraer has a spares centre in Paris. “Compared with Airbus, there is a bit of room for improvement,” says Visuri. The size of Finnair’s E-Jet fleet justified bringing spares support in-house, handled through its Finnair Technical Services division.

LOT was the worldwide E-170 launch operator and its fleet now also comprises six larger E-175s

Avionics problems

Visuri says that a series of software upgrade loads from Honeywell had “managed to significantly cut down the avionics problems within the two years”, by which time around 70-80% of the problems had been rectified.
However, “each fix usually introduces another problem”, he adds.

Visuri says that the integrated design of the avionics is the root of the problem as “when one part is changed it doesn’t necessary take into account all the other things that might happen. That can create a problem requiring you to power-up and power-down the aircraft – like ‘CTL-ALT-DEL’ on the PC.”

While the initial avionics issues have been solved “there have been some new ones, of which all have been identified and under work”, says Visuri. “These new issues do not only relate to Honeywell.”

Operators say that the primary cause of delays for the E-Jet fleet worldwide during the initial in-service period had been the EICAS warning “Flight Control No Dispatch”, which can be created by various sources, and requires a power-up and power-down to clear.

One reason for the warning is linked to Finnair’s winter operating environment, says Finnair’s E-170 fleet chief flight operations Capt Marku Malmipuro. “The EICAS warning can be caused by cold hydraulic oil, but there is an Embraer procedure to warm up the system with a ‘push-pull-push’ on the controls to avoid this problem,” he says.

Malmipuro adds that because the water system does not have heaters “the water has frozen on the ground during the winter causing some delays”. This has also been an issue for Air Canada, and Embraer has developed a system for the two airlines to prevent this occurring. “We have to evaluate whether it would be more economical to drain the water system during lengthy stops between turnarounds,” says Visuri. “We are currently living with adjusted procedures.”

Fellow European operator LOT says it did not suffer these cold weather problems due to the procedures it has adopted. “LOT has an internal winter procedure that requires any remaining water to be drained within 30min of a flight being completed, so we didn’t have any broken lines due to frozen water,” says LOT’s Buczko.

Finnair’s E-Jet daily utilisation is averaging 7h and this is rising towards the airline’s target of 8.5h. The fleet’s technical dispatch reliability (TDR) has been gradually improving from 96.5% and by mid-2006 reached 98.3%, which was better than its Boeing 757 fleet. “We expect it to reach our target of 99% this year and be at the level of our A320s,” says Visuri.

“In general, passenger feedback has been very positive,” says Visuri. “The biggest issue has been the temperature control at the front of the cabin – it gets too cold.” This was partly caused by temperature sensors being “in the wrong place”. These have been relocated from the hat racks and Finnair and Embraer are working to resolve this fully.

Visuri says that while the C&D-supplied cabin interior has been “robust enough”, the airline has been slightly disappointed with its response to requested changes to equipment. “It took quite a long time before they did anything.”