E-Jets Verdict: Flying on automatic & Spares delay

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Flying on automatic

E-Jet pilots have been transferred from all the other Finnair fleets. Training, provided by Swiss Aviation Training (SAT) in Zurich, “has been very good”, he says. “Pilots really like the aircraft. For example it is easy to prepare the cockpit before starting with a short, simple checklist,”says Malmipuro. “Some Embraer systems are even more automatic than the Airbus.”
Finnair operates its E-Jets at Mach 0.78 for cruise and descent, and typically cruises the aircraft at between FL340 and FL380, depending on the sector length. It has met or bettered performance guarantees, says the airline.
Finnair uses its E-Jets to connect with its long-haul services, and at peak times has found that the volume of the cargo holds was insufficient. “At Christmas, for example, passengers have so much hand luggage there is not enough space in the belly,” says Malmipuro.

Finnair has asked Embraer to develop a fully automatic auxiliary power unit fire extinguisher to enable the unit to be left running during turnarounds and eliminate the need for a crew member to be in attendance to operate the extinguisher. A modification to the altimeter has also been implemented at Finnair’s request to enable the certificated pressure altitude to be increased from -1,000ft (-300m) to -2,000ft to allow for the occasional high-pressure conditions experienced in Finland.

The launch customer for the E-Jet in Asia was start-up carrier Hong Kong Express, which introduced its first E-170 in September 2005. The airline, which ultimately had four leased E-170s in service, has now replaced the aircraft with larger 737-800s – not due to any technical issues, but because of a change in focus after Hainan Airlines acquired a stake in the airline.

Some ex-Hong Kong Express aircraft have gone to Australian charter start-up SkyAirWorld, which launched operations this month flying wet-lease services for Solomon Airlines. While Mandarin Airlines of Taiwan and China’s Hainan Airlines are both taking E-190s, the only other long-standing Asian E-Jet operator is India’s Chennai-based Paramount Airways, which operates five aircraft – two E-170s on lease from Embraer and three E-175s on lease from GE Commercial Aviation Services. The airline launched services with the E-Jet in October 2005. It intends to add more E-jets in future, purchased from Embraer, but has not yet placed commitments.

Managing director M Thiagarajan says that overall the experience with the aircraft has been good, passengers have liked it, cabin furnishings have been robust and it has performed relatively well. The E-170s arrived on time, although the E-175s were late because of production delays in Brazil.

Like other early operators, one of main complaints is with nuisance messages from the avionics suite, such as the “Flight Control No Dispatch” already described, while another has to do with support from Embraer.

“The avionics issue has been addressed by Honeywell with a partial upgrade that has “considerably improved the situation, although it is still not eliminated”, says Thiagarajan. “We have had quite a few schedule delays on account of this. We were not able to implement a very aggressive schedule in terms of aircraft utilisation on this account,” he says.

The airline had been targeting 20-25min turnarounds, but had to increase this to 45min or even 1h, because of the nuisance warnings. This has had a knock-on effect on the daily utilisation.


Spares delay

The airline’s other main complaint concerns the availability of spares in India, given that Paramount’s support comes from the airframer’s Paris centre. “When we need spare parts to come on an AOG basis, we expect it to come within 6h, but many times we have waited two or three days,” says Thiagarajan. He expects this situation to ease with the creation of an Asian spares centre in Singapore that Embraer says will be stocked with $40 million worth of spare parts. The new facility will also comprise a flight-training simulator in the future.

A more recent problem suffered by Paramount Airways has been a manufacturing defect with landing gear hydraulic seals on the E-175, which has occurred nine times since late 2006. The airline says that although Embraer is replacing the parts, it is a major process that requires 5-6h per job, resulting in a significant downtime penalty.

Another issue has been “frequent intermittent failures” of the Hamilton Sundstrand-built APUs on the airline’s E-170s, resulting from the electronics problems, says Paramount. A restart apparently resolves the problem, it adds.

Thiagarajan says that otherwise the Embraer “is a very nice aircraft”, it has strong passenger appeal and is maintenance-friendly. “It is very appealing to the passengers, especially in our configuration, which is an all-business-class configuration,” says Thiagarajan. “We have fewer seats and we have enhanced leather seats with movable headrests.”

JetBlue was launch operator for the E-190 in September 2005, but while it is known to have suffered significant teething pains in putting the twinjet to work, the airline has declined to discuss these issues with Flight International, despite repeated approaches.