Luis Carlos Affonso - an aeronautical engineer and private pilot - took the helm of Embraer's then newly formed Executive Aviation division in 2005. The product of an engineering education, Affonso had spent 22 years designing and building aircraft - including the 170/190 and ERJ-145 programmes - for the Brazilian manufacturer before he was selected by the then chief executive Mauricio to Botelho steer Embraer along its next course.
Throughout his four-year tenure as executive vice president Affonso has helped to transform Embraer from a niche, small-time business aviation player - the ERJ135-derived Legacy 600 its only offering at the time - to a worthy challenger in this highly competitive arena.
"Corporate aviation is a significant market for Embraer," says Affonso. "By expanding our product line we are able to attract new customers and retain customers within the Embraer family."
Programme expansion began in May 2005 with the launch of Embraer's first clean sheet business jet products - the Phenom 100 and 300 - positioned at the foot of the Embraer line-up. The Phenom 100 very light jet clinched US and Brazilian certification in December last year and European validation last month. "We have delivered around 12 aircraft to date," says Affonso.
The Phenom 300 light jet is poised to complete lightning and natural icing testing in the USA and will begin cold soak tests at Eglin AFB in Florida this quarter leading to US and Brazilian approval before the end of the year, says Affonso. In 2006 Embraer launched the Lineage 1000 at the head of its executive jet family. The E-190-derived super-large business jet is earmarked for delivery from Delaware-based completion centre PATS this quarter.
Last year Embraer took the wraps off a further two clean sheet designs, the Legacy 450 and Legacy 500 business jets. The mid-light and midsize aircraft - designed to bridge the gap between the Phenom 300 and the Legacy 600 - are entering an increasingly crowded market and will compete against aircraft such as the Bombardier Learjet 45XR, Cessna's XLS+, and Sovereign in the mid-light arena, Embraer says, and the all-composite Learjet 85 and the Hawker 750 and 900XP in the midsize category.
"We have identified market niches across the business aviation spectrum in which we have introduced great aircraft for great value," says Affonso.
The 450 and 500 will be the smallest business jets with a full fly-by-wire system, he says, and each will feature as standard the Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion avionics suite with synthetic vision system. Head-up display and enhanced-vision system are available as an option.
The Legacy 500's performance includes 5,550km (3,000nm) range with four passengers or 5,180km with eight passengers, at Mach 0.80 and take-off field length of 1,400m (4,600ft). The 450's range is 4,260km with four passengers and 4,070km with eight passengers, at M0.78 and take-off field length 1,220m.
Affonso says the company is striving to keep to the development schedule despite the financial meltdown, which has rocked the business aviation industry to its core. "We are sticking to the schedules and hopefully in 2012 and 2013 when the 450 and 500 enter service [respectively], the market will be on the road to recovery," he says. The joint definition phase and preliminary design review for both aircraft is complete, and the critical design review is scheduled for early next year. "The aircraft are advancing well and the timeframe for the first flight of the 500 is earmarked for the second half of next year," he says.
Affonso says Embraer has been affected by the global recession.
"Sales of new aircraft are very slow - these are very challenging times," says Affonso. "There is less money available to buy aircraft today and what is available is being lent at much higher interest rates than before and the downpayments are now as high as 60%," he says.
Another contributory factor in the downturn, Affonso argues, is the vast numbers of aircraft available on the secondhand market. "A year ago around 25% of aircraft in the used inventory were less than 10 years old. Today, that figure has grown to half. This is equivalent to one-fifth of the global business aircraft fleet, which has created tough competition for new aircraft," says Affonso
He admits, however, that the Phenom 100, 300 and the Lineage 100 have been largely unaffected by the burgeoning used aircraft inventory "as the aircraft are so new", but the Legacy 600 has been hit badly, with a number of customers cancelling their orders in the past few months. Last year Embraer delivered 33 Legacy 600s, but this year Legacy production will be cut by more than 50%, with only about a dozen aircraft delivered. Embraer has not produced fewer than 13 Legacys since 2002, the year the aircraft was certificated.
The Phenom orderbook is still holding up at 800 orders and the Lineage at 20 orders, he says, but the tallies for these new types have wobbled. "We have received a number of cancellations and deferrals for the Phenoms, notably from fleet customers who believe their business models will not grow as quickly as they thought," says Affonso. However, he concedes there are enough customers willing to move up in the queue and take earlier slots.
The São José dos Campos-based airframer plans to build 110 Phenoms this year - including around three 300s - down from the 120-plus originally planned. Embraer has already laid off 4,300 workers - 30% of its commercial and business aircraft workforce - which is "an inevitable outcome of these challenging times", says Affonso.
The mood of the industry is sombre, he admits, and this has been exacerbated by the verbal assault on business aviation by a section of the US press and political establishment over US automaker chief executives flying to Washington in corporate jets to ask for federal bail-out money last year. "The [hostile] reaction was unlike anything we have seen for many years. We have to keep pushing the message that business aircraft are productivity tools and their fundamental value has and will not change."
Embraer's business jet family is on display in the static park.