Phenom 100: attraction trumps detractions

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Business owner and pilot Keith Christensen is a poster child for the bond that has developed in a very short time between Embraer Phenom 100 owners and their flying machines. "I find myself trying to think of reasons to go fly, just because it's so enjoyable to operate," he says. "Our customers may soon get tired of seeing me so often."

Despite growing pains in the first 21 months of the highly automated twin-engined light jet's life, including numerous brake and air conditioner failures, chronic flap problems, computer reboot resolutions and parts shortages, Phenom owners have become diehard fans of their jets and the company that builds them.

Part of the attachment is ramp appeal ("My wife says it's hot," says one owner) and part is Embraer's consummate customer service and immediacy in tackling problems (although the resolutions tend to be so tediously thorough that they often take a long time to implement, says another owner). The lightning-quick brand loyalty is testament to Embraer's laser focus on gaining entry into a market sector it had not contested before.

flairjet phenom 100, flairjet
 © FlairJet

Flight International has compiled an in-service report on Embraer's $3.6 million entry-level jet, polling 10 operators, owners and delivery companies with a series of questions that tried to paint a picture of the full Phenom experience to date. Our results reveal a programme that has had to mature a great deal after the first aircraft was delivered in December 2008, despite Embraer devoting one early production aircraft to 600h of "maturity" testing before first delivery.

Through the resolution of many problems, some ongoing, Embraer has shown an unflagging commitment to the programme, assuring owners and operators that any and all issues will be resolved in due course. That effort appears to be paying off, as nearly everyone polled said they would gladly stay in the Embraer family on their next purchase, assuming there is ever a need to move on. Our findings, complete with responses from Embraer, are divided into six main sections, each of which delves into a specific area of the in-service experience.

Under dispatch reliability, there are also eight subsections that detail specific problem areas with the aircraft and how they have or are being resolved by the manufacturer.

DISPATCH RELIABILTY

During the first five months of this year, California-based Phenom 100 operator JetSuite had a fleet-wide dispatch reliability rate of only 90-92%, according to director of maintenance Marc Nouh. JetSuite operated seven Phenom 100s during this period, including one managed and six JetSuite-owned aircraft, making it the second largest operator of the type after Executive AirShare.

Nouh says one of JetSuite's aircraft had a dispatch reliability rate of about 80% for several months. Maintenance problems were occurring so frequently with this aircraft - serial number 64 - that JetSuite staff nicknamed it "Christine" after the 1983 movie about a problematic Plymouth Fury. "It would be easier to tell you what was working than what was not," Nouh says when asked what problems JetSuite encountered with "Christine".

david fletcher flairjet, flairjet
 © FlairJet
FlairJet has had only three AOG events, says chief executive David Fletcher

But in recent months, dispatch reliability on this aircraft and the entire JetSuite fleet has improved significantly, says Nouh. Over the past summer, the fleet average was between 95% and 97%. "I think overall the airplanes are doing a lot better," says Nouh, adding that the teething problems are "settling down".

Nouh says after JetSuite took delivery of its first five company-owned aircraft, in the fourth quarter of 2009, reliability "started off strong, but it then fell into a black hole for four months". For "Christine", he says, the biggest and most frequent problem was with the flaps, but the aircraft also had brake and landing gear issues that kept it grounded for long periods. At one point, this aircraft was number five in an Embraer internal list of Phenom 100s with the most problems, he says.

However, another Phenom 100 charter operator, UK-based FlairJet, has been able to keep its dispatch reliability rate consistently in the high 90s, according to chief executive and chief pilot David Fletcher. FlairJet operates a fleet of three managed Phenom 100s and has been the largest Phenom charter provider in the European market since launching charter flights in January. Fletcher says FlairJet to date has experienced only three aircraft-on-the-ground events, involving flaps, trim and engine start issues.

Most individual owner-operators also report dispatch reliability well into the 90s despite meeting several of the same teething problems as their charter counterparts. The chief pilot of a Phenom 100 owned by Brazilian public transport company Himalaia, Fernando Paro, says since taking his aircraft in August 2009, he has had only two AOG incidents, involving the pitot tube and sensor alert system. The pilot and co-owner of a Mexico-based Phenom 100, Armando Gonzalez, says he has not had any failure to dispatch since taking his aircraft in April 2009, although he did experience one flap failure. Gonzalez alerted Embraer's Mesa service centre of the problem after landing at his Guadalajara base and the aircraft was fixed before his next flight, two days later. "There have been issues because it's a new aircraft, but nothing that has kept it from flying," he says.

USA-based Jim and Betsy Frost, pilots and owners of the first Phenom 100 delivered (and well into an around-the-world flight in N82DU) say they have had six AOG incidents caused by a failed fuel pump, a flap system failure, trim actuator control failure, starter-generator failure and two brake failures.

Reasons for other AOGs mentioned by owner/operators include emergency brake accumulator pressure problems, de-ice issues related to the boots and electrical system, tyres and miscellaneous crew alerting system (CAS) messages. As of 1 October, the Frosts had travelled more than halfway round the world (from Houston to Australia) on their 60-day tour, noting only several spurious message problems that cleared when the system was rebooted.

VALVE FAILURE

Another US owner, Ron Gruner, has had three AOGs during 250h and 120 cycles in his first year of ownership. In one case, both pressurisation valves failed during ascent through 19,000ft (5,800m), requiring an immediate descent. Other problems included failure of a yaw trim actuator, also on climb-out, and an autopilot disconnect at 41,000ft, requiring an immediate call to air traffic control to alert them that he could not comply with RVSM requirements for mandatory autopilot use.

Keith Christensen, owner of Phenom 100 serial number 63, says he has had no failures to dispatch since taking the aircraft in October 2009, although he did experience one flap failure before landing at his home base in Salt Lake City. "Embraer flew a team [here] the very same day," he says. "They replaced a faulty actuator and got me back flying within 24h."

Embraer Executive Jets vice-president of customer support and services, Edson Mallaco, says the manufacturer does not monitor dispatch reliability or the rate of AOG incidents across its business jet fleets. But he says Embraer keeps tabs on the number of field service reports generated by Phenom 100 operators per 100 flights. He acknowledges that so far the number of reports per 100 flights has been higher than initially projected, but he says Embraer is confident it will meet its initial second year target of less than two reports per 100 flights. The Phenom 100 will complete its second year in service this December.

phenom 100 ga

"The trend is positive," Mallaco says. "It has reduced a lot this year. We've seen a 50% reduction compared to the beginning of this year and the airplane is maturing a lot."

Mallaco says the field service reports from operators include AOG and non-AOG issues. He says most reports are related to spurious computer messages that are typically resolved by the pilots without any maintenance intervention or the aircraft becoming grounded. "We've had very few hard failures."

Mallaco says Embraer has listed 25 items that account for 98% of reported issues. Embraer has a campaign focusing on the top items that are being addressed through retrofits. He says the flap system is the most common problem area, followed by brakes and air conditioning. Pitch trim is also near the top of the list.

The Phenom 100's flap system has been dogged by problems since well before first delivery. The system features individual flap drives, eliminating a common drive shaft that would span the fuselage. The difficulty with the design is that it requires monitoring to determine whether the flaps are attempting to deploy asymmetrically, and getting the monitoring correct has been difficult.

Along with operational flap failures issues, an airworthiness directive limits operators from deploying flaps to positions 3 and 4 due to issues with detection software that increases the stick-pusher speed based on sensing a real or false flap failure in a go-around. A new stall warning computer now being installed into the fleet will eliminate the prohibition on landing flaps.

"There were a lot of computer-related glitches with the aircraft. It's really, really hard to build a computer with wings that isn't going to have some problems," says Ben Marcus, co-founder of JetAviva, a California-based company that provides purchase, delivery and training support to business aircraft owners. "For the flaps, the primary problem early on was that the flap computer has a logic that says 'if there's a big voltage spike, I'm going to shut down the flaps to keep them from deploying or deploying asymmetrically'. If little voltage spikes occurred, the flaps would fail and stick in current positions. This would even happen with engine start."

Marcus says Embraer has had to redesign the computer logic to open up the tolerances so that the flaps will not fail during normal engine start when voltage spikes are expected. There is a similar issue with the air conditioning system linked to a differential pressure switch in the compressor, he says. The tolerances are so tight that if the readings are just a little wrong, the system fails the compressor and you cannot reset it in flight.

jetsuite phenom 100 interior, jetsuite
 © JetSuite

"Now all those things have been corrected," says Marcus, adding that he has not seen any flap or air conditioning system issues during his recent deliveries of Phenom 100s.

Nouh says on one of JetSuite's aircraft, "Christine," the flap computer failed seven times before the interim fix was implemented. On JetSuite's other aircraft, the same failure occurred once or twice, he says. Each time the pilots would get a "flap fail" message during pre-flight. The system could not be recovered and the aircraft went AOG each time because Embraer had to send a mechanic to reconfigure the flap system.

Nouh says a few months ago, a temporary solution was implemented across the JetSuite fleet to work around the flap system failure issue based on an Embraer communiqué. Flightcrews are now leaving flaps at setting 1 after they land and then pull the circuit breakers before shutting down. Nouh says this effectively prevents the computer that controls the flap system from going through the flap calibration check, which was causing the problem.

According to Nouh, this interim fix will be in place until Embraer "comes out with the latest and greatest flap systems computer". He expects the new computer will be available for installation on the JetSuite fleet later this year. "It hasn't been fixed yet. They initially said this computer would be available in June and now we're going to October and there's no word of the fix," Nouh says.

But Embraer says the new flap system control unit has been available since 10 August. "Parts are already available and the retrofit campaign is ongoing," it says, adding: "The entire fleet is scheduled to be 100% retrofitted by December."

Gonzalez says he has already received the new computer and is no longer pulling the circuit breakers after landing. Fletcher and Gonzalez both report they have had only one flap system failure to date. Fletcher says the flaps "certainly haven't given us a problem".

Operators of early Phenom 100s were also unable to extend the flaps to the number 3 and 4 positions for the first few months. Nouh says two of JetSuite's own aircraft, serial number 46 and 51, were delivered without the capability to use full flaps and JetSuite had to schedule these two aircraft away from small airfields until they were retrofitted with new stall warning computers. Other early operators, including Gonzalez and Paro, also did not initially have access to full flaps, but say this was not an issue because they do not typically operate into small runways.

Paro says he had to get by with only half flaps for the first three to four months before the retrofit was installed on his Phenom 100, serial number 42. "Now it looks like a Baron in landing," he says. "I can stop the airplane in 3,000ft or less."

BRAKES

Several operators say they did not have any safety-related or AOG issues with brakes, although their pilots dislike the design and passengers dislike how they cause jerkiness when taxiing and landing. Early on, Embraer had listed brakes as its number one in-service problem, a distinction now held by the flaps.

The brake-by-wire system, which is very advanced for a light aircraft, features brake pedals that send a signal to a brake computer system, which then provides commands to shuttle valves that regulate hydraulic pressure sent to the brakes on the main landing gear tyres. Pushback to the pilot's feet when pushing on the brakes is provided by springs, not by actual performance of the brakes. With brake-by-wire, Embraer was able to design an optimal deceleration profile. But pilots were often confused by what was perceived as too slow deceleration early in the landing roll.

Private owner Ron Gruner says owners used to joke that landing in a Phenom 100 was like "Mr Toad's wild ride", an amusement at Disneyland. "The brake-by-wire system was very sensitive. It would pull left and right," he says. Embraer installed a new brake controller in January that "helped tremendously". During his recent one-year maintenance event, Gruner says Embraer installed another new brake computer and shuttle valves and now he is "really impressed" with the braking performance. "In January it was adequate. I could live with it. Now the brakes are excellent."

Fletcher, who doubles as an Airbus A320 captain for Monarch Airlines, says the Phenom 100 "stops very well in my view", including in short fields and in wet conditions. He adds: "None of us have had an issue with performance, but the brakes took some getting used to and I don't particularly like it. Brake-by-wire is just not comfortable. I don't think it's good for the passengers. It's very jerky and clumsy."

To improve the passenger experience, FlairJet has given its pilots special training on how best to use the brakes. Embraer says it is "aware of some customers' opinions and comments about this system and we are in close contact with the system supplier or some possible future upgrades".

But Paro says he "never had a problem with the brakes on my airplane" and pilots just need to know how to apply them. He says some pilots start to press one pedal and not the other, although both should be pressed simultaneously. Since new control units and shuttle valves were installed a few months ago, the brakes feel even better and do not swing so much in landing, he says.

Gonzalez agrees, saying that if the brakes are used properly, there are no major issues. Since the new control unit has been installed, there has been less jerkiness and "passengers don't feel the movement", he adds.

Nouh says some operators have reported incidences of the brakes sticking in high heat and failing, leaving the crew with no brakes on landing. He says JetSuite pilots have never encountered brake failure, but once they had a "brake fail" message flicker on and off ­during landing.

The US National Transportation Safety Board is investigating two recent landing incidents in the USA involving Phenom 100 pilots who had received brake failure CAS messages followed by having no brakes on landing. In both cases, pilots, as trained, resorted to the emergency brake but, ultimately, blew out the main tyres and lost directional control.

 Click for full size cutaway

The emergency brake handle, in the centre console, pulls out vertically and can be difficult, ergonomically, to access. "It's way too sensitive," says Gruner. "You can't modulate it enough to not burn out tyres."

But Embraer's Mallaco says there have been "very few cases that were determined to be brake failures" and there have so far been no failures with the emergency brakes. He says most of the brake issues have been spurious and the new brake controller unit (BCU-3) together with the new shuttle valves "address most of those".

Mallaco adds that Embraer has procedures that allow pilots to "walk around" certain spurious messages, clearing the aircraft for flight. "In most cases, you power down, power up again and the messages will clear up," he says. "In very few cases has it required a ­maintenance action."

AIR CONDITIONING

Another common problem area with the Phenom 100 so far is the air conditioning system, although this has not been an AOG issue.

Nouh says JetSuite has had repeated issues with the fault light from the air conditioning computer software illuminating. So far, pilots have been able to reset system, he says. For some JetSuite aircraft, the computer has needed only one reset, but for others the issue has recurred every one to two months. Nouh says replacements have been promised by Embraer for some time, but are not yet available.

Pilot Bryan Elhardt says a Phenom 100 he delivered for FG Aviation had an air conditioner failure at delivery, followed by further failures. "[Embraer] replaced the entire system," he says. "It had to be replaced three more times over the course of the next three months until it performed as advertised. Never a problem after that."

PITCH TRIM

Embraer says spurious messages about the pitch trim have been another common non-AOG issue, although some owners have had more serious problems.

Nouh says JetSuite pilots have encountered pitch trim fail messages when they turn on the battery. He says this has never happened in flight and pilots have been able to resolve the problem by pulling the circuit breakers and resetting the system.

Christensen, a Salt Lake City-based owner/operator, says he had a "pitch trim fail" message one evening on departure from the Mesa service centre, an event that gave him a lasting impression of Embraer's service mentality. "I had a 'pitch trim fail' message when climbing through 12,000ft," says Christensen. "I returned to the service facility, arriving a little past 5pm. [They] called a team back in to troubleshoot the problem. They worked until 9pm, well past their quitting time. The problem was solved, allowing me to continue on to Salt Lake City and keep my schedule the next day. They all acted as if it was their ­pleasure to help."

ENGINE

JetSuite also has encountered problems with two of the aircraft's Pratt & Whitney Canada PW617F engines.

Nouh says one of JetSuite's engines was leaking oil from delivery. After 120h, the engine went for inspection by a borescope and was investigated at Pratt & Whitney's Long Beach facility, which concluded it had to be replaced. The aircraft ended up being AOG for four days because it took two days to get the rental engine and two days to install it.

JetSuite also had problems with another engine this summer after the crew reported oil pressure fluctuations. The crew landed safely and after P&W did an initial investigation, it decided to remove the engine for further investigation. This engine was repaired, but it took a couple of months to complete the repair. The repaired engine was reinstalled on the aircraft in September, freeing up the rental engine for other aircraft. Besides these two problems, Nouh says: "The engines have otherwise been fine. I think the engines have been performing very well."

embraer phenom 100 pw617 engine, jon ostrower/flightglobal
 © Jon Ostrower/Flightglobal

Bill Minkoff, president of JetQuik, says he has had to change one engine on his Phenom 100 because of "some premature wear" flagged by the oil detection system. Embraer says: "To this date, there were two engine replacements on customer's airplanes. P&WC maintains a pool of engines for rental and plans to increase this as the fleet grows."

Some operators also claim the fuel impending bypass switch for the PW617F has a high failure rate part. Nouh says JetSuite has changed three or four fuel impending bypass switches, but it has not yet been an AOG issue as the fault light comes on only intermittently. Embraer says it and P&WC "have already defined that the current IBI switch will be replaced with a more robust unit - the details are being finalised and the service bulletin is scheduled for release in October".

Operators have also reported issues with engine starts related to the engine's generator control unit, which Gruner says Embraer is changing out with a system used on the Phenom 300. "A number of pilots were getting hot starts because the computer wasn't sequencing the generator correctly. I've had a few of those. You'd start an engine and instead of N1 coming up, it would hang at 40%. If I shut down and try it again, it would be fine." Gruner says that, "in general", rebooting solves most problems.

PITOT

According to JetSuite's Nouh, the standby pitot has been another "high fail component", in this case causing frequent AOG events. In August alone, JetSuite had to replace the standby pitot on three aircraft, including the unit installed on "Christine".

Nouh says the heating element in the probe for the standby pitot has been breaking down and failing, resulting in the aircraft being grounded.

The same fault has happened repeatedly, both in flight and on the ground. Nouh says the probe can be replaced the same day, assuming the part is available in the US West Coast, where JetSuite is based. But he says it takes an extra day if the part is available only at the Louisville or Fort Lauderdale distribution centre and even longer if it has to come from Brazil.

"Generally, most of the pitots come out of Fort Lauderdale or the warehouse in Louisville," says Nouh. "Lately, the pitots have been available in a day, but we've had issues where pitots have had to come from Brazil."

Paro says his aircraft also had to be grounded two to three months after delivery because of a pitot failure. But Embraer was able to dispatch a part to where he was in Brazil in only 2-3h, limiting the AOG time.

Embraer says it is analysing all reports of "standby pitot heating fail" and expects to have this issue clarified in 2010. "After ­conclusion of the ongoing studies, a corrective action, if applicable, will be defined," the manufacturer says.

COMPUTER

Given its high reliance on computer systems, like many new aircraft, the Phenom 100 requires "handshaking" between computers, a process managed by the Garmin-based Prodigy avionics system which continually interrogates the various subsystems, for instance the pitch trim system. Getting this process right will take time.

"One thing Embraer has learned from having several computers handshaking is that there are a lot of synchronicities where you don't quite get the right handshaking," says Gruner. "I think they'll be able to fix it on this model. In some cases, they need to tighten the specifications and in some cases loosen them."

Pilots may want to help the uninitiated get comfortable with the idea. "In general, rebooting solves most of the problems," says Gruner, "but it makes passengers uncomfortable. I tell them, 'this is a new aircraft, full of computers, and sometimes the computers don't talk to each other correctly. Don't be surprised if I have to shut down and restart'."

Embraer's Mallaco says the spurious messages are due to "tight tolerances and the computers monitoring the systems". He adds: "Most of the modifications are related to fixing that. We have only a few cases of hard failures. We're relaxing a little bit the tolerances of some monitors, including for power off and power down, where maybe the hydraulic pressure is not stable yet, or the battery voltage not stable yet. We did not expect to have these messages when we designed this system."

OTHER ISSUES

Nouh says JetSuite has had problems with windshield heat, but a service bulletin that offered a new windshield heat controller has resolved the problem. Three-quarters of JetSuite's fleet was delivered without the new controller but it has since been retrofitted, he says.

Embraer says: "The original windshield heat controller unit was susceptible to electromagnetic interference and this could interfere in its capacity to control the temperature of the windshield." It says it released a service bulletin in October 2009 to introduce a new windshield heat controller unit and more than 90% of the fleet has since been modified.

Gruner says he had to replace the aircraft's two main landing gear tyres after 90 cycles rather than the anticipated 150-200 cycles. "People transitioning from lower performance aircraft to jets have to be really conscious of tyre pressure," he says, adding that he may not have had the tyres at the correct 160lb pressure. "I check every time I fly now."

phenom 100 operators
 

Embraer says others have also reported premature tyre wear, but in most cases the tyres are lasting as expected. The firm is working with the tyre manufacturer to come up with improvements to increase life, and operators have been sent a recommendation to monitor air pressure. The company is studying implementing a tyre pressure monitoring system, but has not yet decided to pursue it.

Other issues reported by JetSuite included problems with the aft baggage door and the glassfibre housing unit for the holding connector, which is used to hook up to ground power. Jim Frost says they have "a small software issue where sometimes a light or two in the main cabin comes on and we cannot turn it off", a problem Embraer is investigating. Frost also says a problem with insufficient heat available to the cockpit has been fixed, while at one point in their round-the-world flight, they reported an issue with the protective clear coating peeling from the landing lights and making a "whining" noise in flight.

Although operators are happy with the Prodigy, some have reported an issue with not being able to adjust the volume of its speaker. "The joke at an owners meeting is that when they bring it up, every­one goes 'what?'" says Christensen. "We're all deaf now."

MAINTENANCE

Owners and operators polled were largely happy with post-delivery maintenance programmes purchased. The aircraft comes standard with a three-year /1,000h engine and systems factory warranty, but various airframe and engine programmes are available to broaden or extend coverage beyond the ­warranty period.

For the airframe, Embraer offers standard and enhanced extended executive care (EEC) programmes, with the standard programme covering parts only and the enhanced covering parts and labour for scheduled and non-scheduled maintenance, as well as for AOG support. The enhanced EEC is priced at $140/h to $350/h for the first three years, depending on the number of hours an operator flies per year. Years four and five are more expensive at $250/h to $320/h, depending on utilisation, because the aircraft is out of factory warranty at that point.

Engine care packages available include P&WC's ESP Gold and Gold Lite programme. For P&WC, the programme has four levels, ranging in price from $84 to $113/h per engine. "Most owner/operators are not going to own their aircraft when the first overhaul is done on the engines, so you're not buying [engine coverage] for your own benefit," says Jet­Aviva's Marcus. "You're really buying the coverage for the next owner."

He points out that aircraft under the care programmes are considered higher pedigree and are typically the first to sell. Marcus says JetAviva recommends the ESP Gold Light programme, which provides loan engines but does not cover lifecycle fatigue items, which come into play at about 7,000h run time.

embraer phenoms, © jon ostrower/flightglobal
 © Jon Ostrower/Flightglobal
Embraer makes all Phenom 100s in Brazil but plans an assembly line in Fort Lauderdale

The first maintenance event for the aircraft is at one year or 600h, whichever comes first. Embraer has 20 factory-owned and authorised services centres worldwide for the Phenom, including two factory-owned service centres in the USA - in Mesa, Arizona and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. A third US factory-owned centre in Hartford, Connecticut will open in mid-2011. Embraer says the service centre network is a "stable" situation in North America and Europe, but South America, including Brazil, and Asia will soon see new facilities. To handle demand in the USA and Europe, Embraer says it will increase the number of mechanics at existing centres "to cope with the growth of the fleet".

Private owner Gruner has the Embraer enhanced EEC programme, but no engine package. "It's so reliable, I take my chances," he says. Christensen, who has enhanced EEC programme and ESP Gold, notes that the Mesa service centre, where all his work is performed, initially would, on occasions, have to have parts shipped in overnight, but that they have "done a lot better with that" in the past six months.

Nouh says JetSuite also has experienced frequent maintenance delays at Mesa, as well as third-party maintenance centres, because of parts not being available. "We've gotten very good support, but delays usually become an issue because of parts availability," he adds.

Nouh has been particularly frustrated with not being able to get parts that are required to complete newly issued service bulletins. "Right off the bat, there are no parts available," he says. "I've never experienced that with other manufacturers."

Embraer says: "Every time an SB is issued, Embraer does have a plan to make parts available. Many times it is not feasible to have all parts available for all affected airplanes worldwide on 'day one', so a retrofit plan is defined." This plan, which is based on several factors, is sent to all Embraer field service representatives and service centres "so they can actually call all affected customers to schedule their airplanes in accordance with parts availability", it says.

Fletcher says FlairJet, which, like JetSuite, has both maintenance packages, has so far been satisfied with the service received from Embraer's service centre in Paris. "We get a very quick response," he says, adding that, typically, parts are shipped out within one day. "We've had good support."

Gonzalez, who has also opted for both maintenance packages, has been "very satisfied" with the service in Mesa. "It is very fast. They've been doing very good preventative maintenance. I think we're in good hands."

Paro says when he has encountered problems with his Phenom, Embraer's São José dos Campos service centre has been able to dispatch a mechanic within a few hours. He says he has received significantly faster service in Brazil from Embraer than North American or European manufacturers. "That's the difference compared to other companies," he adds. "You can call them even at 2am or on a Saturday or Sunday. They are incredible. I haven't seen support like that."

Marcus notes that the service centres "take after the Brazilian mentality of thoroughness and not being in a rush to complete". He says that, broadly speaking, compared with a Cessna service centre, it takes Embraer facilities a little bit longer to return the aircraft, "but more often it's corrected right the first time".

UPGRADES

Embraer has incorporated several upgrades since the Phenom 100 entered service at the end of 2008. Some, such as the synthetic vision system (SVS), are now available as options, while others, such as newly designed cabin seats, have become standard.

The switch in seat suppliers, made in response to initial feedback from owners and operators, was one of the biggest changes made in the programme to date. After negotiating with the new seat supplier, a retrofit plan was defined by Embraer in November 2009 and the new seats have since been incorporated into the new aircraft production line.

Some operators have complained that while Embraer first promised to install the new seats when their aircraft came up for their first annual maintenance check, in many cases they have not been available in time. Nouh says JetSuite was able to retrofit one of its aircraft and "we're now pushing hard for the rest of the fleet to get swapped out so the fleet is consistent".

Fletcher says FlairJet was able to get the seats on one of its three Phenom 100s swapped early because Embraer was leasing the aircraft as a demonstrator. Its third Phenom 100 was delivered in May with the new seats already installed, but Fletcher says one of its two older aircraft is still waiting for seats.

flairjet phenom 100, flairjet
 © FlairJet

Embraer says: "Unfortunately, it was not possible in all cases to have the new seats available by the annual inspection." But overall there have been "very few deviations from the initial plan", it says, and the entire fleet is on pace to be retrofitted by the end of this year.

Operators and owners polled by Flight International generally prefer the new seat, although some complained about the design. "There are mixed reviews for those seats," says Nouh. "I don't feel 100% the new style of the seats are more comfortable. It doesn't give me enough support on the legs and feet. I'm being pushed to the aisle."

Nouh agrees the new seats provide "considerably more room" and make it easier to get in and out of the aircraft. He says despite the inferior comfort, on the whole, "the difference in the aisle is worth it from a customer standpoint" to go with the new seat.

FlairJet, however, is satisfied with the new seats, and Fletcher says passengers appreciate the extra space. Paro says his owner is also "very happy" with the new seat, which Embraer was able to install when his aircraft came up for its first annual inspection. Gonzalez already has the new seat installed in his Phenom 100 and says he is satisfied with the design, although he would like to see Embraer offer seats that move and recline more. "They did a very good design on the new ones," he adds.

Christensen says he likes the new seats for three reasons: they have been moved outboard, giving more aisle space; the seats are softer, making them more comfortable; and arm rests have been added. "All three are positives," he says. "There were some of us early on who said the seats needed to be modified. The engineers didn't listen; then they started delivering and saw the issue."

Some operators have complained about the $25,000 cost for SVS - the same as a retrofit or a factory option. But Gonzalez and Marcus say there is a valid reason for the pricing. "A lot of people think they're being ripped off because they own a jet," says Marcus. "That's really not it. Unfortunately, the airframe manufacturers are required to certify SVS in each type of aircraft. That's what you're paying for."

Christensen says SVS was originally over-priced at about $35,000. "The Phenom 100 owners association said we'd like to have it, but it's too much money," he says. "They listened and offered SVS at $29,900. We held a meeting in Florida and 20 of us said we'd buy it if we could get for $25,000. They agreed." Christensen has also added Jeppesen charts, an option he says cost about $5,000, and will add TCAS, a $30,700 option, in the "near future".

Nouh says JetSuite is not considering SVS, which became available only recently, but will install TCAS on its aircraft as they come up for their one-year maintenance inspections. TCAS was also not available initially, forcing operators such as JetSuite to make do the first year with Garmin's Traffic Information Service.

Private owner Gruner also will "probably pass" on SVS because he says it is too expensive for the benefits derived. Fletcher says FlairJet is also not installing SVS because "the aircraft can be flown very safely without it".

Fletcher advises new Phenom 100 owners to go with TCAS, the upgraded stairwell and the lavatory door options. He says most of the other upgrades are "nice to have, but not ­necessary".

Several operators, including JetSuite and Paro, say they are eager to install wi-fi on their Phenom 100s, although this is being made available from various service providers rather than Embraer. The airframer says a new option which will give operators the flexibility of "turning the toilet into a passenger seat is currently finalising certification and will be available shortly". Embraer says a cruise speed control option, for which there is already a non-activated switch on the Prodigy, will also become available in the second half of 2011.

PURCHASE AND DELIVERY

The purchase and delivery experience has largely been positive, but several issues have detracted from what would otherwise have been an exotic adventure.

Embraer requires owners to define a variety of avionics options they want 12 months before delivery, pick an interior theme nine months before delivery and define exterior layout and colours six months before. Customers then travel to Embraer's home base in São José dos Campos to take delivery, a process that should take days but sometimes takes weeks, depending on preparations. Some owners complained that Embraer gives only one month's notice for the firm date of an impending delivery.

JetAviva's Marcus says the one-year deadline for declaring a wide array of avionics and cabin options can cause "stagnation" in the process. "A lot of people who have [Phenom 100s] on order may not necessarily want to take delivery due to the economy and other factors. For those folks thinking about selling, they want to keep the specification open as long as possible."

Marcus says other manufacturers typically have less lead time. Embraer agrees that customers sometimes ask for additional time to make configuration requests, but says such cases "are evaluated on a case by case basis and sometimes can be met in a short period notice".

Customers appear to be happy with the six choices of interior layouts and the palette of external colours and striping (or the option of having the aircraft delivered in white), and special requests, although sometimes met with resistance, can generally be obtained with the right help. For example, Christensen says Embraer initially did not want him to select the paint scheme used on the demonstrator aircraft, with his N-number on the vertical stabiliser, rather than in the preferred location - the nacelle or tail cone. "[Embraer] told me if they put the paint on the rudder, they'd have to rebalance it," says Christensen. "One call to Ernie Edwards [vice-president of sales and marketing for Embraer North America] and the N-number and paint scheme issue was solved and the request was granted."

In its customer how-to manual, Embraer lists two companies - JetAviva and JetQuik - for helping with the purchase and delivery process. As of mid-September, JetAviva had bought and sold 17 Phenom 100s and delivered 20 while Tennessee-based JetQuik had delivered 17 Phenom 100s. Fletcher says UK-based FlairJet is also offering delivery services and expects to deliver its first aircraft outside its own fleet next year. Fletcher says the delivery and acceptance experience overall is "superb".

Paro, who was responsible for accepting the Phenom 100 he flies on behalf of its Brazilian owner, says the delivery "was like a walk in the park". Mexican owner Gonzalez was also impressed, saying the reception he got in Brazil was much better than he expected. "I was amazed. The company was very helpful. The service was very good," he says.

However, those operators that used Lider Signature, the company Embraer recommends to new owners in a pre-delivery presentation for providing ground support for the trip back from South America, had little praise for the Signature Flight Support joint venture. Gruner, who went to Brazil with his wife to pick up his Phenom, says dealing with Lider was "the single worst experience I had in Brazil". He and other owners complained the cost Lider charges for ground handling were unreasonable. "The whole rest of the Brazil experience was absolutely perfect though," Gruner adds.

Embraer says it does not "promote or recommend" any specific service provider, "although we have feedback from customers about the good reputation attributable to Lider in the same way we receive good feedback from Jepessen and others, and this is the reason why customers usually select one of them". The airframer says it is not considering paying the handling fees itself.

For deliveries, JetAviva avoids using Lider's services by employing a Brazilian pilot who speaks Portuguese. JetQuik's Minkoff, who uses Lider for deliveries, says the company is "very economical" to work with if you know the questions to ask. "On the first delivery, I didn't know what questions to ask," says Minkoff. "By the tenth delivery, I had cut costs by 90%."

Embraer next year plans to open a final assembly plant for the Phenom 100 and Phenom 300 in Melbourne, Florida. Although the travel distance for North American customers may be less to pick up an aircraft, Embraer has said the overall price of a delivery will be the same, says Minkoff.

TRAINING

Flight and maintenance training for the Phenom 100 is an evolving endeavour, but one that largely satisfies owners and operators.

Embraer offers two pilot training slots for each Phenom 100 purchased though its joint venture training programme with CAE. The Embraer-CAE Training Services (ECTS) uses three full-flight CAE 5000 series simulators, two in Dallas and one at Burgess Hill, UK. ECTS also offers maintenance training as an option costing around $15,000 each.

ECTS began technician training in August 2008, but used actual aircraft for the first nine months of training while simulators were finalised with flight data. Since starting simulator operations in September 2009, ECTS has trained more than 250 Phenom 100 and Phenom 300 pilots, says Sven Lepschy, head of training for ECTS. More than 180 maintenance technicians have also been trained.

"We've trained less than we speculated, partly because we use Embraer delivery data, and so far that deliveries haven't reached what was expected," Lepschy says. Expansion is expected in the near future, but Lepschy says that based on current activity, a staff of 21 instructors (18 pilot trainers and three maintenance trainers) globally is adequate.

Pilot training includes initial, recurrent, single-pilot transitions and two-pilot operations training. Lepschy says 95% of pilots opt for single-pilot training. Maintainers receive training on initial airframe and powerplant operation, avionics, run-and-taxi tests and progressive and monthly checks. Training is based on a building block approach that includes ground school and practical training with three "gate checks" that verify the student is ready to move on to the next task. For pilots, the check ride in the simulator is the final practical test, following 21h of web-based training, six days of ground school and 14 days of training in all.

Based on customer feedback, Embraer and CAE continue to evolve the programme. In addition to rearranging the training modules to allow experienced pilots to skip generic information, ECTS has also integrated a bank of new Prodigy avionics trainers. "Many of the clients were becoming frustrated with the individual procedures trainers [IPT]," says Lepschy. The touchscreen IPTs did not have the nested dials of the Garmin G1000-based Prodigy avionics system, and pilots were sometimes not able to touch the screen in the right location to "move" the dials. "We talked to Garmin and they came up with desktop trainers," he says. "We have five [desktop trainers] here and five in the UK."

Fletcher says FlairJet also had issues with the original ECTS course, saying they focused too much on smaller European airfields rather than busy airports in London, Paris and Brussels. As a result some of the approach speeds taught were lower than what FlairJet needed. Fletcher says FlairJet had to undo some of the initial CAE training, which took eight months to change and tailor for the European operator. FlairJet also offers supplemental line training for its pilots once they complete the course at Burgess Hill.

"They clearly aimed their training at small operators where there's no ATC issue. We want to be operating like airlines," Fletcher says. "Everything takes a little time. We're now at the point we have it being done the way we like it done."

However, other operators and owners polled, including Gonzalez and Paro, said they were satisfied with the training provided ECTS and looked forward to annual trips to the simulator. The Phenom is Gonzalez's first jet and he recalls how he got his type rating on the aircraft because the simulator was not yet available. After logging 100h on his aircraft Gonzalez took the simulator course. "I was amazed. It was state of the art," he says. "I got better skills from the simulator on braking."

Lepschy says ECTS put more focus on braking procedures after problems were reported in the field. He says Garmin synthetic vision is now installed on the desktop trainers and will be included in the simulators from January 2011.

Lines of reporting between CAE and Embraer have also been strengthened after CAE was being made aware of changes to the aircraft or procedures "sometimes by the client", says Lepschy. "Clients would ask about things that instructors didn't know about yet," he adds. "Embraer now notifies us of intended changes before letting the public know."

Embraer says more training capability will be needed as the fleet grows. "Three simulators will not be enough," says Embraer's Mallaco. "We will have a fourth [simulator] in 2012, but we have not defined the location."

CONCLUSION

After all is said and done, the overwhelming sentiment of owners and operators of Embraer's nascent light jet is a thumbs-up.

"I didn't expect as many problems as we've had but if I've raised problems they've done a good job getting back to me," Nouh says. "Overall I think it's somewhat expected for a new airplane. What's not common is the amount of time it takes for Embraer and vendors to come up with solutions and parts. But we're at the tail end of it. The aircraft are now flying a consistent amount of hours and overall the dispatch reliability is better. Going forward the airplane should be bullet proof. I hope I'm not jinxing myself."

FlairJet's Fletcher says overall the teething problems were about what would be expected for a new aircraft type. "I didn't expect these aircraft to be incident free from an MRO perspective," Fletcher says. "It wasn't perfect but we weren't blind with this. We knew there would be problems with early serial numbers."

Jim Frost says the problem of teething is relative. "Our other aircraft have all been new Beech products. They had been manufactured for many years but we bought new planes and they had all kinds of problems when they were new," he says. "Considering we bought the first light jet that Embraer had ever built, it has been great. What has been surprising is how long it takes to fix a software problem in an airplane component. The regulators have an awful lot of certification hoops to jump through to release a software fix and yet these certification hoops fail to catch many bugs."

For pilots, the Phenom 100 cockpit appears to be a treat.

"We've gotten nothing but good feedback from our pilots on it," Fletcher says. "The pilots love it." He adds the cockpit is "intuitive and very, very helpful. The situational awareness is very, very high on this aircraft. This really gives you the information you need."

Christensen, with 160h in his aircraft, is especially fond of the avionics. "I still cannot believe how good the Garmin Prodigy System on this airplane is. The learning curve in the airplane is steep for someone without Garmin G1000 experience. But once you are accustomed to the layout of the Prodigy platform, it is logical and efficient to use, especially from the perspective of someone flying single pilot. At this point, I have had no problems with the avionics or other systems on the airplane."

The Phenom 100 cabin has also proved to be a winning combination of form and function. Nouh says JetSuite's passengers "seem to be very pleased" and "the cabin is laid out nice and is comfortable". Fletcher says "the design ergonomically is very good We have gotten nothing but positive feedback." Gruner says passengers "love the cabin, no question", and Christensen says it is "without question the best in class with large windows".

Perhaps most telling is the product loyalty established so soon after service entry. When asked if they would buy Embraer again, every operator and owner polled said they would. "I do believe the airplane is built well," Nouh says. "It has had its growing pains, but Embraer is doing a really good job. Some things have not been addressed as quickly as I would like, but in the end things are getting fixed."

Similarly, Fletcher says he thinks "most of our owners would buy again. I would. I'm a fan as well." Christensen says "without question" he would purchase another Embraer aircraft. "The product is the best value in the light business aircraft market, yet it is built for the cycles of high-use air transports," he says. "You walk up to the side of a Phenom and press on the skin with your hand, it does not flex. Now go do the same with the competition and you will feel the difference. Everything about this aircraft is the same - well built."