As the sun began to dip below the horizon, a pair of KLM Cityhopper Embraer E-Jets landed, one after the other, on the Cape Verdean island of Sal in late February, making a rare visit to the barren, volcanic mid-Atlantic island off the coast of Senegal.

The two aircraft – an E175 (PH-EXU) and an E190 (PH-EXV) – were on delivery flights from the Brazilian manufacturer's Sao Jose dos Campos base to KLM's regional arm and made an overnight stop at Sal's Amilcar Cabral airport before departing for Amsterdam the following day.

Cityhopper has received the twinjets as part of a three-year programme to standardise and expand its fleet. Three further aircraft are scheduled to be delivered in March, before the replacement effort ends in April with the handover of the 49th E-Jet to the Dutch carrier. Its fleet will then comprise 32 E190s and 17 E175s.

Hans Werner, Cityhopper's vice-president of technical services and fleet development, recalls that the carrier in early 2014 began evaluations on the replacement of its Fokker 70 fleet – the last of which was retired in October 2017.

The airline was already operating a batch of E190s in 2014 – having introduced the type six years earlier – but was still considering a potential order of a new type to replace the 80-seat Fokkers. Werner says tenders were requested from ATR, Bombardier for the Q400, Embraer, and Mitsubishi Aircraft for its in-development MRJ programme. Bombardier's CSeries was not included in the evaluations, however, because the Canadian aircraft was, in KLM's view, too large.

Werner notes that the MRJ was still "more or less a paper aircraft" and that it was "clear" the type would not be available in time for the Fokker replacement, but could have served as a longer-term option.

Representatives from Cityhopper's communities of pilots, flight attendants, ground and maintenance personnel assessed the candidate types, and conducted demonstration flights with them in 2014.

Werner acknowledges that turboprops offer a "huge" fuel-burn advantage over regional jets, but he argues that passengers prefer jet aircraft, an important consideration as the Cityhopper unit serves as a feeder to KLM's mainline operation at its Amsterdam hub. Cityhopper also believes that the higher speed offered by regional jets, especially during climb, allows an additional daily flight per aircraft compared with a turboprop.

Maintainability was another factor in the evaluations. Werner asserts that the E-Jet-family has a more digital systems architecture than both the ATR series and Q400, therefore providing more opportunity to optimise technical support through predictive maintenance. When KLM finally picked the E175 as the Fokker replacement in February 2015, the only other contender left in the selection process was the Q400, says Werner.


The acceptance process and delivery of the aircraft from Embraer's assembly line in Sao Jose dos Campos typically take a week. Cityhopper's team for the process usually comprises two pilots, two engineers, the fleet manager, and an airworthiness inspector. During the first day, the team takes the aircraft through its paces during an approximately 2.5h flight, followed by a ground inspection. On the second day, the aircraft is jacked up to check systems, such as flight controls and landing gear, while on the third day, the aircraft's exterior and cabin is scrutinised for any defects.

Any issues tend to be rectified by the fourth day. If the aircraft satisfies its 60-page checklist, the team electronically submits the details to the Netherlands and receives within 30min a Dutch certificate of airworthiness, says Cityhopper fleet manager Gertjan Lichtenveldt – and the two-day, 5,250nm (9,730km) journey to Amsterdam can begin.

The first section is a 3h flight from Sao Jose dos Campos to Recife in northeast Brazil, where the aircraft gets fully fuelled for the first part of the transatlantic journey. Technical pilot Ronald Vermerris, who leads a handful of specially endorsed acceptance pilots at Cityhopper, notes that E-Jets are not certificated for extended twin-engined operations (ETOPS). On regular commercial flights, the aircraft needs to be able to reach an airport within 1h in case of an engine failure.

The 4h transoceanic trip from Recife to Sal can be operated under special regulations as a noncommercial flight, provided the aircraft has additional safety equipment – life rafts and emergency location transmitters. Additionally, the aircraft is fitted with a temporary high-frequency radio as the standard very-high-frequency radios do not have enough range for the flight.

Vermerris says that on E190 delivery flights, the overnight stopover is made closer to continental Europe, in Tenerife. On the delivery flight boarded by FlightGlobal, the E190 arrived in Sal with 6t of fuel remaining from its initial, maximum fuel load of nearly 13t. However, the E175 lacks the range to fly from Recife to Tenerife and also requires a fuel stop in Faro, Portugal the following day, while the E190 can operate the Sal-Amsterdam sector nonstop in 6h.

When the aircraft arrives in the Netherlands, it takes 24h to remove the HF radio and equip the cabin with standard life vests and service goods, and the aircraft typically enters commercial service the following day, says Lichtenveldt.

Cityhopper's role is to operate thin feeder routes for its parent and, crucially, to open up new routes, the carrier’s managing director Warner Rootliep explains. He says the 88-seat E175 – which he describes as 20% more efficient than the Fokker 70 – is a suitable aircraft to "test… new, small markets" from Amsterdam. KLM's strategy in the past was to start new routes with two or three flights day. But the group has since adopted what Rootliep describes as a "low-cost carrier model" of launching initial, single frequencies, which may later be expanded through additional flights or a switch to larger aircraft.

Rootliep says Cityhopper has no plan "at the moment" to further expand its fleet or, order the E-Jet E2 series. The priority is to increase capacity through greater fleet utilisation. Rootliep notes that Cityhopper has increased aircraft utilisation over recent years to a current average of six flights a day. The carrier has now set an objective of reducing a current provisioning of three spare aircraft to a single unit by summer 2020 through efforts to increase technical dispatch reliability, particularly through predictive maintenance.


Even if the E2 is not going to join Cityhopper's fleet soon, the airline is in discussions with Embraer to adopt certain features of the new-generation aircraft for its in-service fleet. Werner says the airline is "very much concerned" about the quality of E-Jet passenger and pilot seats and the "responsiveness" of supplier Zodiac Aerospace.

The airline is studying the possibility of a mid-life cabin upgrade and is talking to Embraer about potentially retrofitting its E-Jets with the E2's pilot seat, which is being supplied by UK-based crew-seat specialist Ipeco. For the cabin upgrade, the option of selecting a new seat manufacturer is a "serious consideration", says Werner. But this would require development of a supplemental type certificate for the modification.

Noting that Cityhopper previously employed external specialists to develop an STC for the installation of new seats on its Fokker fleet, Werner says the engineering effort alone would not be an obstacle to make the change. But he says that a cabin upgrade would be used to also raise passenger capacity on the E190 potentially up to 108 seats – and that would need to be agreed with the pilot union. The existing pilot collective labour agreement is linked to the regional jet's current capacity of 100 seats.