In the four years since Embraer unveiled the 170/190 as its new large regional jet of the future, the regional air transport industry has changed out of all recognition. In the wake of 11 September, the number of regional jet manufacturers has been halved from four to two, and a roll-back of scope clause restrictions is defining the relationship between regional and mainline operators.

This has presented Embraer with both opportunities and challenges in trying to keep the 170/190 programme one step ahead of a rapidly transforming market. "Today's 170 is quite different from the 170 we first idealised in 1999," says Fred Curado, Embraer executive vice-president airline market. "We spoke to some 50 airlines before launching the programme and yet few of them will ever fly the 170. Most of the operators who will fly the aircraft we only spoke to after the launch."

The Brazilian manufacturer now identifies two distinct markets for the new aircraft. There are airlines, predominantly in Europe, that have no restrictions between mainline and regional and could operate the entire 70- to 118-seat series. And then there are a growing number of airlines, led by US Airways, which, thanks to new labour agreements, will for the first time be able to operate the 170/175 regionally, but for now a 190/195-size jet remains a mainline preserve.

Embraer accordingly has tried to distance the aircraft from the label "regional jet", which its considers to be for 60-seaters and smaller, first by dropping the original ERJ prefix designation and more recently by promoting the family as "E Jets". "They are economical, ergonomic, environmental and finally Embraers, and while they are not mainline narrowbodies, they're certainly not regional jets," says Curado.

The company's plan for a return on its $850 million investment in the programme rests primarily on winning market leadership in the 70-seat category with the 170/175. It is also promoting the 190/195 to mainline airlines and, interestingly, new low-cost carriers, as a cheaper, more efficient 98- to 118-seat alternative to the Airbus A320 and Boeing Next Generation 737. "If you look at the A318 or 737-600, we can certainly equal, if not beat then, with lower cost per trip," says Curado.

Embraer's orderbook stands at 73 170s and 15 195s, plus 216 options. General Electric Capital accounts for 50 of the 70-seaters, many of which are likely to end up with US Airways' new MidAtlantic Express subsidiary. Alitalia has ordered six for delivery this year, Swiss under a renegotiated deal has halved its order to 15 170s and similar number of 195s, with deliveries pushed back to next year and 2006 respectively, and Air Caribe will take its two 70-seaters in 2005.

Source: Flight International