Graham Warwick/WASHINGTON DC

Continental Express' order for 25 firm plus 50 option 37-seat ERJ-135s validates Embraer's decision to derive a family of regional jets following the successful introduction of the 50-seat ERJ-145. The Brazilian manufacturer hopes that other airlines will be attracted by the "substantial" savings in training, maintenance and spares costs that it calculates will result from the 90% commonality between the two aircraft.

Embraer, meanwhile, continues to study a 70-seater, the ERJ-170, although the changes will be greater than those required to derive the ERJ-135 from the original design.

The ERJ-145's success has powered the resurgence of Embraer after privatisation and subsequent recapitalisation by its new investors, which have pumped more than $530 million into the company since January 1995. The Brazilian manufacturer expects to become profitable this year, after narrowing losses to just over $13 million in 1997, on record revenues of almost $767 million.

The estimated $300 million development cost for the ERJ-145 was borne in part by risk-sharing partners, as is the $100 million cost of developing the ERJ-135. Embraer predicated the ERJ-145 programme on sales of 400 aircraft; introducing the ERJ-135 has boosted the combined sales projection to 1,000 aircraft and allowed substantial cost reductions to be secured from suppliers.

Changes to produce the ERJ-135 are limited essentially to reducing fuselage length by 3.54m. The engines, avionics and systems are basically unchanged. Embraer, in fact, has converted the ERJ-145 prototype to perform the same role on the ERJ-135 programme, and the same flight-test engines will be re-used - Allison simply supplying new engine software to derate them.

The two aircraft will be built on the same line, and Embraer says it will need only three months' advance notice to change a customer's order from an ERJ-145 to an ERJ-135, and vice versa.

The manufacturer is increasing ERJ-145 production to six a month, and plans to reach seven a month by October. When ERJ-135 deliveries begin in the second half of 1999, Embraer will be producing 12 regional jets a month - seven 50-seaters and five 37-seaters. In addition, the company will still be producing two EMB-120 Brasilia 30-seat regional turboprops a month.

Source: Flight International