Embraer has revealed a surprise, 108-seat, stretch of its ERJ-190 regional jet which effectively provides the Brazilian manufacturer with a direct competitor to Bombardier's proposed BRJ-X.

The move comes in response to input from Embraer's recently completed airline advisory board survey which helped freeze the smaller ERJ-170 design at 69-70 seats. The configuration of the baseline ERJ-190, at 34.9m (115ft) in overall length, has been "frozen" with seats for 98 but "with a variant for 108 passengers" says director of programmes, Emilio Matsuo. The longer aircraft, dubbed the ERJ-190S, is stretched by around 2.5m. Both variants of the ERJ-190 are based around the same 29.2m span wing, while the ERJ-170 is defined with a 25.9m span wing.

Embraer's decision comes as Bombardier begins a series of windtunnel tests on its BRJ-X design at the Microcraft test site in California. The tests will help determine the final configuration freeze of the programme and its planned launch in 2000. Bombardier plans to develop 88-seat and 108-seat versions, the first of which would enter service at the end of 2003.

Embraer plans to complete the selection of programme partners by the end of June and is expected to make the critical engine choice "any time now" say Matsuo. The choice lies between the "hybrid" BMW Rolls-Royce BR715-50, General Electric's CF34-8E and the Snecma Pratt & Whitney Canada SPW16. "We are working to do that this month," he adds. Pending completion of partner selection, Embraer hopes to give the go-ahead to the programme by the end of the second quarter.

The ERJ-170/190 programme requires an overall investment of around $750 million. That will be divided between Embraer, financial institutions and risk-sharing partners. "We have only partners on this programme, not just suppliers. Even the smallest supplier will be a partner," Matsuo says. Embraer has received 20 proposals for eight packages, including bids on the environmental control, flight control, landing gear, powerplant, wing and tail unit assembly. Honeywell and Rockwell Collins are among those competing for the avionics package.

"In July we want to start the joint definition phase," says Matsuo. This is to be completed by the end of the year, with the detailed definition phase starting around January 2000. First flight of the ERJ-170 is due in October 2001, with the baseline ERJ-190 "10 months later", says Matsuo. The ERJ-170 is to be certificated in September 2002, with approval of the -190 expected around mid-2004.

• The ERJ-135 is expected to receive Brazilian certification on 11 June, and US Federal Aviation Administration approval at the end of the same month. Embraer hopes to obtain European Joint Aviation Authorities "by October". The first two aircraft, to American Eagle and Continental Express, will be delivered on 15 July.

Source: Flight International