Embraer has signalled its intent for a head-on assault on the Pratt & Whitney GTF geared-turbofan-powered Bombardier CSeries, as well as on Airbus and Boeing, with the development of an all-new 130-seater.

Sources say the Brazilian airframer has been examining the market for a small mainline airliner above its 115-seat Embraer 195 twinjet through discussions with potential customers and engine suppliers. Speaking exclusively to Flight International, executive vice-president airline market Mauro Kern confirms Embraer is undertaking "some possible work with a little bigger [aircraft] than the current 195, not only using the current platform, but also a new design".

He says that because a clean-sheet design would need a new-generation engine, Embraer has been "in talks with the three big engine guys [GE, Rolls-Royce and P&W] about a possible new platform to support new airplanes".

Kern says any move by Embraer would not be "just about responding to the CSeries" because there are other competitors in that sector, but stresses there is no imminent decision or launch pending.

The airframer is known to have discussed its studies with airlines, including Delta Air Lines, and prospective CSeries customers. Kern declines to be specific about these conversations, and says: "We understand the airlines may have some need for some specific sizes and what we are doing today is all still very general."

Edward Pieniazek, director of UK analyst Ascend Worldwide, says: "A shift up beyond 120-plus seats by Embraer is logical - it would see a greater opportunity of growing sales volumes and customer base."

Teal Group vice-president analysis Richard Aboulafia thinks Embraer's motivation might be more to do with its recent diversification into the business jet arena, a strategy that "looks less sound than it did before 2008". This means other sectors "suddenly start to look more attractive", he adds.

Pieniazek believes the time is right strategically for Embraer to think about a move: "Embraer and Bombardier would benefit from building up a head of steam in sales in this new sector before facing what could be very competent responses from Airbus and Boeing."

Aboulafia is not expecting an early move by Embraer, saying: "It makes sense to start surveying the fieldit will be years before it needs to decide whether or not to press ahead."

But he believes the "big question" facing Embraer is the availability of resources in the medium term, with its commitment to bring the Legacy 450/500 business jets and KC-390 airlifter to market.

Source: Flight International