Embraer has shifted its US focus towards sales of a new 70-seat version of its E175, a move executives say comes as regional airlines look to replace older 70-seaters like Bombardier CRJ700s.

"Seventy seats is where we see the bread and butter going forward," Embraer head of North American sales and marketing Charlie Hillis says on 25 September.

Embraer unveiled its new 70-seat aircraft, which it calls the E175-SC (special configuration) on 6 September when it announced SkyWest Airlines had ordered 15 of the type.

First deliveries are set for next year.

The company had not until now, however, explained why it chose to modify the enormously-popular E175 into a 70-seat derivative

Hillis says future sales of E175s are limited because US regional airlines have nearly reached caps on the number of 76-seaters they can operate for mainline partners. Those caps are set under contracts between mainline airlines and their pilots.

The contracts also cap the number of 70-seat aircraft in regional fleets, but many of those aircraft are aging and will soon need replacement, Hillis says.

"The biggest opportunity, we believe, is the 70-seat market. There are over 300 70-seaters in the market in North America today," he says. "Many of those are old and need to be replaced. We have the perfect tool for that."

Hillis made his comments during the Regional Airline Association annual meeting in West Palm Beach.

In the past, Embraer might have viewed its 70-seat E170 as the perfect replacement. But that type is largely out of production, executives note, and Embraer is not carrying the model into its next-generation E-2 lineup.

Meanwhile, Embraer has made performance improvements to the E175.

"It became very clear that the [E175] is the way to go," Hillis says.

US and Canadian airlines operate some 340 aircraft in the 70-seat category, including about 280 CRJ700/705s and about 60 E170s, according to Flight Fleets Analyzer. Many of those aircraft were manufactured in the early-to-mid 2000s, data shows.

Hillis says the E175-SC can carry six more first class seats and has 500nm more range than the CRJ700.

In addition, airlines will have the option to convert E175-SCs into a 76-seat configuration – though they must purchase a service bulletin from Embraer to do so, says Hillis.

Embraer faces notable competition in the 70-seat market.

Two weeks ago Bombardier unveiled upgrades to its CRJ700s, CRJ900s and CRJ1000s. The updates include a new "Atmosphere" cabin design that provide improved lighting, at-seat power and larger entrances, lavatories and luggage bins.

Speaking at the conference, Bombardier vice-president of regional aircraft Kevin Smith says the CRJ line has 99.5% reliability and has a seat-cost and trip-cost advantage over competing products.

In addition, Mitsubishi Aircraft continues to develop its 70-seat MRJ70, a clean-sheet type powered by Pratt & Whitney geared turbofans. Mitsubishi anticipates it will deliver the first MRJ70 in 2021.

Source: Cirium Dashboard