The announcement of a three-month slippage in the certification and first delivery of Embraer's 170 is the latest in a series of problems for the Brazilian manufacturer in its development of the 70-seater.

After initially suffering some delays in the aircraft's first flight, the certification and entry into service date has now slipped 11 months from December 2002 to November 2003. The financial problems at launch customer Swiss have caused it to defer taking delivery of its 170s, as well as cutting its order for the type from 30 to 15 aircraft, promoting Alitalia to the position of taking the first 170s into service.

But Embraer is hardly surprised about the delay in certification of the 170, which is introducing a fly-by-wire flight control system with an advanced flight deck and other systems on an aircraft of this size for the first time.

It is the immensely complex software integration of all these systems that has caused the difficulties. Debugging such systems is underway, said Embraer chief executive Mauricio Botelho. "It is a normal process but it is taking a longer time than desired." A full picture of the situation only emerged last week, he said.

In its official statement, Embraer said: "The decision results from delays in the completion of system-related tests and the production of associated documentation, and the inclusion of capabilities currently scheduled as post-certification items in the basic certification programme."

According to Botelho: "We decided to postpone certification and at the same time introduce new features supposed to be done after the August introduction." The original plan was to certify and deliver the first aircraft to Alitalia minus several features that would be certified in November. The August date has now been scrapped, and all of the features will be certified at the same time. This includes Category 2 ILS capability; wind shear guidance; autothrottle; and further flap settings, says Luis Carlos Alfonso, vice-president 170 programme.


While Embraer's official announcement did not disclose the exact problem, fingers were quickly pointed at Honeywell's Primus Epic high-tech cockpit system and its integration with the fly-by-wire flight controls, developed jointly by Honeywell and Parker Aerospace.

Primus Epic has provisional certification aboard the Gulfstream G5-50, and is currently uncertified on the Cessna Sovereign; Dassault 900EX, 2000EX and F7X; Raytheon Hawker Horizon and Agusta AB139 helicopter. It was also specified on the now-defunct Fairchild Dornier 728/928JET.

The 170 application of Primus Epic is the most complex yet and according to Vicki Panhuise, Honeywell's vice president programs and site leader, Business, Regional and General Aviation: "We would have liked to have completed the integration faster, but this is a brand new system, on a brand new aircraft on a very aggressive programme.

"This isn't a derivative of an existing system and its taken a long time to make sure it is ready for revenue service. We are also certifying the hardware and software separately, which should make future software upgrades much easier to implement.

"We originally had a dual certification path, with basic certification in August and then further certification in November, but the decision to include the extra capabilities in a single certification was a commercial one. To bring in new functionality via software upgrade at a later date is expensive and involves additional pilot training," she adds.

Reflecting on the delay, Embraer's Mauricio Botelho said: "It is always bad for us when this happens, but problems always exist. The problem is how you handle them, and we will do it with integrity, with transparency, and with the correct approach towards our customers and intimately within our group of suppliers."

Embraer currently has 234 firm orders and 289 options for the 170 from Alitalia, Air Caraibes, GE Capital Aviation Services, JetBlue Airways, LOT Polish Airlines, US Airways and Swiss.

Source: Flight Daily News