Paulo Cesar Silva is attending his first Le Bourget as Embraer chief executive, accompanied by the largest number of aircraft types the Brazilian manufacturer has brought to an air show. Silva, who formerly ran Embraer’s commercial aircraft division and took over the top job from Fred Curado last July, says the presence of three new programmes – the E195-E2 regional jet, Legacy 450 business jet and KC-390 military transport, as well as the ERJ-145, to mark the 20thanniversary of its entry into service – “shows to the whole industry that we are very much set to be successful in the coming years”.

Few companies in aviation history have achieved such a rapid ascent as Embraer. The then-tiny state-owned player launched its ERJ family to exploit the regional jet boom of the 1990s, followed by the larger E-Jet family in the early 2000s and the launch of its re-engined and re-winged E2 successor four years ago. Just over a decade ago, it began developing a business jet range and has since put into service six types in the light- to large-cabin segments to become one of the five big manufacturers in the sector. In the past few years, it has moved into the military market, designing and flying for the first time in 2015 its largest aircraft, the KC-390 twinjet.

Although its climb has not been without moments of turbulence – the KC-390 programme has been delayed and is still without an export customer, and some of the airframer’s business jets have lagged their rivals in sales – Embraer generally has made the right calls at the right time. As its main competitor, Bombardier, was struggling for orders to cover the cost of its massive investment in the CSeries narrowbody, Embraer at Paris 2013 responded with the three-aircraft E2 range, a significant, but much less-costly offering pitched at the top end of the regional aircraft sector. On the business aviation side, types such as the Phenom 300 have become top-sellers in their segments.


The KC-390 has been an altogether more ambitious project. Embraer began developing the 26t-payload, International Aero Engines V2500-powered transport in the late 2000s as a competitor to the Lockheed Martin C-130J and as part of a wider expansion into the defence electronics and security market. Despite 28 launch orders from Brazil and letters of intent from a number of countries, including Chile, the Czech Republic and Portugal, no export contracts have been confirmed, even though Embraer took the aircraft on visits to Lisbon and Prague when it made its international debut at last year’s Farnborough air show.

However, Silva is confident that this could soon change, with Paris giving Embraer its second chance to showcase its capabilities to an international audience. “The KC-390 is the kind of product that takes a little longer to get traction in the market. We hope to soon start to deliver to our own air force and our target is to have the first international contracts announced by the end of 2017,” he says. “We have been seeing a lot of interest from air forces that never connected with Embraer in the past. The fact that it is a fully fly-by-wire jet and the flexibility of missions it offers has attracted a lot of attention.”


On the commercial side, Embraer is in a much happier position with some 233 orders for its E175-E2, E190-E2 and E195-E2, two of the three variants in flight test and first deliveries of the E190-E2 due next year. Silva, unsurprisingly, is confident that Embraer got its strategy right when it launched the programme. “We are very bullish about prospects. The important thing is that we have a family offering 72 seats up to 130, so that brings a lot of flexibility for airlines with different models for different markets,” he says. “It’s the second generation of a family that has been very successful, with the lowest operating costs in its segment.”

The missing link in Embraer’s commercial portfolio is a turboprop, with ATR in particular achieving remarkable success over the past decade. Embraer’s last propeller aircraft was the EMB-120 Brasilia that ceased production in 2001. There has been speculation that Embraer is considering a launch in this market, perhaps with a 100-seat type, but Silva will only say that executives are “talking to our clients to try to understand the requirement for a future efficient turboprop”. These talks, he says, “are at a very preliminary stage” and that “we will be in a much better position to take a decision in a few years”.

The Legacy 450 is Embraer’s sixth business jet since it developed the Legacy 600 from its ERJ-145 regional jet in the early-2000s. Alongside its midsize Legacy 500 stablemate, Embraer offers the Phenom 100 and Phenom 300 light jets, and the E190-derived ultra-large Lineage 1000E. The portfolio leaves “us very well positioned” with a product in every segment except ultra-long range, says Silva. Although prospects for the Legacy pairing – its most recent arrivals – have been hit by the downturn and a surfeit of used aircraft, Silva expects “more traction as inventory clears” and notes: “When you consider it has been only a little over 10 years, it is remarkable what Embraer has done.”


The past few years has also witnessed an expansion in Embraer’s industrial footprint beyond Brazil, with an assembly facility for its Phenom and Legacy business jets in Melbourne, Florida, as well as a site specialising in seats in the same state. In Portugal, the company has opened sub-assembly plants in Evora and extended its shareholding in Ogma, the one-time state-owned maintenance, repair and overhaul and aerostructures specialist based near Lisbon, a supplier to Airbus Helicopters among others. “We are planning for growth in both Evora and Ogma in the next few years,” says Silva, who adds: “We have invested a lot in going more global in the last few years.”

Other priorities for Embraer have been developing its technology base and a pipeline of engineers through sponsored and in-house programmes. The company has been a pioneer in fly-by-wire and Silva says Embraer re-invests 10% of its income in research and development. In return, about 45% of revenue comes from “innovation we have implemented in the last few years”. In January, it set up a Global Innovation Centre, based in Boston and California’s Silicon Valley, “to look at disruptive technologies” ranging from artificial intelligence and 3D printing to robotics and autonomous flying vehicles. The move, says Silva, is “a very important step for our future developments”.

Source: Flight Daily News