As Embraer's development of its E-Jets E2 programme nears conclusion, the company continues to consider development of a new family of turboprop aircraft that would complement E2s.
"I do sense that the next aircraft will probably be a smaller turboprop," Embraer's commercial aircraft division chief executive John Slattery tells FlightGlobal. "I would probably see a family of two aircraft…complementing the E2 operations."
Slattery notes Embraer has, for several years, been studying the business case for a new turboprop – studies about which FlightGlobal has previously reported.
He stresses the Brazilian airframer has not decided whether to progress with such a programme and that aspects of the business case remain uncertain.
"It is not something we are ready to pull the trigger on," Slattery says. "We are making progress on the analysis."
In recent years Embraer has been deep in development of its 70- to 140-seat E-Jets programme, including four first-generation variants and three successors, the E175-E2, E190-E2 and E195-E2.
That programme is now nearing conclusion – the E190-E2 and E195-E2 are now in airline service and Embraer expects first flight of the E175-E2 in December followed by service entry in 2021.
Once E2 development concludes, Embraer's engineers and technical experts will be free to focus on other projects, the nature of which has yet to become clear. Boeing seems likely to have a say, as the US airframer expects to buy 80% of Embraer's commercial aircraft division next year.
Slattery says demand exists in several world regions for a new turboprop. He speaks only broadly about a potential new aircraft's size or seat count, saying it would likely be smaller than the largest member of the E2 family.
He can envision a turboprop outfitted with 70 seats in the fleets of some carriers, but possibly as few as 50 seats in the fleets of US airlines, which tend to fill some cabin real-estate with extra-legroom seats.
"What could be a 70-seater in one market in Southeast Asia could potentially be a 50-seater in the US market," Slattery says.
In studying such a product, Slattery's team is reviewing airline demand and a range of other factors, such as a pilot shortage and air traffic congestion.
"We need to factor all that into our calculations," he says, describing Embraer's strategic deliberations as "game theory" weighing allocation of company resources against competitive marketplace dynamics.
ATR and De Havilland Aircraft of Canada still make new-build turboprops, though those aircraft are based on decades-old designs.
Turboprops have largely fallen out of fashion the USA – the world's largest air travel market – where regional airlines have switched to larger regional jets. In the process, many small US communities have lost air service.