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Embraer to revamp E-Jet with geared turbofans, new wings, fly-by-wire

Embraer has decided to switch engine suppliers, design two new sets of wings and integrate a closed-loop fly-by-wire system as it moves closer to launching a "second-generation" E-Jet later this year.

In a coup for engine maker Pratt & Whitney, the next version of the E-170 and E-190 family will be powered by the PW1700G and PW1900G geared turbofans, respectively, replacing General Electric CF34s on first-generation E-Jets, says Paolo Cesar Silva, president of Embraer commercial aviation.

GE lost a bid to re-engine the E-Jet with the NG34, a turbofan derived from the same core as the larger CFM International Leap-X.

Embraer also has decided to design new sets of wings to optimise the performance of the re-engined twinjets, with different airfoils for the 70-seat and 90-seat class airframes.

"We are not talking about a re-engine here only," Silva sys. "We are talking about a major revamp."

Continuing a stepping-stone approach, Embraer will adapt the closed-loop fly-by-wire system developed for the Legacy 500 business jet and KC-390 airlifter for its next-generation airliners. E-Jets today have a more rudimentary, open-loop FBW system controlling the elevators and rudders, but the second-generation spreads FBW control to the ailerons and includes feedback inputs to the pilot.

Left still undecided by Embraer is the extent of a further stretch of the 120-seat E-195 and the fate of the 70-seat E-170.

By integrating the 22,000lb-thrust PW1900G, the second-generation E-195 will have 10% more power than currently available on the CF34-10E. That allows Embraer to consider stretching the fuselage of the E-195 to contain more payload, or burning fuel at a lower thrust setting and prolong the life of the engine.

"This is something we're still deliberating," Silva says.

Meanwhile, Embraer also hasn't decided whether to re-wing and re-engine the 70-seat E-170, as already planned for the 76-seat E-175.

Some important details are not changing on the second-generation aircraft. Embraer wants maintain commonality on the flight-deck, but has not decided to keep the Honeywell Primus Epic avionics suite on the second-generation aircraft, Silva says. Embraer also will leave the materials in the current airframe unchanged, he adds.

Embraer still plans to introduce the second-generation E-Jet in 2018. Recent victories by Bombardier, which won a near-term order by Delta Air Lines for 40 76-seat jets, and a 100-aircraft order by SkyWest for the Mitsubishi Regional Jets in 2018 have not changed Embraer's strategy, Silva says.

But that is a strategy that could backfire, says Richard Aboulfia, an aerospace consultant with the Teal Group.

"I'm not certain why Embraer is waiting to offer a re-engined E-Jet," Aboulafia says. "It could very well be that they don't want to cannibalize their backlog. But given the MRJ's unexpected strength on the market, Embraer would be wise to accelerate re-engining plans."

Instead, the Brazilian airframer will in the near-term introduce an improved version of the 76-seat E-175. The new version with a second-generation winglet is scheduled for delivery in March 2014, with an overall fuel savings estimate of 5%. Embraer plans to rely on the improved version of the first-generation to compete with Bombardier until the second-generation E-Jet.

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