Embraer is doubling down on the cost savings of the E-Jet E2 family compared to the competing Airbus A220 models in an effort to bring the latest iteration of its 100-seat aircraft to the US market.
The Brazilian airframer is competing for possible orders from Spirit Airlines and United Airlines, after failing to keep long-standing customer JetBlue Airways in the fold with an order for the A220-300 earlier this year.
"We see the E2 as a more economical airplane than its competitor," says Embraer commercial chief Arjan Meijer, referring to the A220-100, onboard an E190-E2 demo flight ahead of the ALTA Airline Leaders Forum in Panama today.
Embraer claims the E190- and E195-E2 have roughly 10% better seat or trip costs, depending on the model, than the A220, he says.
"Whether you want a lower cost per seat or a lower cost per trip, we can offer both," he says.
Operating costs are a big concern for US carriers, which continue to shift to larger gauge aircraft in mass. JetBlue, which launched the first generation E190 in 2005, has said repeatedly that the 100-seaters are a "higher CASM aircraft" than their larger Airbus A320s, but also noted that their smaller size drives higher revenues.
The New York-based carrier itself will upgauge with its A220-300s, which seat around 130 passengers in a standard configuration, when they replace E190s.
Meijer declines to comment on either the Spirit or United campaigns, saying simply that Embraer is talking to all of the US players.
Outgoing Spirit chief executive Bob Fornaro told FlightGlobal earlier in October that the airline continued to look at all of its options, including the E2, for a narrowbody order it plans to place in the next six months.
In what appears as an overture to Chicago-based United, Meijer downplays the airline's repeated concerns over adding complexity to its fleet.
"Because the E195-E2, the largest of the family, is competing with the smallest member of the bigger narrowbody families, there's a huge operating cost benefit for the airline," he says. "[This] will be sufficient to offset any complexity argument."
United has had an on-again off-again relationship with the 100-seat aircraft segment since at least 2015. It evaluated both the A220 – then the Bombardier CSeries – and E2 for an order that ultimately went to Boeing's 737-700 in early 2016, only to convert the aircraft to larger 737 variants after a leadership shake-up later that year.
However, a possible 100-seat aircraft order is back on the table as the carrier aims to replace the 50-seat regional jets it has added over the next few years. Complexity remains a top concern.
"You can't buy [an aircraft] for just a couple of routes," said Gerry Laderman, chief financial officer of United, on the segment in an interview with FlightGlobal in June. "You should go to the best aircraft of the aircraft that you're operating a significant fleet size of because, in that situation, the cost of complexity does outweigh the benefit of having the absolute perfect aircraft for that mission."
He, too, said the airline was talking to airframers about all the possible options, including Airbus and Embraer.
"American airlines in general, they should look at the segment up to 150 seats," says Meijer. "There's a big gap between what the regionals are flying and where the mainline starts."
United has a 50 seat gap between its smallest mainline aircraft, the 737-700, with 126 seats and the 76-seat E175s in its regional fleet.
The mainline carrier is in the midst of contract negotiations with its pilots' union, the Air Line Pilots Association, in which it hopes to achieve some form of scope relief that would allow it to add more 76-seat aircraft to its feeder fleet. ALPA is opposed to such relief, saying United has the option to add more of the small jets in exchange for the addition of a small mainline narrowbody aircraft, like the A220 or E2.
American Airlines does not appear in the market for a 100-seater as it plans to retire its 20 remaining E190s next year, and Delta Air Lines took delivery of its first of 75 A220-100s last week.