Embraer CEO Touts Green Credentials of E-Jets, Future Propjet

 - October 13, 2021, 12:05 PM
Arjan Meijer, CEO of Embraer Commercial Aviation, stands in front of a banner showing a rendering of the Brazilian OEM’s concept of a NextGen turboprop aircraft at the IATA AGM in Boston. (Photo: Cathy Buyck)

Embraer will reveal in early November a range of conceptual designs employing technologies meant to achieve the aviation industry’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, according to Embraer Commercial Aviation CEO Arjan Meijer. The technological roadmap toward zero emissions for the airframer's regional aircraft forms part of a comprehensive set of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) commitments announced by the Brazilian manufacturer in August. “The first two scopes of the ESG targets were about reducing emissions internally, on a company level,” Meijer told AIN on the sidelines of the recent International Air Transport Association’s annual general meeting in Boston. “The third scope is about the product and how we will strive to get to net-zero CO2 [flying] in 2050.”

Embraer is exploring various technology pathways to accelerate the deployment of zero-emissions regional air transport, including fully electric propulsion, aircraft powered by sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and hydrogen, and hybrid solutions combining electrification with SAF or hydrogen. The airframer will develop a hydrogen-powered demonstrator, Meijer confirmed, though he declined to disclose which platform—the E2 jet or the planned rear-engined 70- to 90-seat turboprop—the company would use to test the hydrogen technology. Not all the sustainability concepts will result in commercial application, but “Embraer is [active] in the sub-150-seat segment...it is in our market where the new technologies will emerge first,” according to Meijer. Moreover, he said, Embraer embraces a culture of under-promising and over-delivering, and it will deliver on its historical commitment to bringing the most cost-efficient and most sustainable aircraft to the market.

Meijer expressed confidence Embraer will deliver on its net-zero aviation emissions pledge owing to the cross-divisional establishment of the group’s engineering team and its progress in developing “disruptive” technologies. Ongoing projects include work by its Eve Urban Air Mobility Solutions subsidiary on a four-passenger eVTOL platform with a range of up to 60 miles; the flight-testing campaign of its first fully electric demonstrator aircraft, a modified EMB-203 Ipanema crop-duster; and the development of the short takeoff utility transport (STOUT) concept in cooperation the Brazilian Air Force. The STOUT aircraft will rely on hybrid propulsion, with turboprop and electric engines; it will fly to a range of 1,310 nm when loaded with three tons.

While awaiting the applicability of new technologies for Embraer’s lines of aircraft, the airframer expects its E2 and E1 jets will gain certification for the use of 100 percent SAF in a couple of years. “We do see the need for SAF,” stressed Meijer. Switching fossil-based kerosene to SAF allows an airline to immediately cut its CO2, he said, while describing the availability and scalability of green SAF—and green hydrogen in the longer term—as a “big challenge.”

Embraer’s planned turboprop will come to the market 100 percent SAF compliant, noted Meijer. The company expects to decide in late 2022 whether it will launch the turboprop program; entry into service would occur five years later.

Meijer, who became president and CEO of Embraer Commercial Aviation in June 2020, expressed optimism about a market recovery. “The general consensus when we are talking to airlines is that they are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. Moreover, he believes the pandemic has spurred new demand for the Brazilian airframer’s E-jets because Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of regional air travel while airlines have become more risk-averse in their fleet purchases. “Pre-Covid, airlines wanted bigger aircraft, looking only at the unit cost per seat. We believe they are becoming nimbler and go for aircraft with a better risk profile [such as the E-jets],” Meijer asserted. Several recently announced RFPs involve regional jets carrying fewer than 150 seats, a move Meijer said proves that airlines increasingly consider E-jets a perfect complement to narrowbody airliners because they offer flexibility in the network planning and flexibility to address future changes in demand.

Deals concluded this year include the sale of 16 new 76-seat E175 jets to SkyWest for operation with Delta Air Lines and eight new E175 jets for operation with Alaska Airlines, the sale of nine E175 jets to Alaska Air Group and its subsidiary Horizon Air, and the firm order from Canada’s Porter Airlines for 30 E195-E2s along with options for 50 more.

Embraer, however, did not participate in Italia Trasporto Aereo (ITA)’s tender despite the fact that ITA predecessor Alitalia operated 15 E175s/190s. ITA decided to select one supplier—Europe’s Airbus—for its widebody, narrowbody, and regional airliner fleet renewal. Meijer said he does not believe an Embraer-Boeing combination would have won the one-supplier tender because “ITA was destined to go to Airbus from the start.”