Edit (30th Sept): Edited to include the first flight of the first production A320NEO, which is destined for IndiGo. Edit includes a confirmation of a Space Flex cabin.
Indian domestic market leader IndiGo’s first Airbus A320 NEO (New Engine Option) – part of the July 2011 order for 180 aircraft, has rolled out of the Hamburg (Germany) final assembly line fully painted in the airline colors, but without the Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbo Fan (GTF) Engines. This is the third such airframe of the airline. Two have no engines fitted. The cabin has not been fitted yet.
MSN 6720, destined for IndiGo, first flew on September 25th at Toulouse, France. The aircraft fuselage has however not been painted in the airline’s colors, but the wings are in the airline’s markings. MSN6720 is the 6th NEO to be produced, and the first ‘production’ NEO. The to-be Indian Registration of MSN 6720 is yet unknown, but will likely be the first A320 NEO for IndiGo.
A320-271N MSN 6744, which is expected to be registered VT-ITA, is the 7th NEO produced, and likely the second for IndiGo. A320-271N MSN 6799, to be registred VT-ITC, is likely IndiGo’s third A320 being assembled at the Toulouse (France) final assembly line, and is the 9th NEO to be produced. All Airbus A320 NEOs that IndiGo will accept will be powered by the Pratt & Whitney PW1127G engines.
The same engines had a problem with a clip holding seals inside the engine. This had caused concerns on the NEO program schedule, which has invariably slipped a bit. However, launch customer Qatar Airways expects to receive the first aircraft by the end of the calendar year. Interestingly, Qatar’s A320 NEO is MSN 6772 – the 8th NEO – which means it is later down the assembly line sequence when compared to IndiGo’s 6744 and 6720.
The NEOs rely on the sharklets and new, ultra-high bypass geared turbofan engine technology to together deliver fuel savings of upto around 15% (over and above today’s CEO A320’s without sharklets) . Such high fuel savings will however be realized only on very long flights that approach the maximum range of the airplane.
Airbus’s “Space Flex” concept allows airlines to increase the seating capacity of the Airbus A320 (both current engine options (CEO) and NEO) to 189 seats, without compromising on seat pitch and comfort. This is achieved by moving the two rear lavatories closer to the bulkhead, eating into the galley space. This makes more sense to no frills carriers which do not carry much meals on board. The space for service trolleys in the aft galley of the aircraft reduces from 7 to 3. The space where the aft lavatories were fitted are replaced with 1.5 rows of seats.
This increase in number of seats reduces unit costs by 5% to 6%. It is not known if IndiGo will adopt the space flex concept yet. No physical changes to the emergency exits are required. However, opting for a mix of 189 seat and 180 seat A320s may reduce operational flexibility for the airline. Opting for a higher capacity however seems inevitable.
IndiGo is believed to have opted for the Space Flex cabin, but details on when it will appear are not known.
In this piece, we look into the significance of the E-Jets, particularly the 100 seat E-190, and the need for the Brazilian manufacturer’s launch of the upgraded, “Second generation” E-Jets.
The Embraer E-Jets: Making Regional Sense.
Bombardier stepped into the 70 seat jet space with the introduction of its CRJ700 into commercial operations in 2001, with Brit Air. 3 years later, Embraer introduced its 70 seat jet to commercial operations, with LOT Polish airlines. Till date, 192 Embraer E-170s have been sold, while the 70 seat CRJ700 has sold 347 airplanes.
One Embraer regional jet, that has been very well received, is the 100 seat Embraer 190, which, till date, has raked up 560 orders. No other Bombardier 70+ seat aircraft, including the C-Series has managed to touch those numbers, yet.
The Embraer 190 makes absolute sense. The typical single class cabin of the airplane accommodates 100 passengers comfortably. JetBlue, the largest operator of the E-190 with 59 aircraft, complements its Airbus A320 fleet of 129 aircraft. Jet Blue’s A320s are fitted with 150 seats.
Way back in 2003, when JetBlue had an all-Airbus A320 fleet and the cabins had 156 seats, the break-even load factor (BELF), as published by the airline, was around 72%, corresponding to 112 seats. To open up more routes which would have a demand less than this BELF, the 100 seat Embraer 190 was introduced in 2005. In the light of its reduced A320 seating, and spiralling fuel prices, the airline’s A320’s BELF has only gone up, further stressing the need for the Embraer 190.
Embraer acknowledges that a big advantage for E-Jet operators today is their ability to use the aircraft to “right-size” in lower-density markets.
But also acknowledged in 2010 was the realisation that if Airbus or Boeing re-engine their narrowbodies, and achieve better costs per trip, the advantage enjoyed by the E-Jets would disappear.
The upgrade saga
This left only two options for Embraer: Introduce a clean-sheet airplane that competes with Airbus and Boeing’s popular narrowbody families-A320 and 737-an idea that has played with Embraer since 2009; or do something to the existing offering to retain the regional jet family’s attractiveness to operators.
Late 2011, Embraer formally confirmed its decision to abandon the development of a competing airplane (which otherwise would have put 4 players in the coveted segment, including Bombardier with its C-Series), and instead focus on enhancing the value of the Embraer 170 and 190 families through a possible stretch and a definite re-engine, at an estimated program cost of US$1.7 billion. This was the outcome of Boeing announcing the delivery of the 737Max in 2017: a period too short for Embraer to both hold its grip on the market with its existing offering while developing a competing airliner. This also reflects the industry’s lower appetite for risk.
Embraer started working with E-Jet customers to define the performance goals and technical characteristics of the new aircraft family. One of the considerations was a composite airframe. Early 2012, Air Lease Corp advised Embraer to stretch the Embraer E-190 by 1 row (4 seats) and the E-195 by 2-3 rows (8-12 seats). The aim was to add capacity to compete with the CS100, while allowing for pricing flexibility in the light of much lower development costs associated with an airplane upgrade rather than a clean sheet design. Adding to this advantage is the huge customer base of Embarer’s E-Jets. A customer would prefer an upgrade “within the aircraft family" for near-seamless operational integration, rather than an all-new aircraft.
Embraer claims to be not just re-engining, but investing heavily to achieve the efficiency of a clean-sheet design. In January 2013, Embraer selected the Pratt and Whitney Geared Turbofan PW1000G series to power the second generation E170 and E190/E195 aircraft, which it calls the “E-Jet E2 family". The wings will feature a higher aspect ratio, longer wingspan, and raked wing tips instead of winglets. The landing gear will be lengthened to accommodate the larger engines, and the flight deck will feature the Honeywell’s Primus Epic™ 2 advanced integrated avionics system with large landscape displays, advanced graphics capabilities, and Honeywell’s Next Generation Flight Management System (NGFMS). The new airplanes will be 100% fly-by-wire, unlike the in-production E-Jets.
Unlike the C-Series, the wings for the E-Jet E2 are all metal, as, according to Embraer, composites aren’t cost-effective for such-sized airplanes. Embarer’s late announcement of the selection of the geared turbofan actually stands in its favour: the airframer benefits from Pratt and Whitney’s work on the smaller PW1200G for the Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ), and the larger, mature PW1500G for the C-Series, both of which engine families are almost identical to those being offered for the E-Jets.: The PW1700G for the E175-E2 and the larger PW1900G for the E190/195-E2.
The reason to select the Geared Turbofan is not just the gear in the fan, which optimises fan speeds for greater efficiencies. The significant thermal margins available can allow for future engine thrust upgrades, allowing for further aircraft upgrades with the same engine family.
Plane Facts & 4-cast
The E-175 E2 can seat 88 passengers in a single class, in a comfortable 31" seat pitch. The in-production E-175 can seat only 78 passengers, comfortably, and 88 with an undesirable 29" seat pitch.
The E-190-E2, which is poised to continue the legacy of the well-performing in production E-190, comfortably seats an additional 6 passengers in a uniform 31" seat pitch. The existing E-190 can seat 114 passengers, but with a compromised seating comfort. The fuel efficiencies of the E-190-E2 lend it more range than the E-190.
The E-195-E2 seats 132 passengers in a uniform 31" seat pitch. The In-production E-195 can seat no more than 124 passengers in high capacity, and 116 in single class (with 31% of the seats featuring a 32" pitch, and 69% featuring a 31" pitch). Sometime in 2009, Embraer had studied an aircraft of such capacity, dubbed the E-195X, which would have used the same engines as the E-195. The concept was eventually dropped in 2010 the light of degraded aircraft performance in the absence of a re-engine.
Owing to its poor sales and the drop in demand for 70 seat jets, the E-170 won’t be re-engined.
Embraer’s best bet is on the 106 seat E-190-E2, and hence is focusing all its energy in targeting an entry-into-service (EIS) of mid-2018. The E-195-E2 will follow in 2019, and the E175-E2 in 2020.
Embraer foresees a demand for 6,400 commercial jets with capacity of up to 130 seats, over the next 20 years. With more than 1,200 E-Jets orders, Embraer has achieved a 42% market share in its segment. While Embraer will aggressively compete with Bombardier’s CS100, its present and future E-Jet offering has, and will eclipse Bombardier’s present line up of the CRJ family: CRJ700, CRJ900 and the CRJ1000, all three now marketed with the NextGen suffixes. Embraer is poised to grab a large share of that forecasted market.
*This section builds on research for a comprehensive article on the C-Series by The Flying Engineer.