Brazilian plane maker Embraer is in the process of selecting an engine maker to power its proposed passenger turboprop aircraft and expects to make a decision by the end of this year, its commercial aviation head said.
The company is in advanced talks with conventional engine manufacturers Pratt & Whitney, Rolls-Royce and GE, Arjan Meijer, chief executive of Embraer’s commercial aircraft unit, said in an interview.
The proposed turboprop will include 70-seater and 90-seater options and will be capable of running entirely on sustainable aviation fuel.
Embraer plans to launch the turboprop programme in the beginning-to-middle of 2023, with entry into service scheduled by early 2028.
“There's a lot of interest from the market, we believe there's a market size in the next 20 years of 2,260 turboprops,” Mr Meijer told The National.
“[It will be] an E2 jet-like experience for the customer with much lower noise levels and of course, a much better economic and sustainable footprint.”
The engine selection decision will hinge on factors including fuel burn, maintenance cost and reliability.
“An engine is a very big decision for an aircraft type, it's a big cost driver for the airline and it's a very important decision we need to make, so we're going to take the time that we need,” Mr Meijer said.
Comparing the fuel efficiency of the new turboprop to existing technologies in an industry dominated by ATR, a joint venture between Airbus and Italy's Leonardo, Mr Meijer said the 90-seater will have up to 15 per cent lower fuel burn per seat.
The 50-seater will offer a 25 per cent fuel-burn reduction on short-range flights compared to jet operations.
“One of the trends post-Covid is definitely sustainability … As an industry we need to take the improvements that we can make today and if you look at an E-jet like-for-like replacement, you're talking about roughly 20 per cent fuel burn that you'll never have to offset with hydrogen or sustainable aviation fuel, it's just a straightforward improvement,” he said, noting that it takes time to develop aircraft technologies.
The tail-mounted engines will help with noise reduction in the cabin and take into account future technology changes, he said.
The executive said he cannot disclose the cost estimate for the new turboprop programme because it is too early but that Embraer is in “active discussions” with several industrial and financial partners globally for development.
Airlines in the US have indicated interest in the proposed 70-seater version of the new jet as a potential replacement for their 50-seaters with bigger cabins, he said.
There is also a “huge opportunity” for the turboprop in Asia, where Embraer already has many E-jets flying, he added.
The company has had discussions with Middle East airlines about the new turboprop, Martyn Holmes, chief commercial officer of Embraer's commercial aviation division, said in the same interview.
“No one is immune from building a sustainable future, no one is immune from building a sustainable business and so we think the turboprop is part of that dynamic. The conversations we've had in the region have been posited towards that,” he said.
“Do I think the turboprop is going to sell more in the Middle East than in Asia-Pacific? No.”
Embraer's market outlook forecasts demand for 2,260 turboprop deliveries globally in the next 20 years, mostly focused in Asia Pacific (39.8 per cent), Europe (19 per cent) and North America (19 per cent). The Middle East has a 1.8 per cent share of these projected turboprop deliveries.
The plane maker is also in talks with potential customers in the Middle East and other regions for its E2 range of models to handle feeder traffic.
“There are active discussions and there is real serious interest,” Mr Meijer said.
“No one is immune from the developments we've seen in the last two years with Covid, the situation in Russia, the economic uncertainties, and we believe airlines will be a little bit more cautious going forward. One way to do that is fly aircraft that have less risk because you can fill it quicker and easier and you still get the benefit of the low cost per seat.”
Embraer expects to deliver between 60 and 70 E-jets this year, up from less than 50 in 2020 and 2021, but below the 92 to 100 jets before the pandemic, he said.
The company's total full-year revenue guidance is unchanged with a target of between $4.5 billion to $5bn.
Rising inflation rates and higher oil prices are putting a strain on the aviation industry but regional jet makers could benefit from higher demand for smaller aircraft with improved fuel efficiency, Mr Meijer said.
“For our segment, it could be positive, but of course for the overall industry, having first Covid, then Russia-Ukraine situation and all kinds of other challenges, it's going to be tough,” he said.
Embraer — which has a long-standing agreement with Russia's VSMPO-Avisma, the world's largest titanium producer — has sufficient titanium supplies until the end of 2023 but is keeping a “very close watch” on the situation and is seeking alternatives from other suppliers globally, Mr Meijer said.
In the air cargo market, Embraer has identified a “clear gap” between existing turboprop freighters and the bigger narrow-body freighters, he said.
The plane maker is projecting demand for 700 freighters in the next 20 years in its segment of 15 to 20 tonnes.
In March, it launched the E190F and E195F passenger-to-freight Conversions to fill the gap between turboprop and narrowbody freighters.
The first converted freighters will roll off the conversion line in 2024.