It is almost 20 years since Embraer snuck into the world of business aviation with a VIP version of its first generation ERJ-135 regional jet, launched at the 2000 Farnborough air show as the “Legacy 2000”. The 3,050nm (5,650km)-range type, later renamed the Legacy 600, quickly established a niche appeal among those looking for an alternative to longer-legged but much pricier large-cabin rivals.
However, few expected that within a decade, the Brazilian manufacturer would have established itself as one of the big five in the sector with a product range spanning more segments than any competitor.
Embraer has no fewer than six types at EBACE, from the Phenom 100E very light jet to the Lineage 1000E, its five-cabin “bizliner” based on the E190, one of the family of regional jets launched in 1999. Between them come the Phenom 300E, the top-selling light jet, while the Praetor 500 and Praetor 600, the midsize and super-midsize pairing that will replace the Legacy 450 and Legacy 500, are making their EBACE debuts. Embraer will confirm US and European certification for the 4,000nm-range Praetor 600 at Geneva, while its smaller sibling will follow in the third quarter. The Legacy 650E – the latest iteration of the original aircraft – completes the line-up.
DELIVERING ON PROMISE
Michael Amalfitano, president and chief executive of Embraer Executive Jets, says the appearance of the Praetors, launched at October’s NBAA convention in Orlando, continue the manufacturer’s record of “promising the market something and delivering on that promise, both in terms of being on time, as well as with their performance, their technology and their comfort”. He hints, too, at future models, filling gaps in Embraer’s portfolio, including below the Phenom 100 – a segment that only Cirrus has made a success of with the Vision Jet – and above the Legacy 650E, the long-range, large-cabin market currently occupied by Bombardier, Dassault and Gulfstream.
The company’s view of future personal transport needs is influencing its thinking on product development, with its US-based Embraer X research and development laboratory carrying out projects in areas such as electric vertical take-off. “With our engineering DNA, we are always looking at a very broad roadmap, and we can see that the ecosystem of air travel is also changing,” says Amalfitano. One theory is that – in urban areas particularly – private aviation might become a form of mass transit, prompting demand for cheaper and more environmentally friendly platforms, operated under ride-sharing, Uber-style business models.
At the other end of the business aviation spectrum, Amalfitano, who has led Embraer’s executive jets arm for just over two years and has a background in aircraft finance, acknowledges that the large-cabin, ultra-long-range segment is “where much of the revenue is”. However, he insists that Embraer will “not be a me-too player” and, when the time is right, will deliver “something that is unique” to the market. “We are looking at everything from different forms of production to sustainable aircraft,” he says. “We won’t just do it because we have the ability to build a bigger airplane.”
Embraer has indeed done what it said it would do in business aviation, since launching its first clean-sheet design, the Phenom 100, in April 2005. It was one of a flurry of so-called VLJs under development at that time for a nascent air taxi market, and to replace owner-flown pistons. The Phenom 100 flew for the first time in 2007 and entered service a year later. It was quickly joined by the larger Phenom 300, which gained its type certification in 2009. The latter has become the biggest success story in the sector for Embraer, with the 500th Phenom 300 delivered in February 2019. For the seven years to 2018, it has been the best-selling light business jet.
Three years after announcing the Phenoms, Embraer unveiled its plans for a duo of midsize types, with the Legacy 500 flying for the first time in 2012 and the smaller Legacy 450 following into the air in 2013. The move saw the company enter two segments dominated by Textron Aviation’s Cessna Citation brand, with some success. However, last year, Embraer addressed some perceived performance deficiencies with the pair’s replacement by the Praetor 500 and 600, which retain the fuselage of their predecessors, but deliver more range and an enhanced passenger experience.
While the Praetor 500 takes the Legacy 450’s range from just over 2,900nm to 3,250nm, by way of additional fuel tanks, and is offered as an upgrade to existing Legacy 450 operators, the Praetor 600 is an all-new aircraft. Described by Amalfitano as “our first super-midsize in terms of rang”, the aircraft can fly for just over 4,000nm, compared with a little over 3,100nm for the Legacy 500. Structural additions include underbelly tanks, higher-performance winglets and upgraded Honeywell HFT7500E engines. A new “Bossa Nova” cabin design includes features such as pairs of club seats that convert into fully flat berths.
Embraer will continue to fulfil existing Legacy 500 orders this year, with Amalfitano describing 2019 as “a year of transition”, during which Praetor assembly will move to the company’s US facility in Melbourne, Florida, alongside the production line for the Phenoms. The Legacy models are built green at Gaviao Peixoto. Embraer established the factory, on the state’s “Space Coast” near Orlando, 10 years ago. It is also home to the company’s largest engineering centre outside Brazil, as well as its Embraer X operation. “We will continue to grow here,” says Amalfitano.
Like most business aircraft manufacturers, Embraer had a challenging 2018, with deliveries sliding to 91 aircraft from 109 in 2017, missing the company’s target of 105-125 shipments. This year, it is predicting output of between 90 and 110 aircraft, helped by initial deliveries of both Praetor models. However, this does not diminish Embraer’s achievements over the past two decades, announcing and bringing to market 10 new types, “something that is unprecedented by any manufacturer”, maintains Amalfitano.
Luis Carlos Affonso, senior vice-president of corporate strategy, innovation and digital, and the first head of the executive aviation branch in the mid-2000s, says Embraer’s intentions when it launched into business aviation were always to “blur the segments”. He adds: “We never wanted to just copy. We wanted to provide more value than was traditional in each segment, and, using our commercial aviation DNA, design executive aircraft that could fly longer than 200-300h a year. There is lots of loyalty in this market, so we knew we had to provide differentiated value to make customers switch.”
Embraer is celebrating its half-centennial this year, but remains a relative newcomer in a market where many of its competitors have been around for decades. Amalfitano says the executive aviation division is “trying to transition from a business that can innovate, engineer and manufacture airplanes to become a desired brand. We are all about creating value to enhance the passenger experience.” He adds: “We think we have a very broad and bright future in terms of continuing to innovate into the next 50 years.”