The full scale mockup of the next version of the E-jet family, the E2 series, was shown to the media in Sydney today, and to be frank, it was a stunning display.
The key feature of the E-jets today, two by two seats, that is, with no middle seats being possible, is of course retained.
The E-jets bring a degree of civilized seating to short to medium haul economy class travel that is only replicated, in a more gregarious manner, in the main deck 10 across cabin of Airbus A380s and in the similarly generous nine across Y class cabin on Boeing 777s among those airlines who haven’t crushed their customers in those jets into a 10 across layout.
Sure, there are two by two formats in the turbo prop Dash 8s and the ATR 72s, but they aren’t jets, they are slow and bumpy, the seats are smaller, and when (cough) some airlines operate them on flights close to two hours duration, the customer experience seems totally out of synch with the jet age.
So the question had to be, how could this be improved in the second or E2 version, which comes in three models corresponding fairly closely in capacity to the current E-jet family, when the new series is introduced in an initial E-190 sized version in the second half of 2018?
There appears to be two answers, one involving new technology lead by the use of the breakthrough Pratt and Whitney PW Pure Power geared turbo fan or GTF engines, but supported, literally, by a new more efficient wing, and systems, fittings and material refinements throughout.
This suite of improvements saves, in operational scenarios, at least 16 percent in fuel burn, even larger reductions on emissions, and significantly reduced maintenance costs. None of which will necessarily even cross the minds of passengers flying in E2s.
Which brings in the second answer, which is passenger appeal. Apart from looking more stylish, the economy seats have been smoothed out so that there are no awkward seat back pocket or screen bulges, and the tables and brackets depending on the options chosen, make it very easy to bring your own entertainment in the likes of an iPad or large screen android device, or stream movies and music from an onboard wi-fi entertainment server depending on how the airline wants to play such a service.
In business class, should there be one, Embraer has come up with a staggered design that not even the photo (below) does full credit to.
These seats are two across like they are in economy, but set slightly before or behind each companion seat, so that the cushion width in each is notably wider, and the leg room is around 50-52 inches or 124-130 cms, which is unknown in such jets today.
In domestic service on routes where E-jets and Boeing 717s are used, they offer something more resembling the new business class products Qantas has started putting in its A330s, with Virgin Australia converting its A330s to its new generation of seats in the middle of this year.
They aren’t flat beds like the new A330 products, but on a flight like Canberra-Brisbane, they offer a spacious private pod like area with plenty of room to doze off or spread out a full sized laptop and a dossier or two.
If you think the current one-two seat arrangement in business class on some E-jets today (here and abroad) is good, this is much better. All that is needed is to make the company agree to pay for such comfort, but at least in economy, the comfort level is way above that of a three by three economy cabin in a 737, and with no risk of being put in the middle seat because there aren’t any.
The E2 project was launched at the Paris Air Show in 2013, and the customized version of the Pratt and Whitney GTF engine is due for certification by Q1 next year, followed shortly afterwards by the start of test and certification flights and all of the testing required of a totally new alloy wing.
Embraer already has 590 firm orders or commitments for the new E2 versions of its top line passengers jets, so it might be a while before any make it into service with an Australian airline.
An interesting question is whether or not Qantas will make a move on what is currently a prime service differentiator in favour of Virgin Australia on routes where its existing fleet of E-jets are the alternative to Qantas Q400 turbo-props or Boeing 717s operated by Qantaslink.
Embraer wouldn’t be drawn on that, other than Mark Dunnachie, its vice president Asia Pacific emphasizing several times that it was not in any discussion with Qantas to such an end.
His message was that Embraer was very keen on Australia, it was naturally raising the profile and lobbying for more sales in this country, and it would of course be very keen for Virgin Australia to roll over its current fleet of E-190s, which include examples that have been in service as far back as 2007.
The E2 version of the E190 would have the transcontinental range needed for non-stop coast to coast and up to Darwin flights in a two class configuration of around 100 seats. It comes into service in 2018. A year later the larger E195-E2 with between 120-144 seats would enter service, readily operating most routes out of Canberra or Adelaide among others. In 2020 the smallest E2, an 80-90 seat jet corresponding to the E175 today could fly similar routes, however it is also pitched as operational alternative to the ultra efficient ATR72 turboprop on routes longer than around 250 nautical miles.
Subject to no intervening economic shocks, centres like Wagga Wagga, Coffs Harbour, Albury, Tamworth and maybe Wellcamp’s incredibly far western Brisbane airport near Toowoomba could support frequent E2 series flights to the major SE cities in the coming decade.