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The newest passenger jet in the world has just been delivered to its first customer. At a ceremony at Embraer’s headquarters in São José dos Campos, Brazil, on Wednesday morning, the aircraft manufacturer turned over the keys to the first-ever E190-E2 aircraft to Norway’s regional carrier Widerøe, the start of new chapters for both companies.
Widerøe has operated so far only a fleet of turboprop aircraft. For Wideroøe, the E2 represents fleet modernization, enhancing its in-flight experience over its Bombardier Dash 8s and the opportunity to expand its presence in the Norwegian market — and beyond. And for Embraer, the third-biggest planemaker in the world and a possible partner for Boeing, the E2 represents a new era — it’s the biggest jet it has made to date, with more sophisticated engineering,
Since the E2 program was officially launched at the Paris Air Show five years ago, Embraer has made it its focus to keep the timeline on schedule. To date, the production of its E2 program has been on time.
At Wednesday’s ceremony outside a hangar on Embraer’s campus, employees and both Widerøe and Embraer executives were there. Suppliers of the aircraft, such as Pratt & Whitney, which makes the E2 family’s engines, were also in attendance.
Paulo Cesar de Souza e Silva, Embraer’s CEO, as well as Stein Nilsen, Widerøe’s CEO, and Thomas Fredrik Olsen, chairman of the Widerøe board, publicly thanked one another for the partnership and hard work leading up to the launch.
Following the formalities, it was time to have some fun. On cue, Embraer employees broke out into dance to show their excitement before handing the first E2 off to Widerøe.
Two Embraer employees then presented Widerøe with the key to the new E190-E2 — a symbolic one, of course. Between both companies involved, there was an energetic feeling, and for different reasons. As Widerøe expands and improves its fleet with the new jet, Embraer has high hopes for the E2 program.
As for the single-aisle aircraft, with a range of 3,200 miles, one of the toughest challenges to begin its young life will be getting from São José dos Campos, Brazil, to Bergen, Norway, where it will begin service with its first revenue flight on April 24 — Bergen (BGO) to Tromsø (TOS). In all, the 6,428-mile journey will take the aircraft a total of four stops.
On Monday, April 9, LN-WEA will depart from São José dos Campos (SJK) for Recife, Brazil (REC), which is where it will receive certification to leave Brazil. Then, it’ll head for Las Palmas (LPA), before continuing on to Aberdeen (ABZ). Then, on Thursday, April 12, LN-WEA will enter Norwegian airspace for the first time on the final leg of its delivery between ABZ and Bergen (BGO). In all, the four-stop journey will total 6,533 miles via Recife, Las Palmas in the Canary Islands and Aberdeen.
And, in order to minimize fuel consumption, the delivery flight will not even be close to the maximum 114-seat capacity. In fact, only crew will be going on board. Two pilots from Widerøe will operate the flight, as well as one from Embraer.
While the excitement of the delivery ceremony was the highlight of the event, the ongoing potential for an Embraer-Boeing partnership of some sort loomed over the conversation. In a conversation with press prior to the delivery ceremony, CEO de Souza e Silva avoided questions by saying that because both Embraer and Boeing are public companies, it’s not possible to give a status update.
However, when asked about how the conversation is going with the Brazilian government with regard to the possibility of a partial merger or joint venture between the two companies, de Souza e Silva said that talks were “evolving positively.”
De Souza e Silva made clear that Embraer does not necessarily need Boeing, but it would help the company’s commercial business continue to grow. In a continuously evolving market, recently rocked by the purchase of Bombardier’ CSeries jet, the E2’s biggest rival, by Airbus, Embraer feels that a Boeing partnership could help it grow and address consolidation in the supply chain. But after investing between $4-$5 billion within the past six to eight years in its new products, Embraer is not necessarily relying on a Boeing deal.
Not only that, but the manufacturer thinks it has plenty to look forward to with the E2. Embraer’s CEO of Commercial Aviation John Slattery is confident in Embraer’s ability to sell a lot more of them. Sales, he said, are like a hockey stick. Once the first aircraft in a new program has been delivered and begun revenue service, sales tend to pour in, and the curve will look like, well, a hockey stick. Embraer is hopeful that the plane’s fuel efficiency, which it says is better than the Boeing 737 MAX family and Airbus A320neo family, can lure customers looking to expand their regional jet fleet. The Boeing and Airbus products are larger and heavier, and may be too much plane for regional operators that want to grow, but the E2s could be just right.
With the United States being one of Embraer’s largest markets, there’s possibility that US-based flyers could see the E2 at homr soon. JetBlue has been rumored to be eyeing an E2 order, as it decides between either the new Embraers and the Bombardier CSeries to replace its fleet of older E190s. JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes was seen at Embraer’s headquarters this week, and Slattery confirmed that CEOs from other prominent airlines will be making visits to São Jose dos Campos — as soon as this week.
The best clue to the future of the E2 could come from Widerøe itself. As the launch customer, the carrier placed a firm order for three of the E190-E2s with an option for 12 more. At the delivery ceremony on Wednesday, both Stein Nilsen and Thomas Fredrik Olsen declined to say if the carrier would fulfill the other 12 options, adding it depends on how operations go with its first three E2s — the remaining two of which it will take delivery of in May and June 2018. If those options get converted into firm orders, it will be a signal to others that the E2 is a good airplane, and Slattery’s hockey-stick theory may well prove to be true.
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