Embraer has got itself a second E2-operator in Europe after Wideroe when Swiss Helvetic Airways starts services with its first E190-E2 on November 1.
Helvetic took delivery of the first of 12 E190-E2’s on firm order (plus 12 options) in Brazil on October 28. Over the next two days the aircraft was ferried via Recife and Gran Canaria to Zurich. Here, it was unveiled to the media and guests on October 31. HB-AZA will enter service to Bremen on behalf of SWISS on November 1 and also operate to Budapest and Nuremberg the first day.
”The E2 brings Helvetic into another league”, says CEO Tobias Pogoverc. “With the new technology of this aircraft we think we will acquire new segments in Europe. The major growth will be in the wet-lease and charter markets where they can fly to places where a 737 or A320 is too big.”
The Helvetic E190-E2 seats 110 passengers. (Richard Schuurman)
Helvetic announced a Letter of Intent for the E2 at the 2018 Farnborough Air Show, finalizing it two months later. The airline had carefully evaluated its fleet options, having retired its last Fokker 100 this summer and switching to a leased Embraer E190-fleet of 11 aircraft. Helvetic considered buying all-new E1s, but in the end that was not an option, says Pogorevc: “We considered it, but now we need to make the step for the next 20 years. The E1 is a fantastic aircraft but the remaining life isn’t 20-25 years. From this perspective we decided for a modern aircraft.”
A220 is too big
Helvetic also had a look at the Airbus A220 but the type was deemed too big for its needs: “The E2 is a typical regional aircraft. The A220 is a fantastic aircraft, but it starts with 125 seats in the -100, 150 on the -300 and we hear about an A220-500. The tendency of the A220 is more towards the -500 than to the -100.”
Pogorevc expects to take delivery of 3 or 4 more E2s this year, 3 in 2020 and 5 in 2021. For each E2 an E1 will return to its lessor, but by Summer 2020 the Helvetic fleet will peak at 15 aircraft. Staff numbers go up too, from 448 on November 1 to 560 by mid-year. 56 Pilots will be trained for the E2, with 49 having already their conversion course. New pilots will be sourced from Helvetic’s own training school, Horizon. The airline will also recruit extra cabin crew to cater for the growth. That will be more challenging as SWISS is expanding heavily and recruiting in the same Zurich-area.
SWISS expects to expand partnership
The first 8 E2s will go on long-term lease to SWISS to support its European network operations. This started in 2006 with a single Fokker 100 and now includes 8 E1s and an identical number of E2s. It could be even more, said SWISS CEO Thomas Klühr, who showed himself very pleased with the supportive role of Helvetic. In 2018, the airline operated 17.000 flights on behalf of SWISS and flew 1.2 million passengers. Klühr expects this partnership to deepen in the future.
Helvetic Airways Group-owner Martin Ebner. (Richard Schuurman)
The E2s have been bought directly from Embraer by Helvetic Aircraft AG, a 100 percent subsidiary of Patinex AG which is owned by Martin Ebner and his wife Rosemarie. Helvetic Aircraft leases the aircraft to Helvetic Airways, but it isn’t a sale-and-leaseback as such. Ebner has funded the $730 million purchase for the first 12 aircraft through equity and hasn’t had any problems in finding investors. “This is currently the top plane, it will hold its value for the next years and after 20 years there will still be a good secondhand market for it”, says Ebner.
While Helvetic is a small company, it still survives in a market in which many airlines have gone bust in recent years. There’s no single secret, says Ebner: “One is the business model. We are contracting, we have a small margin actually but it is highly predictable. We have to keep costs under control and then we have to find business.”
Ebner isn’t worried that one day SWISS will decide to do the business now done by Helvetic by itself: “There is a future in Europe for the model familiar in the US, where major airlines work closely with regionals. This models make sense here too. Look at Lufthansa: it operates the largest and smallest aircraft, that doesn’t make sense.”
The PW1919G’s on Helvetic’s E2 only need limited weekly borescope inspections. (Richard Schuurman)
Ebner says that he might convert the 12 options into firm orders early but first wants to see how happy he is about the E2. Helvetic has the purchase right to swap E190-E2s for the bigger E195-E2, but that depends on the market, says Pogorevc.
Now worries over PW1900-issues
The CEO isn’t worried about reliability of the E2 Pratt & Whitney PW1919Gs. They are included in the updated FAA and EASA Airworthiness Directives that also cover the A220’s PW1500G after their spat of uncontained failure with SWISS. “We got the latest AD yesterday and we only have to do reduced borescope inspections every 50 cycles until they reach 300 cycles. That’s equivalent to a two hours-inspection each week.” The AD requests inspection of blade tips, leading edge, and the leading edge fillet to rotor platform radius.
P&W has a team on standby and so has Embraer to assist with a smooth entry into service of the E2. Helvetic is only the second operator of the type in Europe after Wideroe, although Spain’s Binter is about to follow soon. “Helvetic will be a kind of standard-bearer for us in Europe”, says Embraer’s Commercial Aviation Vice President Europe, Russia and Central Asia, Martyn Holmes. “To us supporting one or 50 aircraft doesn’t matter, we are used to that. It’s our dna to deal with that.”
So far, the E2 has lived up to its promised 17.3 percent better fuel efficiency over the E1. How the E2 fares against the A220 is something SWISS, Helvetic, and Embraer all would be most eager to know, but that data might be shielded from each other. Holmes doesn’t mind: “We know from our data that the E2 is the most efficient aircraft currently available.”