Earlier today Embraer announced the two of its four Energia concepts that are headed for the next stages of development and potentially production. The first, with entry into service in 2030, is the Energia Hybrid E19-HE that will have 19 seats and the stretched 30 seat E30-HE. The second model, with planned EIS in 2035, is the Energia H2 Fuel Cell, also with 19 and 30 seat designs. Each of these approaches provides a pathway to net-zero with both technical and economic feasibility, with the aim of net-zero for all commercial aircraft in the 2050 time frame.

These developments are important not only for the environment, but also for the nature of regional aviation. Embraer’s work in this area is important for a number of reasons:

First, Embraer brings strong certification expertise and experience

While there are a number of new entrant companies looking at market entry with small electric aircraft, including Eviation and Heart, but they lack experience and expertise. Embraer enters this market with both credibility and expertise from having designed, certified, produced, and supported global fleets of both regional and mainline aircraft. While the new market entrants will need to prove their capabilities, Embraer already has the necessary capabilities and a proven track record of bringing projects in on-time and on-budget.  When Embraer makes a commitment, one could normally “take it to the bank.”  Embraer’s support for net-zero regional aircraft is significant.

Second, smaller low cost regional aircraft will change the landscape for regional airline operations

A number of smaller communities, particularly in the US, lost all regional aviation service during the global pandemic. Having aircraft with low seat-mile costs and low maintenance costs (since electric motors have only one moving part) will enable smaller aircraft to offer competitive fares for short-haul operations. That opens up an entirely new set of markets and routes for regional airline operations, including point to point routes that bypass major hubs and connecting flights. The breadth of potential routes available is game-changing for regional airlines.

The market potential for these new aircraft, if they are successful and accepted by the public, could be quite large – particularly if low fares pull passengers from their cars onto these new aircraft. The dramatic changes this could bring to many smaller communities and secondary airports would enable hub bypass operations to more and more small cities. Will the 19 seat aircraft provide an environmental advantage over electric cars and competitive costs? The answer, according to Embraer, appears to be yes, opening a new set of possible routes and operations. Will they be as effective as larger aircraft? That remains to be seen. But the new aircraft appear to offer compelling economics, at least at the preliminary design stage.

Embraer estimates the hybrid models will have a 500 nm range, and reduce carbon emissions by 30% using JetA or 90% using SAF, and that the fuel cell models will have a range of 200+ nm and zero carbon emissions. External noise will also be reduced by 60 percent for the hybrid and 70 percent for the fuel cell models.  On top of the gains already made over the last 25 years in reducing carbon emissions, the aviation industry is outpacing other forms of transportation.

Third, Could smaller aircraft help solve the pilot shortage?

While we still have a shortage of pilots in the US, smaller regional aircraft can be operated under Part 135, which has lower minimum hours than the Part 121 regulations under which major airlines operate, particularly for the first officer. As today, we would expect the smaller aircraft pilots to move up to larger regional aircraft and eventually the major airlines as they build time. But the lower initial requirements under Part 135 could provide an experience bridge for trainees to build the hours required to fly larger aircraft while being paid, instead of having to pay someone to fly and aircraft to build those hours. That’s a huge difference in cost to a prospective pilot, and could change the supply-demand balance for pilots once these aircraft begin operating. If positioned and operated under Part 135, these aircraft could become a part of the solution rather than the part of the problem.

Fourth, Eve brings a technology crossover

Embraer also has its Eve business unit pursuing Urban Air Mobility. While the end-user markets are entirely different, there are technology lessons that can be learned at Eve using electric propulsion that could impact Energia, and vice-versa. We believe the early experiences in both business units will discover concepts that are, and perhaps more importantly, are not feasible, sharing that knowledge internally. This will provide Embraer another advantage in market entry with a new-technology aircraft by 2030. If one were to bet on who could develop these new aircraft most effectively, Embraer checks all of the boxes for experience, resources, global support, combined with engineering and program management excellence.

The Bottom Line

Embraer has embraced climate change and the need to reduce carbon emissions. With its first two Energia designs, it will revolutionize the small 19-30 seat segment of the regional market and revitalize a market segment that isn’t competitive today because of higher seat-mile costs. With the benefits of lower energy and maintenance costs combined with gains from advanced aerodynamics, the Energia aircraft have the potential to change the nature of regional aircraft operations. We look forward to the opening of new routes and new city pairs with these environmentally sustainable aircraft.

Earlier today Embraer announced the two of its four Energia concepts that are headed for the next stages of development and potentially production. The first, with entry into service in 2030, is the Energia Hybrid E19-HE that will have 19 seats and the stretched 30 seat E30-HE. The second model, with planned EIS in 2035, is the Energia H2 Fuel Cell, also with 19 and 30 seat designs. Each of these approaches provides a pathway to net-zero with both technical and economic feasibility, with the aim of net-zero for all commercial aircraft in the 2050 time frame.

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