There are 84 E-190s flown by US airlines. Embraer has delivered 482, and the US fleet accounts for 17% of the total. The following table shows the fleets for E-190 operators in the United States.
Two weeks ago JetBlue deferred deliveries on 24 E-190s, pushing deliveries to 2020. The E-190 currently accounts for 31% of the airline’s fleet and JetBlue was the launch customer for this model. Both Embraer and JetBlue put a good spin on the news. JetBlue’s fleet changes are “natural fleet management based on market opportunities and the company’s business plan,” Embraer said in an e-mailed statement. “It’s important to emphasize that there has been no order cancellation but a restructuring of deliveries over time.”
The timing of the restructured deliveries is also interesting, in that it will afford JetBlue the opportunity to acquire E2 versions of the aircraft, with the Pratt & Whitney GTF engines, which it also has on order for its A321neos. The key question for Embraer is whether JetBlue will have enough growth in new markets to add to their fleet, or begin an early replacement process for the existing E190s with E2-190s when those deliveries occur.
JetBlue shared this comment: “We have found that the right size fleet of E190s for our network needs is around 60 for the time being. We use the 100-seat E190 primarily in Boston and San Juan, for the short, thin routes or those routes that require high frequency (Boston-Washington DC, for example). Overall, our network is shifting to higher density routes (NYC departures to Florida, Caribbean, West Coast) so our investments in fleet will reflect that growth. A factor in this includes the slot-controlled airports we call home – JFK and the rest of the New York airports. We have to use our slot assets very wisely, and adding 40 more seats (A321 core = 190 seats vs. A320 at 150 seats) gives us more lift off the same slot“.
How has the airline’s experience with the E-190 been?
Between 2008 and 2H13, JetBlue reported 110 SDRs (Service Difficulty Reports) to the FAA. In total the FAA had 1,684 SDRs reported during that period for the E-190. The table lays out the various types of SDR codes used by the airline and the US-based fleet as a whole.
It is clear that JetBlue has a different and perhaps better SDR profile than the rest of the fleet. Moreover, even though JetBlue accounts for 64% of the fleet, it only accounts for about 7% of the SDRs. Based on that data, logically one would deduce that the airline is pleased with the aircraft, as it certainly does not appear to have been a burden in terms of operations.
Yet in April JetBlue’s CEO was reported to be unhappy with the fleet’s maintenance costs, particularly with the CF-34 engines. The following chart shows maintenance cost for the Jet Blue E-190 airframes and engines, based on FAA compared with air hours. The source of Mr Barger’s unhappiness is now clearer.
The table illustrates the E190 fleet growth at JetBlue. As the fleet has grown, JetBlue has been able to deliver more flights and air hours. But the rise in maintenance costs has been eye-popping. Even Embraer concurred that the initial fleet had problems. “Back in 2006-07 we were still struggling on the [E-Jet] production ramp-up, dispatch reliability of the aircraft, and we were late on deliveries,” Embraer CEO Frederico Fleury Curado told Aviation Week in 2010.
The first 20 of the E190 models appear to have much higher maintenance costs than later deliveries, according to JetBlue.
Are the problems faced by JetBlue unique? The following chart reflects the same data for US Airways, another E-190 operator based in the United States.
The chart shows very similar airframe cost growth to that of JetBlue, but not as large a rise in engine maintenance costs. US Airways has 21 E-190s, and it appears the airline is drawing down its air hours on this fleet. Back in 2009, the airline was already starting to reconsider its E-190 fleet plans. US Airways started with 25 E-190s, sold ten to Republic and, earlier this year, bought five back. The merger of US Air with America West and the consequent merging of pilot lists made operating the E-190 tough. With mainline pilots flying the aircraft its costs were higher than if operated by a regional partner like Republic.
US Airways shared this with us:
- “The drop in block hours in the 2009/2010 period is largely tied to 10 aircraft that were sold to Republic Airlines during this time-frame.
- “The increase in airframe maintenance costs was not unexpected and was driven by the fact that these aircraft began to cycle through heavy maintenance checks in 2011 with the entire fleet completing these checks in April 2013.
- “As for the engines, we also saw the first engine shop visits for the E190 during this time.”
“With that said, the E190 has been a good aircraft for US Airways filling a niche on both short to medium haul routes where the aircraft’s capacity of 99 seats is well matched to demand. The aircraft is currently used on PHL-BOS and PHL-SAT as examples.”
Should the push back of JetBlue deliveries be a concern regarding the E190?
The answer is maybe. Of course, there are concerns whenever a major order is deferred. The current model has been quite successful, with more than 1,000 deliveries since its introduction seven years ago. But current backlog, despite 131 orders this year, is down to 246, and with orders already coming in for the E2 model (150 at the Paris Air Show), the delivery rate per month is not likely to be anywhere near the previous peak until the E2 enters service. The deferral at JetBlue will likely result in E2 rather than current models being delivered.
JetBlue’s deferral to 2020 is also interesting, as JetBlue has indicated that it was not ready to launch a new aircraft type. While the E2 will be a derivative rather than an all new airplane, it is notable that JetBlue chose to defer until two years after EIS, a point at which any “early glitches” should have been worked out with other customers.