Embraer may wait until 2013 to select a new engine for its family of E-Jets as it talks with airlines about what upgrades are needed to keep the aircraft competitive.

President and CEO Frederico Fleury Curado says the Brazilian airframer is studying a range of options for the E-170/175 and E-190/195 jets, including a next-generation engine, whether to offer three or four variants, and what improvements should be made beyond the new engines. But he says the company is “some time away from having a frozen configuration.”

Among the changes being looked at are an all-new wing and extended landing gear that would provide room for larger, higher-bypass turbofans aimed at providing fuel-burn improvements of 10% over current models. Other potential enhancements include blended winglets and an electric taxiing system.

“My guess is, the bulk of what is going to be the next generation of E-Jets would be [decided] more toward next year than this year,” Curado said in a meeting with journalists in Washington. The existing E-Jets—which are designed to serve the 70-120-seat airline market—are selling well and have solid backlogs, he adds, noting that “the 190 was certified just six years ago.”

Whatever upgrades are made will be tailored to meet the needs of Embraer's customers, Curado declares. “It's identifying exactly what the customers want,” he says. “Those things are not as clear as one might think. You have to compute and translate that into airplane specs.”

The biggest change clearly will be to outfit the E-Jets with next-generation engines. Embraer has a long-standing relationship with General Electric (GE), which provides the CF34-8 for the E-170/175 and CF34-10 for the E-190/195 and is developing a new centerline regional jet engine dubbed NG34. But Pratt & Whitney says it could offer almost a two-year time advantage to Embraer if the airframer selects a variant of the PW1000G geared turbofan, versions of which are being offered on the Airbus A320NEO, Bombardier CSeries, Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ) and Irkut MS-21. Rolls-Royce is also interested in offering an E-Jet powerplant.

“The competition is tough,” says Bob Saia, vice president for Pratt & Whitney's Next Generation Product Family. “But GE has got a long way to go to get a product installed, and we've shortened the envelope. We are in test and have the benefit of being able to make enhancements.”

Asked what it would take for Embraer to leave GE, Curado stresses that the company is seeking not only more efficient fuel consumption but also reduced maintenance costs and solid reliability. “GE is a great partner, [but] we have to be open-minded about what is the best engine for the aircraft,” he says. “It's the core feature of the aircraft.”

Saia says Embraer's timing is optimal because Pratt will be done with the engines for the MRJ and CSeries and well into testing on the powerplants for the MRJ and MS-21. But he cautions that Pratt will not attempt to underbid to secure the E-Jets as a platform. “We are going to be good stewards of the business and not just buying market share,” he says.

The new family of E-Jets will not push up into the market segment long dominated by the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 families. The Brazilian airframer had considered launching a new family of jets to enter that space, but abandoned the idea last November in favor of developing a second generation of E-Jets. “That was a difficult decision for us,” Curado acknowledges. “I think it was the first time that I decided not to do something. . . . But we really do not see a business case for us, or for that sake anybody else.

“Down the road everything is possible,” he adds. “Technology changes, the competitive landscape changes. But I don't see that in the short term.”