Embraer is emerging as a dominant manufacturer of light jets as deliveries of the Phenom 300, the Brazilian firm's second, purpose-built business jet, now top 120 units. Operators say the aircraft is fast, fuel efficient and reliable, along with having a roomy interior, offering excellent runway performance and being easy to maintain.

It's been especially attractive to the light jet owner-operator group that historically has flown Beech Premier I/IA or Cessna CJ-series aircraft. One appeal for single-pilot operations is the fact that a typically equipped aircraft can carry 1,140 lb. with full fuel. It can depart a 3,138-ft. runway at MTOW, assuming sea-level standard day conditions. Up at BCA's 5,000-ft. elevation, ISA+20C airport, the aircraft needs only 5,114 ft. of pavement to launch. It can fly 1,891 nm at an average cruise speed of 420 KTAS and land with 100-nm NBAA IFR reserves.

“Range is this aircraft's trump card. I never have to worry about fuel reserves. I've actually flown it from San Diego to Manchester,” says Dean Kamen, founder and CEO of Deka Research and Development in Manchester, N.H.

Before buying his Phenom 300 in December 2011, Kamen flew a Premier I/IA and says he was constantly concerned about range versus fuel reserves. He would have been a launch customer for the Hawker 200 (aka Premier II) if it had offered an additional hour of range over the Premier IA.

The Phenom 300 also is a logical step up for Phenom 100 owners needing better runway performance, more speed, more range and more payload. The two models share a common pilot type rating, but differences training is required when upgrading because of the larger sibling's systems, size and performance differences.

“This could be the last aircraft I'll ever need to own. In fact, I fly this airplane more than any airplane I've ever owned,” says Jay Obernolte, founder and president of Farsight Studios, a family video game development firm based at Big Bear Lake, Calif. Obernolte routinely operates out of Big Bear Airport (L35), which has an elevation of 6,748 ft., flying considerably longer trips than he could in the Phenom 100 he previously operated because of the Phenom 300's vastly superior hot-and-high airport performance.

Corporate operators also are choosing the Phenom 300 over other light jets, particularly Citation CJs. “It was an easy decision,” said one flight department manager who flies two Phenom 300s plus a Dassault Falcon 50EX and a Falcon 2000. “The CJs were too tight, they had turboprop-style, internally serviced toilets, most don't have single-point pressure refueling and they're just too small compared to our Falcons. The two Embraers also have metal work on a par with Dassault's.”

The Phenom 300 has received strong endorsement from fleet and fractional ownership operators including Executive AirShare, Flight Options and NetJets. “This aircraft offers comfort, including a wide air-stair door and a wide oval cabin cross-section, efficiency, range and a quiet interior, all things clients like [pro golfer] Tom Watson appreciate,” says Keith Plumb, president of Kansas City, Mo.-based Executive AirShare, which operates five Phenom 300s. Plumb also noted that the aircraft is reliable and it was designed with airline-inspired maintenance scheduling. Basic inspection intervals are 600 hr. or 12 months, whichever comes first.

“This is our first new light jet in the fleet and it's 'phenomenal.' It has great runway performance, it's quiet, the air conditioning works great and it has large baggage volume,” says Joe Kainrad, Phenom 300 program manager at Cleveland-based Flight Options, which operates more than a dozen such aircraft and has 100 firm orders plus 50 options. “I love the ease of maintenance. It's as if mechanics had inputs to the engineers,” says Melanie Nehez, Flight Options Phenom 300 fleet technical manager. The airframe has a fully MSG3-compliant maintenance-friendly design that speeds scheduled maintenance tasks and expedites parts removal and replacement.

In early May, Columbus, Ohio-based NetJets took delivery of the first of 50 Signature Series Phenom 300s it has on order. The fractional provider also has options for another 75 units, representing a total potential investment of $1 billion. This is NetJets' first foray into the light jet market in five years and its first acquisition of an Embraer jet. Industry analysts say that the move represents a strategic shift for NetJets, which had been a large-scale purchaser of Wichita-made business aircraft before it retrenched with the deepening of the recession.

The Phenom 300 has a 28,000 cycle/35,000 hr. economic life that's more in line with jetliner design standards than the 15,000- to 20,000-hr. design life of a typical light jet. Such a comparatively long service life is attractive for charter and fractional ownership operators that typically trade out of their aircraft when they've amassed 8,000 to 12,000 hr. of flight time.

Cessna's CJ4 is the light jet that's the Phenom 300's closest rival. But Phenom 300 operators said they chose the Brazilian jet over the one made in Wichita because of cabin size, superior fuel efficiency and higher ramp presence, along with longer service life, lower maintenance costs and its jetliner heritage.

Operator Demographics

More than half of the Phenom 300 fleet is registered in the U.S. That portion likely will increase as NetJets takes delivery of its aircraft during the next two years and as more aircraft are delivered to rival Flight Options as well.

Most of the U.S.-registered fleet is operated by single-aircraft entrepreneurial ventures, including smaller hedge funds, investment holding companies and engineering firms, along with software development firms, small energy companies and even a Harley-Davidson modification firm in Los Angeles. A large portion of these aircraft are owner flown, a demographic that is rare outside of North America.

Only a few medium-size U.S. corporations fly the Phenom 300, such as Masco and EMC with multiple aircraft flight departments. It's typically the smallest aircraft in their fleets, primarily used for shorter range missions where its fuel efficiency and runway performance are advantageous.

Brazilian operators account for about one-sixth of the fleet. Among these are banking concerns, agricultural products companies and charter operators, along with some entrepreneurs, import/export firms and even the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, based in a São Paulo suburb.

European operators make up the next largest block, with a half dozen aircraft registered in Germany, two in Switzerland, two in the Isle of Man (German and Saudi Arabian operators) and one each in France, the U.K., Ireland, Denmark, the Czech Republic and Portugal.

The Middle East, Morocco and Indonesia account for most of the remaining aircraft. Charter operator Dalia Air in Casablanca, for example, operates an all-Embraer fleet including the Legacy 600 and 650, a Lineage 1000 and, most recently, the Phenom 300. Other operators told BCA that favorable experiences with the Legacy 600/650 influenced their buying decision. The Phenom 300 exudes jetliner-rugged substance over style, say some.

American operators contacted by BCA say they upgraded to the Phenom 300 from single and twin turboprops, chiefly TBMs and King Airs, and less capable light jets such as Citation Mustangs and CJs, plus the Beech Premier I, Hawker 400XP and Phenom 100. Cabin size, ramp presence, spirited runway and climb performance, plus range, cruise speed, fuel efficiency and low cost of maintenance were some of the main reasons why they bought the Phenom 300 instead of another make of light jet.

Owner-operators, upgrading from the TBM 850 and Phenom 100, also commented that they found the Embraer Prodigy cockpit, based upon Garmin G1000 avionics, easy to use and great for situational awareness, especially when equipped with the optional synthetic vision package.

Owner-operators and other single aircraft operators typically fly their aircraft fewer than 200 hr. per year. Missions average 1 to 2 hr. in length with distances ranging from 350 to 750 mi. The impressive climb performance of the aircraft favors the use of high altitudes, even on missions as short as 300 nm. Operators say they normally climb directly to FL 430-450 in 14 to 16 min., cruise at 430 KTAS and then descend for landing. The parabola-like mission profile yields the quickest block times and the lowest fuel burns. On a 300-nm mission, for instance, flight time is 46 to 47 min. and total fuel burn is 1,100 to 1,150 lb., assuming a high-speed cruise profile.

Single aircraft operators typically fly with nearly empty cabins on most missions. If the aircraft is professionally crewed, then there may be one to two passengers aboard on most missions. Owner-operators fly the aircraft with no passengers in the cabin on most trips. However, some small operators occasionally load up the cabin with family and friends.

Fleet, fractional and charter operators tend to fly somewhat longer missions. But charter and fractional ownership operators often have shorter average missions because of pre-positioning legs. The average mission length for Executive AirShare, for example, is 1.7 hr. For Flight Options, it's 1.5 hr. Subtract the repositioning legs and the average mission length may increase by as much as an hour. Operators, for example, plan on 2+30 block times for 900-nm trips. Typical fuel burns are 2,150 to 2,200 lb., assuming an unrestricted climb to FL 430-450 and no routing delays. Corporate, charter and fleet operators on average fly four to five passengers.

Most operators say they can comfortably fly the aircraft as far as 1,800 nm at high-speed cruise and land with 100-nm NBAA IFR reserves. Trip time is about 4.4 hr.

Operators’ Favorite Features . . .

Performance, starting on takeoff roll, topped the list of operators' five favorite features. Cessna Citations historically have offered the best runway performance in the light jet class, but the Phenom 300 now is a strong rival. On a typical 600-nm trip, the Phenom 300 needs 2,747 ft. of pavement compared to 2,616 ft. for the CJ3 and 2,448 ft. for the CJ4. When departing at MTOW, however, the Phenom 300 can use a 3,138-ft. strip while the CJ3 needs 3,180 ft. of pavement and the CJ4 requires 3,190 ft.

Assuming standard day conditions, the Phenom 300 can climb directly to FL 450 in 25 min., compared to 28 min. for the CJ4 and about 35 min. for the CJ3. The Brazilian jet's typical cruise speeds are 380 to 440 KTAS depending upon aircraft weight, with fuel flows averaging 810 to 892 pph varying with cruise speed. That's about 100 pph less fuel flow than the CJ4 burns while traveling at the same speeds.

Notably, operators said the aircraft meets or exceeds Embraer's performance projections. One operator told BCA that it costs 15-20% less to operate a Phenom 300 than its closest competitor.

Tanks-full payload is another strong point. Embraer quotes a single-pilot BOW for the aircraft of 11,583 lb., assuming typical equipment. With full fuel, the available payload is 1,142 lb. Single-pilot operators reported BOWs of 11,300 lb. to 11,600 lb. for aircraft configured with seven seats.

Two-crew operators reported BOWs of 11,700 to 11,900 lb. But most of the these operators carry life rafts, survival gear, fully stocked galleys and a tow bar adapter, among other operational equipment.

The “Oval Lite” cabin cross-section is another favorite feature, operators say. The cabin offers considerably more head and shoulder room than the circular cross-section of a CJ and its comparatively large windows flood the cabin with ambient light. Operators also like the windows in the lavatory since they brighten the space and make it appear larger than its actual dimensions.

High cabin pressurization and best-in-class baggage capacity are favorites for operators. Maximum cabin altitude is 6,600 ft. at FL 450. The aircraft has 8 cu. ft. of crew storage in the nose compartment, 66 cu. ft. of capacity in the aft external baggage compartment and another 11 cu. ft. in the lavatory. Operators recommend opting for the aft baggage compartment heating system to prevent cold soaking or freezing of gels and liquids stored in luggage.

The externally serviced toilet scored high with corporate and fleet operators who carry executives and paying passengers. Lavatory servicing is on the right side of the aircraft, well away from the aircraft entry door. Owner-operators didn't express a strong preference for an externally serviced lavatory because they don't carry as many passengers or any passengers at all.

Operators commented favorably about Embraer's Garmin G1000-based Prodigy avionics system, saying that it has a highly discoverable interface, good use of colors and symbols, and most features they need for light jet operations. The Garmin suite was especially attractive for owner-operators who previously flew lower performance aircraft fitted with a G1000 package.

The aircraft's wing and horizontal tail leading edges are heated by bleed air for ice protection, which operators say is a significant asset. They prefer that configuration to the hybrid hot wing and boot system fitted to most current production Citations.

Single point pressure refueling (SPPR) is a strong point, a feature that the Phenom 300 shares only with the CJ4 and current production Learjets in the light jet class. SPPR is a near must for some corporate and fleet operators and is especially advantageous when refueling in inclement weather because it minimizes the chance of water contaminating the fuel. It also keeps the fuel truck clear of the left side of the airplane, thereby facilitating the loading of passengers and baggage.

Ease of maintenance is a big plus for fleet and fractional operators. They say that the 600-hr. maintenance intervals keep the aircraft flying and out of the shop. The aircraft is also easy to work on, shortening the maintenance hours required to complete scheduled tasks and slashing overall maintenance costs.

Embraer's customer support frequently also is mentioned as one of the operators' five favorite features. Plumb, for instance, said that Embraer's part distribution center, run by UPS Supply Chain Solutions in Louisville, Ky., provides “excellent” response. “It's quicker than counter to counter [air freight service].”

. . . And Least-Liked Features

Topping the Dislike List for owner-operators is the Phenom 300's touchy brakes. Operators say the multiple disc, carbon heat packs are very effective at stopping the aircraft, but the brake-by-wire (BBW) system's feel and modulation are challenging, especially when the brakes are warm. Embraer is exploring a modification that would change the range of motion of the brake pedals and also modify the spring rates, similar to the system developed for the Phenom 100. Brake Control Unit version 7 is the most recent release of the BBW box. It's intended to improve brake modulation, but operators give it mixed reviews. BCU-8 now is in development and it should improve brake modulation as well as enhance anti-skid performance.

In the interim, many pilots have adapted their brake pedal modulation technique to the quirks in the system. For smooth stopping, they say they have to lead braking action with gentle pedal pressure and be patient for the brakes to take hold when the heat packs are warm. However, the aircraft has power braking action, including on contaminated runways. If maximum deceleration is needed, they just bury the pedals all the way forward and let the anti-skid system work as designed to stop the aircraft in the minimum distance.

Fleet and fractional operators have different priorities. For them, wing flap and multifunction spoiler problems top the list. Flight Control Electronics unit malfunctions have been the top cause of AOG dispatch failures. To address the problem, Embraer is developing an improved FCE unit that should be more reliable. (Please see “Top 25 AOG Causes”)

Tire wear is another concern. Some operators are wearing out tires in less than 100 landings. Replacement tires appear to be more durable. Operators now are getting 180 to 200 cycles out of a pair of main landing gear tires. Some say that the lack of thrust reversers or attenuators contributes to excessive tire wear. However, there are no plans to retrofit such devices to the engines or to offer thrust reversers as an option because of the additional weight penalty and complexity of adding another hydraulically powered system.

Most operators also believe the aircraft's twin 36AH batteries are undersized, wearing out in as little as 15 months. They say they use ground power units to start the aircraft whenever feasible, particularly in cold weather. In addition, they say that the aircraft is very sensitive to slight fluctuations in GPU voltage. Small variances cause the aircraft to open the external power relay, thereby disconnecting the GPU from the aircraft. Hiccups in GPU power are not rare when ground power is used to supply the vapor cycle air-conditioner to cool the cabin prior to engine start.

Embraer is looking into fitting the aircraft with more-powerful batteries, an upgrade that some operators very much want. In the meantime, the manufacturer requires the batteries to be changed every 24 months.

Both the cockpit side and cabin windows are prone to frosting over during high-altitude cruise. Embraer is exploring a fix for the problem as it also is a common gripe of Phenom 100 operators.

Engine inlets have been prone to cracking around rivets. Embraer developed a Service Bulletin to replace the original inlets with improved units. Most aircraft have been retrofitted with the upgrade, but there's still a fleet-wide requirement to inspect the inlets for cracks at 100-hr. intervals.

Some operators, particularly those who frequently use airports in mountainous terrain, complain that being restricted to Flaps 3 (26 deg.), rather than being able to use full landing Flaps 4 (35 deg.), doesn't provide enough drag to control speed during steep approaches, particularly in gusty winds. However, approval to use full flaps was recently granted by Brazilian, U.S. and European airworthiness certification authorities. Retrofit kits now are available and new aircraft are being delivered with the upgrade.

The Phenom 300 is all about function over form, substance over style, because of its Embraer jetliner DNA. That's also a shortcoming, some operators say. The outside and inside appearance of the aircraft, in its present configuration, isn't on a par with other light jets, particularly archrival CJ4. The aluminum leading edges of the wings, for instance, cannot be polished to a chrome-like sheen. The exterior paint doesn't hold up well when exposed to weather.

The BMW Designworks interior may be functional, but it's austere compared to the cabins of a Citation CJ, Premier IA, Hawker 400XP or Learjet 40/45XR. The upholstery materials don't hold up well in heavy service, the bright metal trim on the center aisle sides mars easily, the cupholders are too shallow and using the electrical power outlets in the sidewalls props open the access doors, thereby denying the use of the side ledge as an armrest.

Industry sources tell BCA that Embraer is well aware of such operator concerns and that a substantial interior upgrade will be announced in fourth quarter 2013. In support of this effort, the firm hired Jay Beever, famed for his new product completions work at Gulfstream Aerospace, to “take [the interior] to the next step,” according to Marco Tulio Pellegrini, Embraer's senior vice president operations and COO of Embraer Executive Jets.

The next major Prodigy cockpit up–grade will be available during the same timeframe, one that will make possible user-defined holding patterns, baro-altitude-based vertical navigation and WAAS LPV approaches.

‘All Ears’ at Embraer

When Embraer created its executive jet division in 2005, it announced its intent to become a major player in business aviation, which was already a jam-packed market. The first versions of its Legacy 600, a derivative of its EMB135 jetliner, fell short of that goal. But based upon customer concerns, Embraer continued to refine the aircraft, first with a drag reduction package that added 200+ nm of range and later with successive interior upgrades that transformed the aircraft into a highly capable, 3,400-nm range super-midsize business jet.

The pattern of ongoing product re–finement appears to be continuing with the Phenom 100 and Phenom 300. NetJets' new Signature Series aircraft, for instance, are equipped with Prodigy Touch flight decks with Garmin G3000 avionics featuring Garmin touch-screen controllers, an upgraded refreshment center, Wi-Fi and IFE. More improvements are in the works.

Most of the current Phenom 300 operators' concerns relate to teething pains, the almost inevitable entry-into-service reliability problems suffered by clean-sheet models. At the January 2013 Phenom Jet Association maintenance and operations symposium in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Embraer discussed the progress it's making on the top 25 operator service concerns and the top 25 causes of aircraft-on-ground dispatch failures. Solutions for most of those problems should be available by fourth quarter 2013.

Overall owner satisfaction is reflected in continued strong sales of the Phenom 300. First delivery was in December 2009, then the company delivered 26 units in 2010, 42 in 2011 and 48 in 2012. The pace of deliveries in 2013 is only slightly lower than the previous year.

This is occurring at a time when other light jet manufacturers have encountered considerably softer sales, forcing them to discount prices, slash or stop production, and furlough or fire workers.

There are only six confirmed Phenom 300 aircraft on the pre-owned market. Sellers are fetching $7.2 million or more. Most sellers are very satisfied with their aircraft, but they're ready to trade up for a larger aircraft with more range and speed. As a result, other Phenom 300 operators are likely upgrade candidates for the Legacy 500 when the 3,000-nm range, super-midsize aircraft enters service in early 2014.

BCA heard consistently positive comments from operators about their aircraft.

“I did my homework. The airplane does everything well. It has great ramp presence, great all-around performance, it stops great and it costs me less to operate than anything I've ever owned, including the Phenom 100,” says Obernolte.

“It has exceeded every expectation,” says Kamen. “It's almost perfect. I'd definitely recommend it,” says a corporate chief pilot.

“Run all the maintenance and operating cost numbers. Get real data, not hearsay. In the end, don't be afraid of buying Brazilian!” says another owner-operator.

With individual operators making comments such as those to their friends, future sales prospects for the Phenom 300 look bright. With significant orders from Executive AirShare, Flight Options and NetJets, three major fleet operators, healthy production rates are likely to continue for years to come.

Read the Embraer Phenom 300 pilot report by Fred George from the October 2009 issue. Tap here in the digital edition of BCA.

Top 25 AOG Causes
Rank 12-MonthAOGs Descriptions Solution
1 43 Flap Fail Flight Control Electronics Unit - 1011
2 19 Engine Start Failure Relay Contactor
3 19 Brake Inop / Failure Brake Control Unit - Version 7
4 12 Gust Lock Malfunction Under Investigation
5 8 Anti-Skid Failure Brake Control Unit - Version 8
6 8 Chip Detection — Engine Oil Contamination Message Prodigy SW Load 63
7 8 DC Bus Failure Relay Contactor
8 8 Smart Probe Heat Failure Under Investigation
9 4 Ventral Rudder Failure Under Investigation
10 4 Windshield Heat Inop W/S Heat Control Unit — Version 4
11 4 Hydraulic System Leak Hydraulic Accumulator
12 5 Bleed Air Failure PRSOV Corrosion
13 3 Garmin Integrated Avionics Unit Under Investigation
14 8 Air Data System Under Investigation
15 4 Engine — No Dispatch FADEC Upgrade
16 10 Engine Air Inlet Cracks Retrofit Engine Inlet
17 3 Pitch Trim Failure — Normal Mode Flight Control Electronics Unit - 1011
18 3 MLG Oleo Leak Under Investigation
19 3 Engine Oil Problem Under Investigation
20 7 Multifunction Spoiler Fault Flight Control Electronics Unit - 1011
21 4 Multifunction Spoiler Failure Flight Control Electronics Unit - 1011
22 3 DC Electrical Power Malfunction Relay Contactor
23 3 Flap Malfunction Flight Control Electronics Unit - 1011
24 3 Thermostat Control Failure Temperature Controller - Version 6
25 5 Electric Fuel Pump Inoperative Relay Contactor Jan. 2013
Remedy Available Remedy Under Development Cause Under Investigation
Source: Phenom Operators’ Meeting