When Brazilian airframer laid out a plan to fully expand into business aviation in 2005, the company had plans to become a “major player within 10” years. Eight years later, Ernest “Ernie” Edwards is pleased.
“We’re on target,” Edwards says at the company’s sparkling new customer center adjacent to the Melbourne, Fla., airport. Then, after a moment of reflection, he edits himself: “We’re a major player already, we think.”
Embraer actually entered into the market in 2002 with a variant of its EMB-135 regional jet – the Legacy 600. (Edwards was running Swift Aviation, the airplane’s launch customer, back then.) In 2008-10, there followed into customers’ hands the first Embraer-designed aircraft for the business jet market: the entry-level Phenom 100 and light Phenom 300. Embraer also added a regional-jet-derived “ultra-large,” the Lineage 1000, and the large new bizjet airframe, the Legacy 650.
Embraer has passed the 100 mark in deliveries of the Phenom 300, its best seller. Even the high-end Lineage 1000 has grown to 12 operators in seven countries.
All told, the Brazilian airframer sold more bizjets than Gulfstream last year. Gulfstream’s revenues are much higher, of course. But by Embraer’s analysis of General Aviation Manufacturers Association data, the new kid on the block had 7.3% of a $17.7 billion market in 2012. What’s especially significant, though, is that is up from just 4.6% in 2007.
“There’s enough customers out there for all of us,” says Edwards. Like so many in business aviation, Edwards is an inveterate optimist, despite the sector’s notorious boom-and-bust cycles.
Looking forward, he sees some softness in the European market; flying hours on the continent appear to be down a bit over last year, at least in the early part of this year. And, he acknowledges sales in the global bizav sector overall might decline this year and next year if nations in slow economic recovery slip back into crisis mode. But overall, he is betting on bizav’s slow recovery, with sales of new jets returning to 2008 peak levels in 2018.
Among the encouraging factors Edwards lists are U.S. corporate profits and the number of high-net-worth individuals at record levels, the healthy growth promise of Latin America and Asia/Pacific, particularly China, and a new normalcy for financing conditions.
In Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), Embraer forecasts a market of 2,180 to 2,700 aircraft over the next 10 years at a value of some $75 billion. There are some real bright spots. Poland’s economy never went into recession. Turkey had 9% GDP growth in 2010 and almost as high in 2011 and 2012. And, Edwards says, “Keep a close eye on Africa, because they’re going to pop eventually.”
Unfortunately, the biggest risk to the global business aviation industry’s “recovery in slow motion” that Embraer analysts foresee is also from Europe. The speed of the recovery overall will still be dictated by what remains the 800-lb. gorilla in the bizav market – the U.S. and Canada.
For Embraer, there are more products in the pipeline. The Legacy 500 made its first flight last November. To help generate buzz for the world’s first fly-by-wire midsize bizjet, Embraer gave it a splashy, digital-inspired paint scheme. It looks like it has a mud-splattered back end to detractors.
“People either love it or hate it,” Edwards admits. But he is obviously pleased with the attention in the bizav community – whether it’s notice or notoriety.
The Legacy 450, also fly-by-wire, is following closely behind the 500, with entry into service slated for 2015 – the point at which Embraer wanted to be a major player. Edwards calls the new entrant a “mid-light,” insisting it is incorrect to view the 7-9-passenger, 2,300-nm-range (with two pilots and four passengers) twinjet as either light or mid-size.
As Embraer’s product catalog and order book have grown, so has the company’s diversity. Invariably described as a Brazilian company, Embraer has become in reality a global aerospace company.
The company has pilot training and service centers around the world, as any serious airframer does. But it is also building bizjet sections and assembling aircraft far from its home base in San Jose dos Campos.
Wings are being built in Embraer’s Evora, Portugal plant. The first Legacy 650 assembly at its Harbin, China, facility began early this year, and delivery is expected in the fourth quarter.
And here in Melbourne, Phenom 100s and 300s began being assembled last year in a plant a stone’s throw from the customer center. (Customers can even get a “Made in U.S.A.” sticker for the fuselage, if they wish.) Across the airport, an embryonic engineering group has begun working until a new center for the American techies can be built.
In all, Embraer has leases or options for land here roughly equal to the company’s footprint in San Jose dos Campos. Florida officials seem delighted to be hosting Embraer, which brings in jobs with paychecks averaging $50,000 annually.
But in the end, it’s not local officials or even employees who have to be pleased. It’s customers. So Edwards is happy that Embraer showed strong improvement in two independent surveys of customer satisfaction last year. And he cautions against bizjet builders who give too much weight to things like options to buy aircraft.
“They’ll talk about backlog, but not sales,” Edwards says of some of his competitors. “But they’re not sold until they’re delivered and you have a check.”