Earlier this week, Embraer revealed its vision of the future with the four-plane Energia family. With solutions embracing hydrogen, electric, SAF and hybrid design, the Brazilian planemaker has set the bar high, targeting entry into service between 2030 and 2040. Simple Flying caught up with President and CEO of Embraer Commercial, Arjan Meijer, to find out what’s behind this big announcement.
The Energia concepts
It’s been a busy week for Embraer, as the company unveiled no fewer than four new aircraft concepts, designed to chart a course to a greener future. The Energia family ranges from nine seater aircraft up to 35 – 50 seater planes, plugging all the gaps in the Embraer line up between its tiny e-VTOL Eve and its forthcoming clean sheet turboprop.
The concepts are designed to run on cleaner fuels, with the smaller aircraft sporting electric or hybrid electric motors, and the larger concepts capable of flying on hydrogen fuel cells. Embraer is targeting entry into service of these aircraft between 2030 and 2040, offering future airline customers a complete range of clean, efficient regional aircraft.
As part of the Future Flying Forum, Simple Flying caught up with Arjan Meijer, President and CEO of Embraer Commercial Aviation to discuss these concepts in more detail. Meijer noted the timing of launching these visions for the future was not undertaken on a whim. He said,
“We picked the reveal day very much to align with the COP 26 event. The focus of the of the world right now is on sustainability, and on moving to a greener future. Embraer has been working diligently over the last couple of years on new concepts, and over the last 12 months, we’ve really defined how new technologies can be translated into concepts that we can see on the horizon. We want to show the world the vision that Embraer has of the future.”
While the concepts are not full-fledged aircraft designs, they are examples of what can be achieved with a realistic timeline and focused conversations. Meijer noted his desire for these concepts to open dialogue with current and future customers, so that Embraer can bring the market the products it most needs.
No radical design change
When we’ve seen futuristic concepts in the past, some have been known to look rather different to the aircraft we’re used to today. Whether it’s a case of rethinking the function of the wing, adding more wings or blending the wings into the body, aircraft designers love to tease us with ideas that move away from the standard ‘tube with wings’ idea.
For the Embraer concepts, the overall appearance was very familiar. There are some nuances, of course, such as a higher mounted wing or engines moved to the rear, but largely these are planes we can relate to and not a million miles away from our expectations. But that doesn’t mean Embraer isn’t thinking outside the box too, as Arjan explained,
“We had many engineers working on these new concepts, and we had many more ideas than just the four we showed. Yes, the four we showed are relative relatively conventional in terms of design, but we also had some more disruptive and nonstandard designs that we looked at too. But those are going to require some time to investigate their feasibility.”
This means we may well see even more innovation from Embraer in the future. For now, the firm is focused on breaking down the barriers to bringing new concepts like these to market, and doesn’t need to muddy the waters with complicated, nonstandard aircraft designs that are just going to stretch that timeline. As Arjan said,
“These are the concepts that we believe are more realistic to come to market within our timeline. Let’s not forget that on a technology level, we’re already going to need a lot of breakthroughs. We’re going to have a challenging time ahead. So maybe it’s good to stay a little bit closer on the conventional design, not to make our lives too complex in the period ahead.”
A more realistic timeline?
In terms of the timelines themselves, some might have felt they were not really ambitious enough, given that Airbus announced a hydrogen concept aircraft of a much larger size by 2030. However, one key difference here is that Airbus promised a first flight in 2030; Embraer is promising entry into service by the same date – fundamentally different targets.
Meijer noted that the take by Airbus and Co on when technologies will be mature is perhaps not as realistic as Embraer’s own outlook. He said,
“We believe some timelines that are being shared in the market today are very, very aggressive. And we, at this point, don’t think that’s achievable. I think it’s even fair to say that the technological assumptions we have made in getting to these concepts are already quite aggressive. We need significant improvements in battery storage capacity, better its battery duration, bettering recharging capability. So there’s still a steep climb ahead of us to make that happen.”
When you consider all the achievements that are required to even bring a small electric or hybrid electric plane to market, Meijer has a very valid point. From battery storage technology to engine developments and infrastructure changes, there’s a lot to be done. He noted,
“I would even call our timelines bold … Embraer is a company that that wants to under promise over deliver, we don’t want to be seen to be greenwashing and promised the world and then not deliver on it.”
Agile and bold
Embraer has proven time and again that it is a bold company, unafraid to take risks and always keenly looking to the next thing. Even when the original E-Jet was box fresh, the firm was already planning the refinements necessary to make it even better, plans that would eventually translate in to the E2 family of jets. Similarly, at a time when most were turning their backs on the turboprop platform, Embraer affirmed its commitment to developing a brand new solution.
As far as groundbreaking new technologies go, Embraer is in a crucial part of the market. Its widely accepted that green technologies such as electric propulsion will be made to work on the smaller commercial aircraft first, a segment of the industry largely overlooked by other OEMs. As such, Embraer is set to pioneer many of the radical changes that could, eventually, make even long haul greener.
But Embraer is not putting all its eggs in one basket. Spreading its developments across a range of solutions – electric, hydrogen, SAF, hybrid – is not a case of hedging its bets; it’s a blueprint for what the entire industry will need to grasp in order to make a genuine difference as quickly as possible. As Meijer noted,
“If you look at the progress that’s required between now and 2050, we’re really going to need every solution available to get to a zero emission future. Just betting on hydrogen, just betting on SAF or just betting on electric is not going to work. We’re going to need all of those. So that’s where a big challenge sits, not just with us, but for everyone in the industry.”