Embraer’s passenger-friendly regional jets are a firm favorite with travelers everywhere. The Brazilian planemaker has dispatched thousands of them worldwide since the mid-1990s. But one Embraer never got off the ground. The E195X was a proposed stretch version of the E195. But it never got past the drawing boards.
The proposed new E195X plane lacked the required range
The story goes American Airlines requested Embraer to develop a stretch version of the E195 to replace its aging fleet of McDonnell Douglas MD-80s. American Airlines was a big user of the aircraft type, only retiring the last of them in 2019. By 2010, American Airlines dropped the idea. The reason given was the range.
The range of the early MD-80 models was nothing to write home about. Later models of the MD-80 could cover over 4,600 kilometers. But modern E195 aircraft only have a range of 4,260 kilometers. The stretch version would have reduced that further.
The E195X proposal was killed off over a decade ago. In 2010, Brendan Sobie writing in FlightGlobal said Embraer knocked the E195X idea on the head after receiving “negative feedback” from customers.
“What we found out is that the aircraft really becomes too much of an underperformer,” said then Embraer CEO Frederico Curado.
“Basically, you are trading payload to the detriment of range and performance. The airplane would probably be low acceptance because of the performance.”
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Customer requests drive development for new aircraft types
The tradeoff for range was an increased passenger manifest. Depending on how you configure the cabin, an Embraer E195 can fly anywhere between 115 and 124 passengers. The idea was to squeeze in a couple of extra rows and increase the maximum passenger numbers to 130.
The McDonnell Douglas MD-80 could carry more passengers. Run a squeezy all-economy class configuration, and you can pack 150 passengers in. But American Airlines runs a multi-class cabin and would have flown fewer passengers in its MD-80s.
With the Embraer failing to stack up on both range and passenger payloads, why would American Airlines have even considered asking for a stretch version? There’s a sound historical reason.
Aircraft manufacturers have a history of developing great planes in response to customer requests. Boeing first built the 747 in response to a request from Pan Am. Various later models of the 747 were built in response to customer requests for product improvements. In that sense, American Airlines’ request wasn’t unusual.
Embraer’s advantages didn’t outweigh the disadvantages
In terms of economics and the environment, the Embraer E195 easily outperforms the McDonnell Douglas MD-80. That plane, which had its origins back in the 1970s, was a typical gas-guzzler of the time. Environmental sustainability wasn’t high on the aviation agenda back then either.
While airlines were definitely interested in cost efficiencies by the early 2000s, environmental considerations were still not at the forefront. Without dispute, the E195 is an efficient plane to run from a cost perspective, far more so than the MD-80. As Embraer notes, a lighter airplane means cost savings that go right to the bottom line. The Embraer E195 is also quieter than the MD-80.
But these strengths were not enough to save the proposed E195X. It may have been a cheap plane to operate on a cost per kilometer basis. But American Airlines wanted more kilometers and more passengers flying them. In the end, the trade-off didn’t stack up.