Qantas Future Small Plane: The Embraer E2 Family Vs Airbus A220

With Qantas planning to replace its aging fleet of Fokker jets and Boeing 717s, aircraft manufacturers are competing for the lucrative order. Boeing lacks a plane in the regional jet space. But Airbus has the A220, and Embraer has its E2 jets. For Qantas, it looks like being a run-off between these two plane makers.

Embraer is one of two aircraft manufacturers eyeing an upcoming Qantas order. Photo: Embraer

Passenger capacity is one metric to compare the planes

While it’s not just about passenger capacity, it is one way to measure how the Embraer and Airbus offering stack up.

Qantas’ Boeing 717s seat between 110 and 125 passengers. Its Fokker 100s seat 100 passengers. Qantas uses these planes on skinnier trunk routes, regional routes, fly-in-fly-out routes, and charter work. The planes, especially the Fokkers, can fly into some pretty challenging airstrips.

Embraer has three jets in its E2 family, ranging from the 80-90 seat E175-E2 to the 135-145 seat E195-E2. Airbus offers the A220-100 and A220-300. The A220-100 seats between 100-135 passengers and the bigger A220-300 can seat between 120-150 passengers.

Other all-important factors in the choice include final price, range, robustness, operating costs, maintenance costs, and green credentials.

Airbus is keen to sell its A220 to Qantas. Photo: Airbus

Airbus gets in early to line up potential order from Qantas

The Airbus A220 is popular in North American and Europe but has not yet gained significant sales traction in the Asia-Pacific region. But that has not stopped Airbus from touting the plane throughout the region. In October 2019, Airbus sent an A220-300 on a seven-country Asia-Pacific showcase tour.

That tour included a pitstop in Sydney and a demonstration flight that included Qantas CEO Alan Joyce among the passengers.

“To me, it looks like a very good aircraft,” Mr Joyce said at the time. “I think passengers would love it.”

The A220-100 might be a better fit for Qantas. Its passenger capacity better matches that of the existing Fokker 100s and Boeing 717s. The Airbus A220-100 has a range of 6.390 kilometers, comfortably covering the entire Australian continent and reaching into much of southeast Asia and the southwest Pacific.

Embraer’s E2 jet cannot be ruled out

While Airbus gets a lot of the attention in the race to snare the Qantas order, you cannot rule out Embraer. Speaking to the Perth branch of the Royal Aeronautical Society this week, Paulo Dias, Asia-Pacific Sales Director for Embraer Commercial Aircraft, said that while the A220 was an admirable plane, Embraers E2 jets had some distinct advantages that made it an ideal choice for Qantas.

“I think the A220 is a great airplane,” he said. “I think one of the benefits of the E2s would be the lower operating costs. That’s what this machine was made for – lower fuels burn, it’s a greener machine, and of course, maintenance costs.

“Designing an aircraft is all about trade-offs. You can’t have everything. For this aircraft (the E2) we have optimized economics. It’s got the best fuel burn and maintenance costs hands down.

“Anyone looking at these aircraft would quickly recognize the E2’s profit potential compared to other platforms out there.”

The E175-E2 may be too small and the E195-E2 too big for Qantas’ needs. Photo: Embraer

Is Airbus a better fit for Qantas?

Qantas is continually chasing profits, making Paulo Dias’ comments a gentle but perfect pitch to Qantas. The E175-E2 may be too small for Qantas requirements, noting one of the aircraft types Qantas wants to replace is the 110-125 seat Boeing 717. But the next plane up, the 100-114 seat E190-E2 may fit the bill nicely.

Both the A220-100 and the E190-E2 hit the happy middle ground for Qantas. As Paulo Dias notes, they are all excellent planes offering solid cost efficiencies and good environmental credentials. Qantas is expected to announce an order to begin to replace its Fokker 100s and Boeing 717s within the next 12 months. With Qantas already an established Airbus customer, many might argue Embraer will have to put in a lot of legwork to snare this lucrative order from Qantas.