Jet set and Samba

Embraer ERJ 190

  • TEXT ANDREAS SPAETH

Brazilian corporation Embraer’s innovative regional jets have enabled it to join the ranks of the world’s large aircraft manufacturers. Lufthansa is one of the major airlines to put its money on the latest models of the E-Jet family

Embraer 190
ⓒ Fridman/Corbis

Bandeirantes was the nickname given to the adventurers who arrived in Brazil along with the other Portuguese colonialists. Derived from the word bandeira (flag or banner), the bandeirantes were the pioneers who struck out into the interior from the town of São Paulo in the 17th and 18th centuries in search of legendary gold, silver and diamonds. 300 years later, the Brazilians re-coined the word bandeirante as the name of the first aircraft ever developed in their country. A lovingly restored prototype of the two-engine, propeller machine now adorns the entrance to the headquarters of aircraft manufacturer Embraer. This robust, 21-seater plane made its first flight in 1968 and was the foundation stone for aircraft production in this now booming Latin-American threshold economy. The state- owned aircraft manufacturing corporation Empresa Brasileira de Aeronáutica (Embraer) was founded in 1969.

The various versions of the bandeirante have been a stunning success – a good 500 were built. More than 40 years later, Embraer, now a privatized company, is considered a symbol of the new Brazil – successful and self-confident, but unobtrusive. Embraer currently occupies third place in the global league table of manufacturers of passenger jet aircraft – behind Airbus and Boeing. The Brazilian corporation is a specialist in the market for regional aircraft with accommodation for up to 120 passengers. Embraer has delivered a total of around 5000 different types of aircraft since its foundation.

Passengers like the „Samba Birds“

Ultramodern “Samba Birds” are now in service with Lufthansa CityLine and Air Dolomiti. They are popular with passengers, partly for comfort reasons – their leather-upholstered seats in two rows of two offer more legroom and every passenger has either a window or an aisle seat, plus, the hand baggage bins are nice and roomy. “Our customers are over the moon about our Embraer jets,” says  Michael Kraus, CEO of Lufthansa’s Italian subsidiary Air Dolomiti, “partly because they are the first really brand-new aircraft ever to fly for Air Dolomiti.” For example, the E195 cuts 15 to 20 minutes off the flight time from Frankfurt to Verona. And that cuts down fuel consumption and CO2 emission too. “The E195 consumes less than four liters per passenger per 100 kilometers; that’s about half the figure consumed by our former jets,” explains Kraus.

Embraer 190

The history of Embraer began in 1968 with the 21-passenger Bandeirante – here two models flying over Rio. The company was officially founded one year later

© Deutsche Lufthansa AG

 An hour’s drive from São Paulo’s international airport Guarulhos, the terrain starts to get hilly and the seemingly endless mass of houses forming this city with its 20-million population gives way to rich-green pastureland. It is the neighboring town of São José dos Campos that houses Brazil’s aircraft-building expertise in the form of Embraer and a university offering the necessary study courses for upcoming aeronautics engineers. Embraer’s managers like to tell visitors that their headquarters plant has an area equivalent to 55 soccer pitches – everyone knows that soccer is the Brazilian criterion for just about everything.

Visitors are taken to a darkened room to learn more about the innovative drive that has gotten Embraer into its present position. Wearing 3-D glasses, they can enjoy a green, pink and blue three-dimensional view of all the details of an E-jet’s cabin. “The systems here in our Virtual Reality Center are the same as those used to produce the sci-fi film I, Robot. We use them to show customers what their finished plane is going to look like,” explains Product Development Engineer Edgard Souza Jr. This ultramodern viewing facility is a big competitive advantage for Embraer. “It cuts development time to market by a half. That was down to only two years with the E jets,” says Embraer Market Researcher Luiz Sergio Chiessi. And it enables the Brazilians to be more innovative than their competitors. “Ever since 1999, we have been able to make a start on a new aircraft development project every single year. That would be unthinkable without our virtual
development facilities,” says Chiessi.

The first ethanol-powered aircraft

Embraer’s product range also includes executive jets, gliders and military machines. And they have developed the world’s first-ever ethanol-powered aircraft, the Ipanema, for use in agriculture. Embraer has not been able to escape the trend toward globalization. The E jet fuselages are assembled at the Latécoère plant in the Airbus capital Toulouse of all places. The assembled fuselages are transported by sea-freight to the Brazilian port of Santos, then onward by flatbed truck over the last 160 kilometers to Embraer.

This evening, another E jet is being handed over to a customer. There’s a ceremony attended by the corporation’s top brass. It’s all pretty informal – with a few speeches and an exchange of gifts, barmen mixing caipirinhas in the hangar to a background of soft samba music. A warm wind wafts through the open hangar doors. “We are all totally motivated here and we’re not afraid of working really hard to get results,” says Mauro Kern from the Embraer top management, explaining the corporate philosophy. That’s exactly how those bandeirantes would have put it 300 years ago.