“We wanted a plane with which we could entertain our family and friends … I had the most fun in years while flying it during training in Texas and in Brazil…”
– Houston businesswoman (real estate and mineral rights) and Certified Flight Instructor Elizabeth Frost, co-owner, with her husband, of Embraer Phenom 100 S/N 008
Driving an emphatic nail into the coffin of what had, no matter how hard one tried to sugarcoat it, been a dismal 12 months in the brief history of the VLJ and air-taxi industries, Embraer rang in the new year with the U.S. arrival of Phenom 100 #008 on New Year’s Eve following a flawless flight from the factory in São José dos Campos, Brazil.
Like the Cessna Citation Mustang, the approximately $3.1 million Phenom — which was fittingly delivered to its new parents, James and Elizabeth Frost, in Brazil on Christmas Eve — arrived on the scene as a fully formed, 100 percent FAA-certified aircraft cleared to operate in known icing conditions and without any avionics restrictions.
And if that weren’t good news enough, Embraer reports that a.) many of the operational specs promised when the program was announced in 2005 have been exceeded and that b.) orders, especially North American orders, have been so strong it is expanding its U.S. manufacturing facilities with a new Florida finishing and assembly plant that should be employing about 200 people and turning out almost ten aircraft (100s and the upcoming Phenom 300) by sometime next year.
Point to ponder: The Phenom 100, first VLJ to break the $3 million price barrier, is apparently selling briskly everywhere from Switzerland to Spain to the U.S. despite the world economic decline. This augers extremely well for the approximately $3.5-3.8 million HondaJet when it takes wing in a hopefully better economy sometime in 2010.
So “who” exactly is Embraer and what has it wrought?
Like its new VLJ, Embraer — Empresa Brasileira de Aeronáutica, S. A., to be formal — is a true phenom, a multinational industrial giant in a country not exactly famous for heavy-industry and high-tech manufacturing.
Founded in 1969 by the Brazilian Air Ministry and privatized in 1994, Embraer employs more than 20,000 people, had revenues of over $4.5 billion (all amounts in U.S. dollars) in the first nine months of 2008 and a $21.6 billion firm-order backlog as of November. Even better (and somewhat unusual in today’s aviation industry), Embraer turned a profit — $277 million — in its latest reporting period, January-October, 2008.
Primarily a builder of commercial jetliners, Embraer’s North American fleet customers include JetBlue, US Airways, Air Canada, Continental, Republic, Aeromexico, Delta and Northwest Airlink.
So much for what Hollywood calls the “back story.” Let’s get on to the aircraft.
In 2005, Embraer promised that the Pratt & Whitney-powered Phenom 100 would hoist a payload of 3,384 pounds including six people (passengers and pilots) — in standard configuration (eight with the lavatory removed), cruise at 41,000 feet, fly 1150 nautical miles at a maximum speed of 380 knots with four aboard, and land on a 3,000-foot runway.
As certified and delivered, the 100, sports twin P&W Canada PW617F-E engines delivering 1695 pounds of thrust each, tops out at 390 knots, can land on a 2700-foot strip, and offers up to 300NM more range (relative to its design specifications) when operating from airports with high temperature or elevations restrictions.
It will also climb directly to 41,000 feet at maximum takeoff weight and slightly betters its original fuel efficiency targets.
The aircraft’s avionics package is every bit as impressive as its operating specs. A customized version of Garmin’s all-glass Prodigy G1000 flight deck, the Phenom gives pilots access to three 12-inch high-definition, sunlight readable LCDs (two primary flight displays and one multifunction display.) Between them the three screens integrate and display primary flight, communications and weather data, navigation and terrain information, and engine instrument readings and warnings.
Raw data for the system is provided by a mode-S traffic information transponder, a terrain-awareness system, omni-directional-scanning digital weather radar, a satellite radio weather link and dual-radio transceivers. A Garmin GFC700 autopilot and twin RVSM-compliant air-data computers enable automatic control of pitch trim, speed trim and yaw.
And if all that, somehow, isn’t enough cutting-edge technology to impress you out of your socks, consider this: The Phenom 100’s 11′ long, 5′1″ wide cabin is illuminated by (you’d better sit down for this) state-of-the-art LED light bulbs. The interior, designed by the BMW Group’s DesignworksUSA studio, also features 4′ 11″ of headroom and 55 cubic feet of cargo space divided into two compartments.
No question about it, the Phenom 100 stretches the definition of Very Light Jet. At 10,472 pounds, its Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) is almost 2,000 pounds more than that of the world’s only other in-commercial-production VLJ, Cessna’s Mustang — which may account for Embraer marketing it as an “entry level” executive jet rather than a Very Light Jet. (The Phenom’s MTOW, however, is still only about 50 percent that of the quintessential executive jet, the Lear 40.)
All in all, Embraer seems to have so far done everything right in bringing the Phenom 100 to market, including spending a reported $100 million to establish a worldwide parts, customer service and maintenance tracking system. Technician training began last August, pilot training kicked off in September and owner/pilots of the first 100 Phenoms scheduled for delivery had all passed their FAA practical test by the time the Frost’s took delivery of #008 at Christmas.
To put it in really simple terms, it seems to us that the executives at Embraer, like those at Cessna before it, had more than an idea … they had a plan. Most of the pure “idea guys,” brilliant as they and their concepts were, have already quit the game and left the playing field to the planners.
Which is probably a very good thing for the future of both the VLJ and the air-taxi industries.