Norwegian carrier Widerøe pulled out all the stops to welcome the first Embraer E2 regional jet to enter airline service. Alan Dron was on the final leg of the delivery flight from Aberdeen to Bergen.
After a delivery flight of more than 10,000km from São José dos Campos in Brazil, the first Embraer E190 E2 descended out of a clear blue April sky into Bergen’s Flesland Airport and a welcome from hundreds of the airline’s staff and invited guests as the Norwegian carrier marked the start of a new chapter in its 84 year history.
Its arrival marked the end of a flight that stretched over four days and took in Recife, on the northeast coast of Brazil, Las Palmas in the Canaries, Aberdeen in Scotland, then an hour-long final hop over the grey waters of the North Sea to Bergen.
Embraer and Widerøe officials noted that fuel burn on the 3,400km sector from Las Palmas to Aberdeen was so low that the jet did not require refuelling for the final leg to Norway.
“Widerøe was an obvious and easy choice for us to become the launch customer,” said Martyn Holmes, vice president of Europe, Russia, Central Asia and leasing, Embraer Commercial Aviation.
“We share the same values and we both love a challenge. When deciding on a launch customer, Widerøe was our choice and they were delighted to accept the challenge. Widerøe are known for their technical skills, they have been flying in the most demanding conditions on the planet for 84 years. They have tremendous technical and operational experience.”
The two companies worked together for more than a year prior to the handover, to ensure more than 600 ‘deliverables’ were in place.
“We did the usual training for pilots and mechanics in Brazil,” added Holmes. “A group of mechanics was in Brazil for around six weeks for type training and certification. We also had several groups of pilots visit Brazil for type training.
“In addition, an E2 prototype visited Norway for two weeks of intensive training with mechanics, cabin crew, ground crew and pilots.”
Embraer president Paulo Cesar Silva formally handed over the aircraft to Widerøe’s CEO, Stein Nilsen, at a ceremony at the São José dos Campos manufacturing facility on 4 April.
Representatives from E2 supplier companies, government officials, VIPs and the media joined nearly 1,000 Embraer employees at the outdoor event. Two employees from Embraer’s E2 production line, Ricardo Tadeu Costa and Bruna Marcelino Rosa, presented Nilsen with a ceremonial key to the aircraft.
The handover came five weeks after three regulatory authorities – Brazil’s ANAC, the FAA and EASA – granted type certification to the new-generation regional jet.
Embraer noted that it was the first time that an aircraft programme with the level of complexity of the E2 had received a type certificate from three major certification authorities simultaneously.
Widerøe, Norway’s largest regional carrier, carries about 2.8 million passengers annually and flies to 46 domestic and international destinations. It operates more than 450 flights every day and its network consists of 60 per cent commercial routes, plus 40 per cent PSO [public service obligation] sectors.
The carrier has been true to the turboprop for many years. Its fleet is based on 41 examples of Bombardier’s Dash 8, ranging from the 39-seat Dash 8-100 to the latest 78-seat Q400, so what was the rationale for moving to a jet?
Widerøe intends to use its E2s on longer routes, where its speed and capacity make the most sense, says Nilsen. This is particularly important as the airline is beginning to move out of its traditional fiefdom, in the shape of charter flights to the Mediterranean.
“Our heart is in Norway, but the main reason for stepping up into this class of aircraft is that we’re flying some very long sectors,” explains Nilsen. Getting the necessary economies of scale on these routes requires the airline to move up one size class, from the 78 seats of the Q400 to the 100-plus of the E2.
At the same time, however, those routes are not sufficiently ‘thick’ to allow the economic use of Boeing 737 or Airbus A320-family aircraft.
The size and flexibility of the E2 will also reduce the number of connections required by Widerøe’s Norwegian passengers: “Today, most traffic goes via Oslo or Trondheim, but our customers prefer direct flights. With the E2, our range has doubled,” says Nilsen.
“This aircraft has a range we’ve never had in Widerøe, so of course, we’re looking for opportunities. That allows us to offer international routes that don’t have commercial potential for big jets but should have enough passengers for the E2. We’re starting to fly from Bergen to Hamburg and Munich [with the E2] and we’re looking forward to getting out of Norway.”
Even within Norway, some sector lengths – such as Bergen in the southwest of the country to Bodø in the north, which has a current flight time of 2 hours 10 minutes using the Q400 – will benefit from journey times that are 20-25 minutes shorter.
There is also a further financial factor. New airport taxes are being introduced in Norway and “this development has been difficult for smaller routes with smaller aircraft”, says Nilsen. It makes more sense to spread the cost of those taxes across a greater number of passengers.
The E190 E2 has demonstrated a fuel burn 17.3 per cent less than its E1 predecessor (the targeted improvement was 16 per cent), with the same reduction in CO2 emissions, while external noise levels have a 20 EPNdB margin [effective perceived noise in decibels] on ICAO Stage 4 (the target was 15).
Embraer has developed a hybrid assembly line in Brazil able to handle both E1 and E2 models and intends to continue delivering to for as long as demand remains.
It expects to deliver between 85-95 commercial aircraft in 2018; the company does not split its guidance between E1 and E2 models, but approximately 10 per cent of the commercial aircraft produced in 2018 will be E2s.
Widerøe is likely to expand its new fleet of Embraer E2s with a mix of models. When speaking to this publication during the final leg of the aircraft’s delivery flight, Nilsen confirms that the airline plans to take up its 12 options as well as the three E2s already on firm order.
“I think the most likely scenario is a combination of E175 E2s and the E190 E2. It’s all about right-sizing; it’s a key issue for us. Widerøe’s first three E190 E2s will expand the fleet, but I think the next step will be to consider optimising the fleet between the E190 E2 and the Q400,” he says.
The airline will use the first three E190 E2s to expand its route network out of Norway. At present, its sole scheduled international service is across the North Sea to Aberdeen, but the Brazilian jets will be used to open longer routes to London-Stansted, as well as to Hamburg and Munich.
Additionally, they will be used to service the company’s increasing number of wet lease and charter services. Both are welcome additions to Widerøe’s traditional portfolio of domestic routes, many of which connect remote communities with each other or with the country’s major cities.
On the wet-lease front, Nilsen says that Widerøe has ‘talked with a lot of companies’ and hopes that, as many airlines follow the trend to up-gauge their aircraft, gaps will open up at the bottom of their fleets that can only be economically served by an aircraft of the E190 E2’s size.
The E2’s range means that, from Norway, it can fly as far as southern Spain and Greece; this summer will see it carrying tourists on charter flights from Norway to Antalya, Turkey, a leg of more than four hours.
The aircraft, in a single-class layout seats 114 passengers in a four abreast (2+2) configuration, and has a seat pitch of 29in.
Asked whether that is likely to be comfortable for some of the longer charter sectors the airline is contemplating, Nilsen says that the combination of new generation slim seats and moving the seatback document pocket higher up on the seat gives the equivalent of 30in or even 30.5in pitch.
He is confident that the 2+2 layout will be popular, giving passengers more space and, “you don’t have to struggle with that middle seat”. The smaller E175 E2 can typically seat 90 passengers in a single-class cabin, with a mix of 30in and 29in seat rows.
The airline is also considering increasing its current level of wet lease services for other carriers. The new Embraer’s duties will include flying on behalf of Finnair on routes between Helsinki, Bergen and Tromsø.
“We’re open to flying under Widerøe colours [for other airlines] or on a ‘white label’ basis,” Nilsen says, and he expects the amount of ACMI work the company undertakes to grow. Widerøe will think through the next stage of the Embraer’s introduction over the summer, he adds. “We have a lot of time; the E175 is due to be launched in 2021.”
The Embraer’s will enter service in a different livery from those of the company’s turboprops, but the latter fleet’s colours will not change ‘at the moment’.
The aircraft’s arrival at Bergen was marked by the traditional water arch salute from the airport fire service. Guests were ushered into a hangar and seated at tables for dinner before the hangar doors were rolled open and the aircraft ceremonially towed in to take pride of place.
Asked if Widerøe had asked for any modifications to the E2 design to take account of Norway’s harsh winter conditions and short runways, Nilsen said the only major addition the carrier had asked for was a CAT 3 [category III] landing capability, which Embraer was developing.
The possibility of direct flights from Norway’s remote north to European destinations was raised; there are no concrete plans for this yet, but that the aircraft’s range means the company is naturally looking for opportunities.
The arrival of the larger aircraft does not mean that Widerøe will be going head-to-head with either SAS or low cost operator Norwegian, he adds. “Competing with Norwegian is not on the agenda. We’re well-placed in a niche in Norway and we’ll further develop that niche.”
Twelve days after its arrival in Norway, the first E2 completed the first scheduled passenger flight of an E190-E2. Operating as flight WF622, it departed Bergen at 0735 for the two-hour, 672nm/1,246km trip north to Tromsø.
Its two-sister aircraft are due to be delivered later this year.
Visit wideroe.no/en/home for more information.
Editor’s Note: The post was originally published in July 2018.