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E2 evolution

Recognised for its innovative approach to cabin design, Embraer identified primary requirements for its E2 cabin through consultation with its suppliers and airline customers, as Paul E Eden finds
 
Back in 2014, your correspondent toured the Embraer E2 cabin mock-up at the Farnborough International Airshow. Its bold colourways and clever layout seemed unlikely ever to find their way into an operational cabin, but it included innovative design touches – philosophies even – that suggested Embraer was ready to improve upon its already good E-Jet cabin.
 
Now the E2 is in service with Widerøe and Air Astana, neither of which employs a cabin that looks much like PriestmanGoode’s 2014 mock-up at first glance, and yet there’s clearly some common DNA. Daniel Galhardo Gomes, Embraer’s Strategy Manager, says the mock-up embodied three primary pillars, all of which are reflected in the service aircraft. He explains that Embraer wanted to improve passenger territory, cabin flexibility and maintainability, and introduce contemporary design ‘to bring more elegance and robustness’. It was an approach aimed to please passengers and airlines alike.
 
Your correspondent also flew on Widerøe’s first E2 revenue service, in April 2018, and, with a couple of caveats, it seemed Embraer’s cabin vision had become reality. Gomes says: “All of the mock-up solutions aimed at improving the passenger area –the larger bins, able to fit one piece of carry-on luggage per passenger, the individual PSU [passenger service unit – providing light, ventilation and call button], wider seats and wider aisle, feature in the final E2 cabin.
 
“Most of the concepts developed to improve cabin flexibility and maintainability also remained on board, including the 0.5in seat pitch adjustment and major improvements in providing access to systems, avoiding the need for interior disassembly during simple maintenance procedures.
 
“But there are small variations from the original concept, on very specific design points, including seat shape. These changes were based on customer feedback after we asked for, and listened to, input from our operators; they wanted improved robustness in some areas.” The Farnborough mock-up perhaps ought to be considered an important waypoint on the road to achieving the final E2 cabin solution.
 
It embodied ideas arising from customer conversations that began even before the E2 programme was launched, and Embraer subsequently established a steering committee of airline representatives, industry designers and its own experts, which discussed the primary cabin concepts and features. The mock-up consolidated the work and provided a platform from which the OEM could gather and react to feedback on the design. And, crucially, not only were the cabin suppliers also engaged in these early discussions, but they took an important role in refining the production design.
 
For the production cabin, Embraer chose a single-source solution, a strategy “allowing a more aggressive commercial offer from the suppliers, which reflects in a more competitive product for the operator. Naturally, integration is also easier since there are fewer suppliers involved. The E2’s floor-to-floor – panels, bins, galley monuments and lavatories – are provided by EZ Air, a joint venture between Zodiac Aerospace and Embraer, while Zodiac Seats is the single supplier for the seats.” 
 
IFEC OFFER
 
Embraer recognised the importance of IFEC early on in the E2 definition, offering a variety of customer options and delivering aircraft provisioned to accept systems without modification, even if the original purchaser opted to buy without. Gomes calls these ‘common smart and modular provisions’, noting how they will ‘facilitate the installation of equipment in the future, helping the customer install a complete system easily and quickly, either in production or during retrofit.’ The E2 IFEC catalogue is impressive.
 
“It features technologies from multiple suppliers, allowing airlines and lessors to choose the options that best fit their business model and market strategy. It includes wireless streaming to devices or seat backs, internet via Ka- and Ku-band and real-time TV [iPTV]. And Embraer, together with the air-to-ground connectivity suppliers, is studying further solutions that could be added to the portfolio. “For onboard wireless IFE we offer solutions from Panasonic (eXW) and KID Systeme (SKYfi Club).
 
We selected Panasonic’s Ku-band (eXConnect) system for internet connectivity, but also plan to add a Ka-band supplier. Our radome provision enables every aircraft to be tailored to the customer’s preferred antenna manufacturer from the IFEC portfolio. Responding to a customer request, we also plan to select an in-seat IFE supplier.” Embraer was among the passenger experience pioneers, and while IFEC has since become an expectation, there remain more fundamental cabin qualities that contribute to an overall feeling of wellbeing and satisfaction.
 
Among them, lighting has a key role to play. The E2’s all-LED system is controlled from the comprehensive cabin management system (CMS). There’s another side to lightning that’s potentially less comforting of course, and just the presence of illuminated strips that will guide you to the nearest exit in an emergency is sufficient to further upset a nervous passenger.
 
Embraer chose STG Aerospace for its floor proximity lighting, while Diehl supplies not only the emergency lighting, but also the PSU and main cabin lights. Safran provides the ordinance signs in the cabin monuments and, Gomes says, “Although the functionality of emergency lighting is the first priority, we worked to make its aesthetic design compliment, as much as possible, the contemporary design of the cabin.”
 
The CMS may have been a little reluctant to play ball initially, but now Gomes reports excellent customer feedback, while further noting ‘we’re continuously working to provide additional functionalities to facilitate cabin crew working’. There’s far more to the CMS than controlling the lights, and he lists cabin systems status overview, cabin temperature control, water and waste system monitoring, moving map, flight attendant call monitoring and control, cabin systems power control (galley, IFE, and so on) and cabin audio digital playback, for prerecorded announcements or via MP3 player, as other primary functionalities.
 
Thinking back to that first Widerøe flight, the E2 immediately impressed with its eerily quiet take-off, climb and cruise, and yes, the cabin was very comfortable. But there was a notable lack of detail fit in the overhead panels around the PSUs, and while Gomes reports ‘current feedback from airlines and several industry members is very positive,’ he’s frank about the early cabin issue and Embraer’s solution.
 
“The Widerøe interior suffered minor quality issues that might be expected at the beginning of a new production line. We’re continuing to eliminate those issues, both in production and on Widerøe’s aircraft. Cabin quality is now significantly improved; few passengers would notice the issues we’re still addressing, but we set our standards high, and will continue to work tirelessly until we are absolutely happy with the interior quality.”
 
So, all things considered, has Embraer achieved the revolution in passenger comfort and experience it had hoped for in the E2? Gomes reckons: “The first-generation E-Jet set a benchmark in terms of passenger comfort, and always features at the top in passenger preference on airline surveys. “We’ve improved upon that on the E2. Besides its wider seats and ever popular lack of a middle seat, the E2 provides every passenger with space to stow their carry-on luggage close to them – our research shows this as one of the most important concerns for passengers. The E2 also allows them individual control of their immediate environment, through light and ventilation, providing a significant improvement in their sense of wellbeing. With these improvements to passengers’ immediate area, their ‘territory’, and with the range of IFE options available, the passenger experience on the E2 is best in class.”
 
It’s a claim Airbus might also make for its A220, but there’s no denying the E2 makes a very convincing case. Meanwhile, airlines are still finding the original E-Jet attractive, and Embraer is very happy to sell it. In that case, have any of the E2’s cabin innovations found their way down the chain? “The E-Jet cabin has received many upgrades since its entry into service in 2004, including new monument and seat options. But, thus far, no E2 interior solutions have migrated to the older aircraft.” Might they? “It’s something we’re looking at.”
 
EVOLUTION AFTER E? 
 
The E2 is a very young aircraft, and there’s every reason to expect that Embraer will work just as hard on its continuing cabin evolution as it did to create its interior in the first place. And yet there’s also the tantalising possibility of an all-new Embraer turboprop short haul/regional airliner. Would an E2-type cabin be a straight shoe-in? If not, where does Embraer’s cabin design go from here, especially with a smaller aircraft in mind?
 
“We expect to see a continuous evolution. From the passenger point of view, some features currently considered to be differentiators, space for carry-on luggage and connectivity, for example, will be considered essential, rather than simply nice to have. So, even small aircraft will have to find ways to offer these benefits. “From the airlines’ point of view, the cabin has to evolve to offer increased robustness, while offering the flexibility for easy reconfiguration, and improved maintainability. In other words, future cabin solutions must also focus on delivering greater efficiency to the airlines.”
 
Aside from its decades of cabin design experience, there are other significant factors that might play greater or lesser roles in Embraer’s future airliner interiors. First, Embraer Executive Jets continues to impress with a variety of innovative design solutions in an extremely demanding market place. Might some of the bizjet innovation spill over into the commercial jets? “The commercial and executive aviation interior design teams have very different points of interest and requirements. However, they work closely together and most of our designers have actually worked in both areas, so experience is undoubtedly shared and whenever a solution might fit in these two very different universes, it is naturally available to both.”
 
Second, and perhaps even more difficult to define, what will happen when Embraer’s unique design approach meets the might of Boeing’s expertise? Gomes cautiously suggests it’s ‘a little bit early to make assumption about future cabin developments, but when you have two successful, creative and knowledgeable companies working together, the outcomes might truly be remarkable.’ So, what defines Embraer’s contribution to those remarkable outcomes? What defines its approach to cabin design?
 
“Creativity is at the core of our design philosophy and passenger experience is most important – after all, passengers are the ultimate customer for our entire industry. But an airliner’s interior must also suit the airlines’ requirements, including light weight, strength and simplicity. Those two sets of needs, the passengers’ and the airlines’, are often, on the face of it, incompatible; if we add comfort, we add weight or cost, and that hurts the airline’s efficiency. That’s the kind of challenge Embraer lives for. It’s what drives our team every time.
 
“We arrive at our best solutions when we listen to our customers, the operators and passengers, and we stop to really think about their core concerns. Our creativity emerges when we allow ourselves to think about solutions that previously didn’t exist, or perhaps seemed impossible, but offer real benefits for passengers and efficiencies for the airlines.” 
 
AIR ASTANA  
 
Air Astana took delivery of its first E2 on 14 December 2018, equipping the aircraft for 108 passengers. Margaret Phelan, Air Astana’s Vice President, Inflight Services, says the airline chose Zodiac Z2+ seats, set at 34in pitch in the first three rows and between 31 and 29in thereafter. Like the seats, the interior finish and trim came from the Embraer catalogue, in shades of blue and grey to reflect the airline’s livery. Outside, the aircraft wears a spectacular snow leopard colour scheme and Phelan says this individuality extends to the cabin thanks to unique mood lighting. The carrier selected a Bluebox IFE solution.
 
“It’s an easily installed, user-friendly device that allows passengers to stream an extensive collection of movies and music to their personal devices. Passengers have access to our in-house KCTV entertainment library via the Air Astana application, which they download before the flight, although a limited number of movies is available through the browser even without the app.”
 
Phelan describes the E2’s Diehl CMS flight attendant panel as ‘very intelligent’. She confirms its ability to control cabin temperature, lighting, announcements, boarding music and galleys, further noting its utility in lavatory and potable water control. “It enables crew to deactivate faulty basins or toilets, and allows them to preselect the volume of potable water to be loaded, drain the system for cold weather operations, and so on. And should an airline retrospectively install an IFE system, it’s easily controlled from the flight attendant panel.”

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