In many ways, Embraer is facing precisely the same dynamic as Airbus and Boeing. Boeing has made its position clear, opting to wait until a significant configuration or propulsion advance is available. Same for Airbus, which having solidified its single-aisle market position, has no plans for a clean sheet design until the 2030s. Both are in the middle of a combination of internally and government-supported research into the technologies that would be required for such an effort and ramping up production of existing aircraft as quickly as possible. Undertaking a clean sheet turboprop design today, with aging current generation propulsion, risked being leapfrogged by ATR, which has already announced its intent – however squishy – to undertake a hybrid electric design by decade’s end. That effort is short on specifics, but nevertheless threatened the business case for the TPNG, which would have relied on asking turboprop customers already flying ATRs to change horses — at a premium price.

Embraer has to design an airplane today for the propulsion of tomorrow

For the first time in aviation history, Embraer is scratching at an entirely new strategic consideration for a multi-decade aircraft program.

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Release Date
September 3, 2021
Embraer has to design an airplane today for the propulsion of tomorrow
In the age of environmental, social and governance priorities that dominate corporate strategic communications, building an aircraft that runs on today’s jet fuel looks like a step in the wrong direction, but Embraer is trying to bridge to a future where low-carbon flying is achievable — eventually.

Within Embraer’s recently revised turboprop design are some key long-term assumptions about the greening of aviation and the readiness and availability of significantly lower carbon propulsion.

Embraer is betting on all horses. Both its Eve eVTOL and military short-takeoff utility transport concepts are electric and hybrid electric, respectively. As for larger commercial aircraft, said Silva e Souza, Embraer’s commercial airplane marketing vice president, “The answer is that [electric and hybrid electric] are really far away for a 90-seater turboprop. Our conclusion is that hydrogen would be the final way for this size of aircraft.”

Related: Embraer makes its case for an American turboprop

If the future is hydrogen-powered for large commercial aircraft, the path to getting there will be decidedly uneven. In the short term, Embraer’s design goal is to make a turboprop with traditional engines capable of running on 100% sustainable aviation fuels and appeal to reticent U.S. airlines.

Longer-term, said Silva e Souza, “We are designing an aircraft that we are thinking: Are we sure that 30 years from now it will be a hydrogen airplane? We don’t know, but in our best view today, we are designing an aircraft that is able to more easily accommodate the introduction of new technologies.”

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