Legacy 500 poised for first flight

Embraer: Bizjet market awaits consumer confidence

October 10, 2012

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Embraer displayed its first Legacy 500 midsize business jet for the aviation media Oct. 5.

As the overall business jet market faces an upcoming decade of “slow growth” or “continued crisis,” Embraer Executive Jets is taking aim at new segments of the market, preparing for the first flight of its Legacy 500 midsize business jet this quarter.

The Brazilian aircraft manufacturer gave journalists a first look at the newly painted jet at the company’s São José dos Campos, Brazil, headquarters Oct. 5. The airplane will offer fly-by-wire flight controls and a six-foot stand-up cabin with a flat floor, features that Embraer hopes will entice customers away from other offerings in the midsize market. But the business jet market recovery continues to lag, and like other manufacturers, Embraer awaits the return of consumer confidence.

“The market recovery is in slow motion,” Embraer Executive Jets President Ernie Edwards told a group of journalists at the company’s pre-NBAA-conference media briefing Oct. 4. In spite of record-high U.S. corporate profits and near-record-high numbers of high-net-worth individuals, money isn’t being spent, Edwards said. Once comfort levels rise, there’s reason to believe people will start spending—but President Barack Obama’s criticism of bonus depreciation for business aircraft during the previous evening’s debate didn’t help, he added.

embraerThe company’s latest 10-year business jet market forecast is slightly more conservative than projections from a year ago. The company offered two scenarios for the period of 2013 to 2022: slow growth, where manufacturers deliver 9,300 aircraft totaling $246 billion, and “continued crisis,” where deliveries total 7,870 and $205 billion.

Embraer is seeing activity at the low end of the market—Phenom 100 and 300s—Edwards said, and corporate flight departments are expressing interest in the Legacy 500 and its mid-light counterpart, the Legacy 450. He acknowledged the company had booked some cancellations in 2012 but said some were the result of negotiations that began in 2011, and that now Embraer isn’t seeing the rate of cancellations it saw in 2010 and 2011.

The company expects the Legacy 500 to enter into service in 2014, delayed from its original schedule because of issues with the fly-by-wire system. Those are now resolved, Edwards said, and the system—Embraer’s most advanced fly-by-wire system to date—has been proven, with 2,500 hours logged on the “Iron Bird” flight controls integrated test facility.

As a relative newcomer to the business jet market—the Phenom 100’s entry into service in 2008 marked the debut of the company’s first clean-sheet business jet design—Embraer has invested in new product development even through the economic downturn. The Legacy 500 and 450, which has an expected first flight in the second half of 2013, will round out a complement of seven business jets; before the Phenom, Embraer had only the Legacy (now Legacy 600), based on the platform of the ERJ-135 regional jet.

Embraer has found great success at the low end of the business jet market, with more than 245 Phenom 100s now in operation around the world. The Phenom 300 was slower to take hold, but more than 90 aircraft are now in operation. The Legacy 450 and 500, for which Embraer is pursuing a common type rating, bridges the gap in Embraer’s portfolio between the Phenoms and the Legacy 600 and 650. A mockup of the Legacy 450 will be exhibited for the first time at the NBAA convention.

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The Legacy 500 features Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion avionics and a fly-by-wire flight control system.