Why ERJs are rolling up in the African market
British engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce and Brazilian airframer Embraer are combining to supply redundant narrow-body regional airliners, largely from ex-US airlines, to Africa. Geoff Thomas reports.
Embraer’s ERJ145 is powered by two Rolls-Royce AE 3007A engines. There is a growing pool of 50-seat airframes available as the erosion of Scope clauses (deals limiting the number and/or size of aircraft that may be contracted out) and airline consolidation has enabled an upgrading to 70-seater airliners for the USA’s regional market.
The vast majority of these smaller regional jets were delivered to the US airlines in the late 1990s and early 2000s under capacity purchase agreements (CPAs). Of the 892 Embraer-made RJs, most were the now-surplus ERJ145s.
Embraer’s market manager in Africa and the Middle East, Stefan Hannemann, explained: “Now that African economies are continuing to grow having, according to Global Insight, recorded an average GDP growth rate of 4.2% over the past decade – a figure that’s considerably in excess of the global average of 2.4% – the need for an increase in regional air travel is also growing.
“This economic strength has led to a significant growth of Africa’s middle income society as well as an increase in intra-African trade and this, in turn, has meant that African airlines are growing their business significantly by increasing their route networks and fleets. With favourable economic growth forecasts for the decade ahead, airlines are updating their strategies to capture their share of the expected growth in demand for air travel.”
Opportunities are, therefore, ample on the African continent, with many new markets yet to be explored and flight frequencies in maturing markets increasing, resulting in the phasing out of older and less economic aircraft types.
An indication of the mismatch of demand and supply is the poor average load factor of African airlines with the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA’s) latest figures showing only 68%, a percentage that’s 12% lower than the global average.
Market analysis conducted from 2015 showed: 83% of all intra-African flights left with fewer than 120 passengers; 39% left with fewer than 60 passengers; and 67% operated less than daily.
All the available analyses clearly outlines the urgency for African airlines to focus on choosing the right equipment for their operations, taking into consideration the fact that future market opportunities are likely to be in secondary or even tertiary markets.
Despite offering only a relatively small market size, new opportunities on the African continent are usually high-yielding, providing a better chance of delivering bottom-line profitability.
A sign that airlines are recognising the importance of serving smaller regional markets – and increasing market share and frequency on trunk routes – is the significant growth of the 37-to-50-seater fleet of Embraer ERJ aircraft on the African continent.
The ERJ regional airliner family has been gaining in popularity in Africa. Competitive operating costs, combined with good range and impressive field performance delivered by state-of-the-art Rolls-Royce engines, has convinced 23 African airlines to phase in the ERJ platform.
One of the key features of the airliner family concept, which incorporates ‘same pilot type rating’ for all three aircraft (the 37-seater ERJ135, the 44-seater ERJ140 and the 50-seater ERJ145) is 98% spare parts commonality so that maintenance costs can be minimised effectively.
As of Q4 2016, 58 ERJs are in operation across Africa and the number is expected to increase sharply with more becoming available from North America and Europe at attractive prices. Since first delivery in 1996, more than 1,100 aircraft have been delivered, making ERJs the ‘most sold’ 50-seater aircraft family in the world.
Rolls-Royce’s presence on the African continent is more than 60 years old, featuring on both regional and wide-body aircraft. Indeed, Dart-powered Viscount aircraft entered service from the mid-1950s with Central African Airways and EgyptAir.
Rolls-Royce is strongly represented in Africa, with local offices in Johannesburg, Cairo and Addis Ababa.
Jason Sutcliffe, the company’s marketing manager for the Middle East and Africa said: “South African Airlink, the preeminent regional aircraft operator in Africa, has had its ERJ fleet powered by the AE3007 since 2001 and has recently signed a five-year extension to its TotalCare agreement, a real testimony to our strong relationship. The deal also included the sale of three spare AE 3007A engines to support the growing fleet.”
Rodger Foster, CEO of South African Airlink, says he is delighted with the new TotalCare extension and is always quick to point out the high level of engine reliability and customer support for Rolls-Royce engines versus the other engine types that South African Airlink operates.
Rolls-Royce puts its success down largely to listening to its customers’ needs, understanding the market needs and a commitment to delivering appropriate service solutions.
Living up to its reputation as an innovator, Rolls-Royce has recently set up a dedicated team to support aircraft transitions, and is working closely with Embraer to support airlines and aircraft owners alike.
Kevin Evans, Rolls-Royce’s VP customers for Africa, said: “We see tremendous opportunities in the fast-moving African market in general and with the AE 3007-powered ERJ family in particular. We are pleased to offer our technical and service expertise locally and are looking at ways to develop our service offerings further to support the growing demand from African airlines.”
With more than 3,200 engines delivered, Rolls-Royce’s AE 3007 engine features a high-efficiency and low-noise fan system. It has racked-up in excess of 50-million flight hours since entering service in 1995.
The engine’s core evolved from the AE 1107 that powers the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor military aircraft as well as Northrop-Grumman’s Global Hawk and Lockheed Martin’s C130J transport aircraft. It sits in the 8,000lb thrust class, with versions also powering Embraer’s Legacy 600/650 corporate jets and Cessna’s New Citation X.
With a high-bypass ratio of 5:1, the two-spool engine features axial-flow with a wide-chord single-stage direct drive fan; 14-stage axial flow compressor with inlet guide vanes’ and five variable geometry stator stages. The full annular combustion chambers have 16 fuel nozzles and two high-tension igniters driving the HP compressor. The three-stage LP turbine drives the fan, while the engines are controlled by two full-redundant full authority digital engine controls (FADECs).
Thanks to its advanced technology, the engine has also demonstrated a remarkable 99.98% dispatch reliability.
Sutcliffe added: “The most recent influx of ERJs has gone to South African’s highly profitable South African Airlink subsidiary, which is growing its existing fleet of 19 ERJ135s by adding 11 ERJ140s over the next year. During 2016, ERJs have also joined the fleets of Group Transair in Senegal, Westair in Namibia, as well as Cronos Airline in Equatorial Guinea. We continue to see prolific growth in fleet size with other operators, such as Fly Blue Crane, Solenta Aviation in South Africa, and Mozambique Expresso, to name a few.
“Of all ERJs delivered to Africa so far, five have been new, while most came from North America (24) and Europe (23), with three coming from China.”
Airlines see the aircraft as a true workhorse, being able to operate multiple daily cycles in the sometimes harsh African operating environment, while achieving a schedule reliability level of 99.52% over the past year, according to Embraer’s technical team.
One of the main drivers behind the outstanding technical reliability levels is Embraer’s commitment to providing world-class customer support locally in Africa, as well as the strong support for the engines by Rolls-Royce.
Having a local presence in the regions is essential for on-going support and Embraer has representation ‘on the ground’ in five African countries, with a main office in Johannesburg, and there are plans to grow further in the short-term.
Multiple service centres are also present, offering tailored solutions to African ERJ operators. There is also a full flight simulator (FFS) in Johannesburg, along with a major parts distribution centre for the entire ERJ family.