Aviation, Aviation

The looming pilot shortage could be the final nail in the coffin of the Embraer E175-E2. But is this a fair description of what’s happening?

We recently saw that airlines around the globe are facing renewed challenges, as aviation recovers from the pandemic. But while 2020 may have created a swing (shortage to surplus, then back to shortage), these challenges predate the pandemic. In the United States, there are more complications to this issue because of US-specific Scope Clause conditions.

And it is these conditions, plus the pilot shortage, that seems to have an effect on the already-problematic E175-E2. Embraer designed this aircraft to replace the first-generation E175. But despite initial interest, the aircraft now has no firm orders. In large part, this is because the market that Embraer designed it for, isn’t quite there.

United Airlines and the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) negotiated new contracts this week. Over the next 18 months, United’s pilots will get pay rises amounting to over 14%. This is in addition to other improvements in terms and conditions, including paid maternity leave. The news confirms an increase in pilots’ negotiating position, thanks to the pilot shortage.

And it is the same shortage that is affecting the Embraer E175-E2. According to Leeham News, ALPA’s negotiation with both United and American Airlines did not include changes to the Scope Clause. In effect, this means that Embraer’s smallest variant of its E2 family isn’t viable in the United States.

The Scope Clause is an agreement between the pilot unions and the airlines. In simple terms, it determines the size of aircraft that airlines can outsource to smaller (i.e. regional) operators. To solve a small shortage in the E175’s interior space, Embraer made the E175-E2 a bit longer. The aircraft also has a slightly longer wingspan. And of course, it has more efficient but heavier Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbofan (GTF) engines.

The newer aircraft meets capacity limits (76 passengers). But the higher weight of the E175-E2 means that when it is full of passengers, it has a range shortage. The aircraft hits the Scope Clause-mandated Maximum TakeOff Weight (MTOW) of 86,000 lbs (39 tons) with insufficient fuel. So why did Embraer design it this way?

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