Best of Farnborough 2018: Embraer’s big win

This story is produced in partnership with PaxEx.Aero - The Business of Passenger Experience

With more than 1,000 aircraft ordered (or, more commonly, mentioned in memoranda) at the 2018 iteration of the Farnborough International Airshow there are plenty of orders to consider significant. This year there are just a handful that truly represent a shift in the industry. One of those is an order placed for Embraer‘s E-Jets. It is not the largest order at the show or even for Embraer; the 200 frames (100 ordered + 100 options) to Republic is HUGE, but also fraught with challenges. The order for 20 (10 firm + 10 options) E195-E2 jets by Wataniya Airways of Kuwait arguably represents a more important change in the travel experience.

Overhead rendering of the E2's staggered business class cabin, coming soon to a Wataniya Airways flight near you.
Overhead rendering of the E2’s staggered business class cabin, coming soon to a Wataniya Airways flight near you.

The order makes Wataniya the first carrier in the Middle East region to operate the E2 and gives the carrier an opportunity to expand beyond the handful of destinations it serves today on a pair of A320s. With 25 A320neos also ordered at the show the airline is clearly focused on expansion. But there is more to it than just adding planes and destinations. Wataniya wants to deliver a different – and significantly better – product on board. At least for premium customers. And the choices it made around the E2 allow for precisely that.

Wataniya Airways will be the first airline to take delivery of the E-Jet with the staggered business class cabin designed by PriestmanGoode. CEO Rakan Al-Tuwaijri notes, “We have chosen the staggered seats to differentiate ourselves from the competition, offering a superior product with extra leg room and better privacy for our customers.” And it absolutely is a superior product on a regional jet. The staggered seating offers a greater sense of privacy while (at least in theory) delivering both window and aisle views to passengers. The layout also forces the additional legroom in that the seats must be pitched sufficiently to allow the inside passenger sufficient space to get through.

Wataniya is not the only carrier exploring more premium layouts in the single-aisle market. JetBlue famously added flat beds to some of its A321 aircraft when it launched the Mint business class product in 2014. That cabin features a similar staggered layout with the Vantage seat from Thompson Aero. Closer to the region, flydubai is growing its premium offering as new 737 MAX aircraft are delivered with a business class layout similar to that of the Mint cabin, also featuring the Vantage seat. The E2 does not fly a flat bed but also operates in a much more limited range. For passengers headed a couple hours onward from Kuwait City the seats are a generous offering, particularly in a region where the lower-end LCC options are driving much of the growth these days.

The new seat design first appeared in public at the 2014 iteration of the Farnborough International Airshow, attracting plenty of attention. The “floating” monitor design raised some concerns about certification, as did the staggered layout vis a vis emergency egress. Revisions through the past few years appear to have solved these challenges.

The floating monitor design by PriestmanGoode raised some certification concerns early on; it appears those are no longer so concerning.
The floating monitor design by PriestmanGoode raised some certification concerns early on; it appears those are no longer so concerning.

Alas, the intervening years saw airlines shy away from such innovation. Indeed, the bulk of E2 customers generally chose to extend their simple cabin designs on to the new platform, skipping over many potential passenger benefits. With no real legacy to adhere to Wataniya sits better suited to trying something more creative.

Watinaya’s future is far from guaranteed. The carrier previously shuttered operations, reorganized and slashed its fleet and destination list. And the pair of aircraft flying today might not be enough to get the company to that grand expansion it seeks. But the potential for an impressive new product is very strong.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.