Embraer’s Phenom 100

Sep 16, 2018 - 7:00 PM

Embraer first stuck its toe in the corporate jet world in 2002 with the Legacy 600, a denuded ERJ135 regional jet refitted with an executive interior. The exercise shouldn’t have been much of a stretch, but there was a learning curve and the airframer got a few things wrong out of the gate: there were interior-fit-and-finish and cabin-noise issues and airworthiness directives that covered everything from the passenger seats’ floor tracking to leaking fuel.

As Embraer built more airplanes, it implemented fixes and by the time the Legacy 650 rolled around in 2010 the company had corrected most of the problems. Although the aircraft’s early flaws helped to limit its success, Embraer’s expertise in the airliner world helped its business jet line achieve dispatch reliability above 99 percent.

While one would have thought Embraer would have taken the lessons learned on the 600 and applied them to its first “clean sheet,” purpose-designed business aircraft, the Phenom 100 light jet, the new model was not without its own set of problems.

When deliveries of the then-$3.18 million Phenom 100 began in 2008, they faced a series of quality and fit-and-finish issues. Let’s start with the cabin. The first iteration of passenger seat, with its signature askew headrest, was widely and justifiably derided on all counts—for styling, comfort, function, and reliability. The complaints were significant. As former Embraer Executive Jets president Marco Tulio Pellegrini noted in 2016, “The seat is the customer touchpoint. If he feels comfortable, he is pleased. If he is not, he complains a lot.”

Phenom 100 interior

There were other cabin irritants as well, such as the unpleasant noise level of the two-zone environmental-control system fans and trim pieces that fell off periodically. One husband-and-wife pilot couple who were early Phenom 100 customers praised its flying characteristics, but when asked about the cabin said, “We never sit back there, anyway.”

Its problems notwithstanding, the cabin did have a lot going for it. Embraer had taken a quantum interior-design leap, hiring BMW DesignworksUSA to create a light and airy space that felt considerably ­bigger than it was. The cabin design incorporated upscale automotive-style accents and featured conveniences typically found in larger aircraft. It included a genuine airstair door, LED lighting, single-piece sidewalls and headliners, and retractable cup holders that were wide enough to fit personal electronic devices and cell phones. Storage nooks, AC power outlets, headset jackpoints, lighting and temperature controls, MP3 plugs, and speakers were integrated into the side-ledge. Audio on demand and satellite radio were available. In the forward cabin, you could install a modestly sized refreshment center that was adequate for small beverage containers, a limited amount of glassware, ice, and snacks.

But the cabin issues paled next to the early systems problems, which included air-conditioner compressors, generators, and trim motors that died prematurely, cockpit windows that tended to fog up during descents, an erroneous flap-fault indicator, and a brake-by-wire system that required some redesign, having contributed to a handful of runway overrun incidents and blown tires.

Phenom 100 flight deck

Embraer addressed these faults and continues to improve the Phenom 100 series. The company developed a new passenger seat with supplier DeCrane Aerospace, featuring improved lumbar support and cushioning, a retractable armrest, and a partially folding seat next to the cabin entry door. Later-model Phenom 100s come with Embraer’s in-house-manufactured seats. Embraer also equipped Phenom 100s with a new flap-controller unit. It quieted the cabin fans. It also solved problems with the brake-by-wire system and errant brake-warning CAS (crew alerting system) messages with a software fix, by redesigning the brake-control unit and by altering the pedal position and feel to bring it in line with the feedback pilots get with conventional mechanical/hydraulic brakes. Beginning in 2013 with the 100E model, Embraer began equipping the aircraft with multifunction wing spoilers that enable slower descents, enhance maneuverability, and improve braking on the ground.

Despite its many teething problems, the Phenom 100 has sold relatively well, owing to its larger cabin, which can seat six passengers, and faster, 390-knot cruise speed—a good 50 knots faster than a Cessna Citation Mustang. (The latest version, the 100EV, cruises at 405 knots, climbs faster, and has better high/hot runway performance.) You can also option features on the Phenom that you cannot get on most other aircraft in its class—like a lavatory with a solid privacy door. The engines and avionics make for attractive economics and operational simplicity.

Power comes from Pratt & Whitney PW600 series engines rated at 1,695 pounds of thrust each. They incorporate engineering and manufacturing advances that make them cheaper to build and easier to fix than engines on older light jets, such as Cessna’s CJ series. For example, mechanics can perform a midlife inspection on a PW600 without removing it from the wing, which means they can do the job in one eight-hour shift rather than over several days.

The 100’s “Prodigy” glass-panel avionics system is built around the Garmin G1000 suite, which is now found on everything from piston singles to midsize jets. It features three interchangeable 12-inch flat-panel displays—primary displays for each pilot position and a center multifunction display. The system integrates all primary flight, navigation, communication, terrain, weather, engine-instrumentation, and crew-alerting data.

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You can buy good used Phenom 100s for $2 million or less, make minimal upgrades, and have a solid performer that is only 10 years old or less. Improvements to consider include premium slide, swivel, and recline single executive seats, similar to those aboard the larger Phenom 300; the GoGo Biz Wi-Fi airborne connectivity system; and updating the Garmin-based Prodigy glass-panel flight deck to the G1000 NXi configuration with new displays, faster processors, and a host of new safety and convenience features that significantly reduce pilot workload. This is particularly important if you plan on operating single pilot.

Today an updated, used Phenom 100 is tough to beat in terms of acquisition and operating costs, speed, and—finally—comfort. The aircraft is widely used in the air charter business and posts excellent dispatch and high utilization rates, both helped along by superior support and Embraer’s history as a manufacturer of commercial airliners. (Embraer received the top score in the most recent annual product-support survey in our sister publication Aviation International News.) While it may have had a rocky start, the aircraft, and Embraer, ultimately found redemption.