Phenom 300

Embraer Phenom 300E

A model that quickly became the world’s bestselling bizjet gets a laudable upgrade.

Design DNA is a tricky business. Over time, elements of certain products—such as the formula for original Coca-Cola and the “flying lady” hood ornament on a Rolls-Royce—become iconic, as important to the brand as the name itself.

The airframe and elements thereof on certain brands of business jets fiercely embody this concept: the tall ground stance of a King Air, the mammoth aft cargo door on a Pilatus, the rake of a Learjet’s nose, and the panoramic oval windows on a Gulfstream. These are brand signatures, and manufacturers mess with them at their peril. This is why a new Gulfstream G500 looks similar to the G450 it replaces, even though the performance, systems, and cabins are dramatically dissimilar: the design reinforces the brand. People expect King Airs, Learjets, and Gulfstreams to look a certain way.

Brazilian airframer Embraer, a relative newcomer to the bizjet game, has a somewhat different take on design DNA, though: it wants its aircraft to feel a certain way, a way that belies the size of the aircraft—that is, bigger and more luxurious than the fuselage dimensions would suggest. Nowhere is this philosophy more apparent than in the Phenom 300E light jet, which Embraer started delivering in April of last year.

The model is an upgrade of the model 300, which hit the market in 2009. The 300 quickly became the world’s bestselling business jet, thanks to its speed (high-speed cruise, 453 knots), quick climbing (45,000 feet in 26 minutes), range (2,077 nautical miles with four passengers), passenger capacity (10 when flown single pilot), luggage capacity (84 cubic feet), excellent dispatch reliability, and good operating economics (direct hourly operating costs of $1,720, according to Conklin and de Decker). The 300 quickly caught on with major fractional players, including NetJets and Flexjet, which made them the mainstay of their light-jet fleets and put more than 1,000 hours a year on individual airframes.

By April 2017, Embraer had delivered its 400th Phenom 300 and resale values for the aircraft continued to best competitors. So what did Embraer decide to do then? Make the airplane better.

Enter Jay Beever, Embraer’s vice president of interior design, and his team. Beever learned his craft designing concept cars for Ford and later at Gulfstream, where he was instrumental in fashioning the cabin of the ultra-long-range G650 business jet. His mission with the 300’s cabin makeover: bring big-jet features and more comfort to the 325-cubic-foot cabin.

The original 300’s cabin already had a lot going for it. Customers could choose from a wide array of colors and fabrics; the aft lavatory featured a solid door with optional belted toilet and a choice of either an in-lav wardrobe or a sink; the small forward galley was adequate for beverage service; and USB and power outlets were available at passenger locations. The two-zone air conditioning could be run on the ground with one engine at idle.

The 300’s interior was good, but not perfect. Chief among the shortcomings: the passenger seats, made by an out-of-house supplier, which suffered from function reliability and comfort issues. As former Embraer Executive Jets president Marco Tulio Pellegrini told me in 2016, “The seat is the customer touchpoint. If he feels comfortable, he is pleased. If he is not, he complains a lot.”

The grumbling was loud enough that Embraer decided to design and make its own seats for its aircraft. In 2016 it opened a dedicated seating plant in Titusville, Florida. Beever says that one of the main advantages of bringing seating in house is the superior level of craftsmanship, fit, and finish that can be achieved. “Comfort can be felt through foam,” he adds. “But ergonomics is based on the airplane adapting to the human.”

The Embraer-designed and -manufactured passenger seats in the 300E are a marked improvement in both comfort and functionality. They feature arms that retract into seat backs to create a three-inch-wider passenger aisle, adjustable headrests, and adjustable leg bolsters similar to those in luxury automobiles. “We mimic much of what you get in an automotive seat when it comes to being able to fix or disassemble it,” Beever says. “We have five new sew styles from diamond stitching to tuxedo to French seams.” The formerly problematic window shades, meanwhile, have been replaced with a better design from the company’s larger Praetor jets.

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The 300E also offers an extra inch of cabin headroom and the Lufthansa Technik nice-HD cabin management and inflight digital entertainment system, which can be accessed via Bluetooth on personal devices or with hidden switches in the sidewall panel. A pair of seven-inch video screens fold down from the ceiling and swivel.

The extra inch of headroom is courtesy of Embraer’s new “tech panel,” which runs down the center of the cabin ceiling. The tech panel contains lighting, air gaspers, and capacitive touch switches that appear and disappear as your hand approaches or retreats. The air gaspers are flush with the panel.

“There are no more gasper or reading light bulbs, saving room in the cabin for the occupant,” says Beever. “It’s a technology system that is not only comfortable for the user but also [designed] for long-term maintainability; it is easier to modify and fix if something goes wrong.”

The new Prodigy Touch flight deck, fashioned around the Garmin G3000 system, also has been restyled with larger display screens and increased capabilities.

Passenger cabins can be configured to seat seven to 10, but almost 90 percent of customers order the aircraft with the high-density layout, which features a two-place side-facing divan opposite the aircraft entry door. “Customers want the utility,” explains an Embraer executive.

Adds Beever: “We have hundreds of opportunities for changing colors and interior configurations, which allow the customers to feel that they are the designers.”

The market appears to be responding to these plusses: Embraer has delivered more than 530 Phenom 300s since 2009, and that total already includes more than 60 of the 300Es.

2019 Embraer Phenom 300E at a Glance

Base price: $9.45 million

Engines (2): Pratt & Whitney Canada PW535E, 3,360 lb thrust each

Avionics: Prodigy Touch (Garmin G3000)

Pilots: 1–2

Passengers: 7–10


            Length: 17 ft 2 in

            Width: 5 ft 1 in

            Height: 5 ft

            Volume: 325 cu ft

Baggage: 84 cu ft

Range*: 1,971 nm

High-speed cruise: 453 knots

Ceiling: 45,000 ft

Maximum takeoff weight: 17,526 lb

Takeoff distance**: 3,254 ft

*with two pilots, four passengers, NBAA IFR reserves

**at maximum takeoff weight, sea-level, standard temperature

Source: Embraer