Embraer describes the ERJ 135 and its siblings as “The Runway Legend”, and it is easy to see why the company feels so confident about this aircraft. The Embraer 135 is the smallest jetliner in the Embraer portfolio, with only 37 seats. Very little changed between the ERJ 135 and the original ERJ 145, a fact validated by a 95% commonality between the two types.
Embraer built the ERJ 135 as a way for companies to cover less popular routes while retaining the comforts and speed typical of a jet airliner. The result is one of the smallest passenger jets ever built, with only the Yakovlev Yak-40 and the Dornier 328JET carrying fewer passengers. Since its introduction in 1999, Embraer has delivered 493 aircraft, including the Legacy 600 business jet series.
The very last ERJ 135 left the Embraer production line in 2020. The aircraft remains operational with many airlines, private, and government customers thanks to its reliability, low maintenance costs, and excellent performance in its class.
The Embraer RJ 145 Heritage
Understanding the ERJ 145 is crucial before diving into the ERJ 135. In 1989, Embraer had a lot of momentum behind it. The company had enjoyed two decades of smashing successes with the EMB-110 Bandeirante and the EMB-120 Brasília. These two aircraft were regional airliners with turboprop engines and sold 858 units. Thanks to advances in turbofan engine technology, airlines had warmed up to the concept of jet-powered aircraft for regional and feeder routes.
The Birth of a Regional Jet
Like other veterans in the regional aircraft market, Embraer entered the fray. The Brazilian aerospace company wanted to keep development costs low, so it announced a jet derivative of the EMB-120. The original EMB-145 project had a similar aerodynamic configuration to its predecessor. The design featured straight wings, a high T-tail, mid-mounted engines on the wings, and a stretched version of the same fuselage. Early in 1991, Embraer switched to an arrangement with a swept wing and podded engines, but this did not last.
The aircraft took its definitive form later, with the swept wing, a high T-tail, and a pair of engines mounted on the rear fuselage. It could now seat 55 passengers and cruise at Mach 0.8 to meet expectations from the airline industry. After a series of delays, the ERJ 145 prototype first flew in August 1995, achieving certification in December 1996. The first delivery happened on April 1997. The ERJ145 was an instant hit in the market, with acquisition and operational costs well below the competing Bombardier Challenger Regional Jet and even the Saab 2000 turboprop airliner.
From Small to Smaller
The Embraer RJ 145 sold well, but the American airline market had unique needs. Scope clauses agreed between airlines and pilots’ unions restrict the number of aircraft above a seating capacity that subsidiary airlines can operate. Embraer reacted with the ERJ 140, which shrunk the fuselage and the number of seats down to 44. While this covered the scope clauses, Embraer still saw other market openings.
Many regional airlines operate from minor airports with little to no coverage from mainline carriers. These are typically airfields with small facilities and low demand but require regular service and aircraft with a relatively good range to reach major cities. To address this demand, Embraer shrank the RJ 145 one last time to create the ERJ 135.
Embraer 135 / Specs
The ERJ 135 is a twin-engine small regional jet introduced in 1999 by Embraer, with a capacity for only 37 passengers. The diminutive size and small seating capacity make the aircraft lighter and more economical, which is essential for the regional market.
- Length: 86 ft 5 in
- Height: 22 ft 2 in
- Wingspan: 65 ft 9 in
- Empty Weight: 25355 lbs
- Fuel Capacity: 9919 lbs
- Maximum Takeoff Weight: 44092 lbs
- Engines: AE 3007-A1/3 (ERJ 135LR)
- Takeoff Thrust: 7580 lbf each
- Avionics: Honeywell Primus 1000
The Embraer RJ 135 is 86 ft 5 in long, almost 10 ft shorter than the ERJ 145. The small jet has a wingspan of 65 ft 9 in and a total wing area of 551 sq ft. The wing has a sweep of 22.3 degrees with an aspect ratio of 7.9. Embraer installed winglets on the ERJ 145, but the option never arrived at either ERJ 135 or ERJ 140.
The underside of the leading edge features four vortilons per wing to postpone flow separation at high angles of attack. Embraer introduced a slight leading edge droop to improve handling at low speeds. The aircraft also has double-slotted fowler flaps, spoilers, and a high T-tail with a swept tailplane.
A parked ERJ 135 is 22 ft 2 in tall. This was not always the case, as one of the redesigns studied in 1991 featured a pair of podded engines on the wing. Doing this required longer landing gear struts to achieve safe ground clearance. Engineers shelved the idea not long after that, as they deemed the taller gear too heavy.
A fully-equipped ERJ 135 weighs 25355 lbs when empty. The aircraft has a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 44092 lbs and a fuel capacity of 9919 lbs. For reference, the ERJ 145XR has an MTOW of 27758 lbs. The useful payload of the ERJ 135 is 9918 lbs.
Embraer changed many aspects of the ERJ family from its conception to the final design, besides the AE 3007 engine. The ERJ remains the only airliner series to employ this family. The design came from the Allison Engine Company, which Rolls-Royce acquired before the ERJ 145 had entered service. Each AE 3007-A1/3 engine has a takeoff thrust rating of 7580 lbf. The A1/3 variant on the ERJ 135 and ERJ 140 is downrated compared to the AE 3007-A1E used on the original ERJ 145.
American company C&D Aviation provides the interior of the ERJ 135. The passenger cabin uses a three-abreast arrangement inherited from the EMB-120 Brasília. The interior is 5 ft 11 tall and 6 ft 11 wide. The interior feels spacious as far as regional jets go. Many aircraft retired from airline service have found a second lease of life as luxury charter airliners, in addition to business jet conversions.
The construction of the ERJ 135 uses several outsourced components. Embraer collaborated with Gamesa (Spain), SONACA (Belgium), and ENAER (Chile) to supply many core structural parts. The ERJ family would eventually have an assembly line abroad thanks to an agreement between Embraer and the Harbin Aircraft Industry Group in China. After 45 deliveries between 2003 and 2016, the foreign adventures of the Embraer Regional Jet ended. Production in Brazil lasted longer, with the last aircraft rolled out in 2020.
All Embraer Regional Jets fall under the same type rating and have broadly identical cockpit layouts. The instrument panel has a Honeywell Primus 1000 avionics suite, which comprises two CRT displays per pilot plus an EICAS one in the middle.
While the avionics setup was more than adequate at the time of its choice in 1991, it was outdated when the ERJ 135 entered service. The basic cockpit design lacked a flight management system (FMS). Though the option to add on appeared later, the system integration is unsatisfactory by modern standards. The autopilot on the ERJ 135 and its peers cannot fly a VNAV transition.
In 2000, Embraer began offering a new FMS with GPS and a head-up display (HUD) to meet CAT III instrument landing certification requirements. These changes settled some grievances, but most pilots welcomed the arrival of the E-Jet family with a much more robust avionics suite.
ERJ 135 pilots use the iconic M-shaped yoke unique to Embraer aircraft since the EMB-120. The handles sit at an angle and resemble a bicycle’s handlebar, with the crew’s hands resting in a much more natural position than the upright one in most airliners and business jets. This design remains in most Embraer products, except for the KC-390 tactical transport and the smaller next-generation business jets in production today. These have switched to sidestick designs.
Embraer 135 / Prices
Embraer launched the ERJ 135 with a listing price of $15.2 million. At the turn of the century, new avionics options incurred additional costs for operators interested in them. Most airlines purchased their ERJ 135 fleet at an average of $16 million per unit.
Embraer 135 / Performance and Handling
The shared aerodynamic configuration means the ERJ 135 shares its performance limits with the ERJ 140 and ERJ 145 models. All three aircraft have a cruise speed of Mach 0.78 and a service ceiling of 37000 ft. In case of a single engine failure, the ERJ 135 can fly up to 20000 ft.
With 37 passengers plus fuel for a 400 nmi trip and the required reserves, the ERJ 135LR has a takeoff field length of 4364 ft and takes 15 minutes to reach its service ceiling. The takeoff run grows to 5774 ft at the maximum takeoff weight. At its maximum landing weight, the ERJ 135 requires 4462 ft of runway to land.
Despite being smaller than the ERJ 140, the ERJ 135 has a better range. Both short versions have the same engines and fuel capacity, so the weight reduction from losing a row of passengers allows the ERJ 135 to fly out to 1750 nautical miles, plus reserves.
Autothrottle and autopilot VNAV is missing from the ERJ 135. Despite the technological drawbacks, most pilots love the airliner for its straightforward handling capabilities and good performance.
The very first iteration of the ERJ 135, branded the ERJ 135ER, had moderately worse performance. The weaker AE 3007A1/1 engines and smaller fuel capacity meant it took 20 minutes to reach the cruise altitude, and the airliner could only fly out to 1300 nautical miles. The runway requirements were marginally smaller. The takeoff field length at MTOW was 5381 ft compared to 5774 ft in the definitive ERJ 135LR while landing performance remained identical.
Embraer 135 / Modifications and Upgrades
Shortly after the ERJ 135 launch, Embraer offered options with increased fuel capacity under the ERJ 135LR designation. The new model quickly replaced the ERJ 135ER in the production line, with the first unit delivered to the Belgium Air Force.
The main modification of the ERJ 135 is the Legacy 600 line of business jets. Embraer launched the conversion in 2000 and delivered the first unit in February 2002. The Legacy closely resembles the ERJ 135 but sports winglets and a new fairing on the wing root to improve range. Embraer also extended the fuel capacity on the new aircraft to 18170 lb. With up to 14 passengers plus a crew of two, the Legacy 600 has a range of 3900 nautical miles. In 2011, Embraer delivered the Legacy 650 variant, with a range of 4500 nautical miles thanks to additional fuel tanks and new Rolls-Royce AE 3007A2 engines.
Embraer borrowed the Legacy 600 avionics suite from the E-Jet, replacing the ERJ 135 panel with the Honeywell Primus Elite. The resemblance between the two systems makes the transition smooth, despite the Elite being more capable across the board.
Embraer 135 / Where to Find Replacement Parts
The ERJ 135 has high parts commonality with the other ERJ models and the Legacy 600 and 650, so spares are typically abundant worldwide. Embraer also operates the Embraer Pool maintenance program for airliners, where companies outsource the stockpiling to the manufacturer. This lowers the upfront investment required for parts inventory and prevents problems such as those faced by Learjet operators today, where critical components exist but are scattered across the world.
Embraer 135 / Common Problems
Thanks to the sound design choices and good Embraer support, most operators rarely encounter issues with the ERJ 135. That does not mean there are none, however.
The cabin of the ERJ 135 is noisier than most airliners, especially if you sit on the last rows by the engine. Embraer took note of the noise complaints and improved this during the E-Jet design, but that did little to help ERJ passengers. Another gripe with the ERJ family as a whole is the lack of luggage space in the cabin. The overhead bins are too small to fit most backpacks, which end up under the seat and take away the leg room. This aspect is a shame since the ERJ 135 and its siblings are extremely comfortable otherwise.
Embraer went to great lengths to lighten the structure of the ERJ family. The company achieved its design goals, but some airline engineers and maintainers dislike the result. The exceptionally light frame of the ERJ has made it relatively fragile and more prone to damage during hard landings. The ERJ 135 fares better than the ERJ 145 with its lower overall weight, but the problem remains.
An airworthiness directive in 2021 instructed operators to conduct additional inspections on the ERJ 135 and larger models due to concerns about improper maintenance. This came about after technicians found the side arm struts on the main landing gear were not connected in many aircraft.
The ERJ 135 has experienced three accidents leading to hull losses. None of these have resulted in fatalities, and the same holds true for the ERJ 140 and ERJ 145.
In 1998, an ExpressJet aircraft crashed while taking off from Jefferson County Airport during a training flight with no passengers aboard. The crew incorrectly applied the rudder while practicing an engine failure scenario, which stalled the left wing and caused the aircraft to crash. Five years later, an American Eagle ERJ 135LR jumped the chocks and collided with a hangar in Columbus International Airport during an engine runup test.
The third and last incident came in 2009 when an ERJ 135LR flying for South African carrier SA Airlink suffered a runway excursion. Heavy rains had contaminated the runway, and the jet aquaplaned, coming to a stop past the airfield perimeter fence.
Embraer 135 / Resale Value
After the advent of the E-Jet, the ERJ 135 fell the wayside in the airline market. The aircraft has found a second lease of life in the executive aviation market. There are very few models of the airline on sale today, as most have found themselves at the hands of charter companies. On the Global Air website, the last ERJ 135 in their portfolio sold for $3.9 million. The wet-lease costs for the aircraft in 2017 ranged from $33000 to $43000 per month.
Embraer 135 / Similar Aircraft
The Embraer 135 is a regional airliner that finds many competitors in this segment, but there is a catch. The main advantage of the ERJ 135 is that its diminutive size pits it against aircraft that are either larger or significantly older and less efficient. The only jet airliners ever built with less than 50 seats are the Yakovlev Yak-40 and the Dornier 328JET.
The Legacy 600 is in the heavy business jet segment. Aircraft in this group are fit for a relatively large number of passengers by executive aviation standards, as they have all the amenities required to comfortably fly long routes. It is no coincidence that many heavy business jets have shared a history with regional airliner models. The main competitors of the Legacy 600 are the higher ends of the Dassault Falcon and Bombardier Challenger series.
The Yak-40 is one of the longest-serving airliners in the world, with 1011 deliveries between 1968 and 1981. This diminutive Soviet relic has straight, low-mounted wings, a high T-tail, and three Ivchenko AI-25 low-bypass turbofan engines. Two of them are in fuselage pods like the ERJ 135, while the third one sits above the fuselage and uses an S-duct toward the nozzle on the tail. The jet seats 27 to 32 passengers and requires a pilot, co-pilot, and flight engineer, as most 1960s designs did.
The Yakovlev bureau designed the Yak-40 to provide jet services to airports with limited facilities or low demands. To achieve that, the engineers opted for a straight-wing design to shorten the landing run and improve low-speed performance at the expense of top speed. The Yak-40 can safely fly from unpaved runways as short as 2300 ft, but its top speed of 300 knots and ceiling of 26000 ft brought it closer to modern turboprops than jets in terms of performance. In 2020, around 39 of the 1011 Yak-40 built remained in service.
Fairchild Dornier 328JET
The Dornier 328 started as a turboprop airliner in 1993, but after Fairchild Aircraft acquired Dornier in 1996, the company tried something new. The Fairchild Dornier 328JET is a relatively simple conversion that replaced the turboprop engines of the original 328 with a pair of Pratt & Whitney Canada PW306B medium bypass turbofans. The Dornier 328JET has a high-mounted swept wing and a T-tail, with engine pods mounted on the wings.
In terms of performance, the Dornier 328JET could hold its own. The jet conversion had a top speed of 400 knots and a ceiling of 35000 ft. Its range could go up to 1480 nautical miles when using a modular auxiliary tank. The passenger capacity remained the same as in the turboprop version, with 30 to 33 seats, depending on the arrangement.
Dornier had hoped the new engines would turn around the lukewarm market performance of the original model, but this was not meant to be. Only 110 aircraft left the production line until 2002, and as of 2020, 30 remain in service. Ironically, while the jet was a flop, Deutsche Regional Aircraft GmbH has plans to revive the Dornier 328 family with the D328eco. The new aircraft will feature turboprop engines again, with an extended passenger capacity of 43.
Dassault Falcon 900LX
Dassault Aviation offers the Falcon 900LX version as its closest match to the ERJ-135 derivative. This trijet shares the classic Dassault Falcon lines and has a similar maximum payload. The Falcon 900LX enjoys up to five additional hours of flight time over the Legacy 600 and has shorter runway requirements to boot. The range allows Falcon flyers to make long trips without losing time and landing fees at fuel stops.
The main downsides of the Falcon 900LX are the cost and cabin space. The aircraft is considerably more expensive to own or charter, as it does not have a popular airliner derivative to lean on for logistics. While it is nominally able to carry 14 passengers, almost all operators restrict the Falcon 900LX to eight instead. The luggage capacity on the French business jet falls considerably short of the Legacy 600, and some passengers feel the interior gets cramped when flying with lots of luggage.
Bombardier Challenger 850
From the Bombardier, the Challenger 850 is the closest match to the Legacy 600 and 650. This Challenger model has a similar aerodynamic configuration to the ERJ 135 but boasts a larger passenger cabin. The main selling point of the Challenger 850 is its ability to deliver comfort on par with the high-end Global Express family at a fraction of the price.
The cabin is considerably better than the Legacy 600, but the Challenger suffers in range. While the Embraer offer has around 8 hours of flight time, the Bombardier plane sits at 5:30. In practical terms, the Challenger 850 cannot fly transoceanic routes like the Legacy 600. The Canadian jet is cheaper to own and operate, so owners who need a comfortable aircraft for shorter hops prefer the Challenger.
Question: How many seats does an Embraer 135 have?
Answer: The typical seating arrangement of the ERJ 135 can fit up to 37 passengers. This is a very modest upgrade from the EMB-120 Brasília turboprop, which had a capacity of 30 seats. The Legacy 600 business jet variant seats up to 14 people.
Question: Is the ERJ 135 the smallest jet airliner in the world?
Answer: No. This title belongs to the Yakovlev Yak-40, which has up to 32 seats. Next in line is the Fairchild Dornier 328JET, with room for 33 passengers.
Question: How many pilots does the Embraer 135 require?
Answer: As with most modern airliners, the Embraer 135 needs a pilot and a co-pilot to operate the aircraft.
Question: Can the Embraer ERJ 135 cross the Atlantic?
Answer: Yes, but no airline uses the ERJ 135 on such routes due to the cabin design favoring short-haul trips. However, the Legacy 600 frequently flies transatlantic routes, such as non-stop flights between London and New York.
Question: Can you charter an Embraer 135?
Answer: Yes, you can. After over twenty years of service, many airlines are replacing the ERJ 135 with more modern aircraft. The type has found a second lease of life in the charter market. Many companies prefer to rent an ERJ 135 for large groups of up to 30 people in one flight. The cabin amenities are not comparable to the Legacy 600, but it still beats economy class.