Before the Embraer 175 and its E-Jet siblings, there was a time when the Boeing 737 had no definite rival for feeder routes. The competition came from an awkward mix of Douglas jets and turboprops. Many carriers found it more cost-effective to run a 737 fleet for all domestic routes.
Things changed radically around the turn of the century. Brazilian manufacturer Embraer and the Canadians at Bombardier flooded the market with the CRJ and ERJ series.
Embraer then introduced a clean-sheet design under the E-Jet moniker. This would eventually propel the company up the ranks as the third-largest airline manufacturer in the world.
The debate of the Embraer 175 versus the Boeing 737 is not an ordinary comparison. Boeing and Embraer are entangled in a strategic contest to convince airlines to pick a path: lower training costs with a standardized 737 fleet versus lower operation costs using the E175 for feeder routes.
The smaller members of the Boeing 737 family still have almost twice the passenger capacity of the Embraer E175 and handsomely exceed its range.
The added capability is welcome, but flying jets with empty seats is expensive. Furthermore, the scope clauses currently enforced by pilot unions make smaller aircraft practically mandatory for regional subsidiaries of mainline carriers.
Bottom Line Up Front
The Embraer 175 and Boeing 737 serve different purposes. The smaller E175 is better for thinner routes and emerging airlines, whereas the Boeing 737 shines as the workhorse for mainline carriers.
Many companies have leveraged the capabilities of both aircraft to create a system where the Embraer 175 takes passengers from smaller airports to hubs, after which the Boeing 737 makes the trip between major destinations.
The Main Differences Between the Embraer 175 and the Boeing 737
The main difference between the Embraer E175 and the Boeing 737 is in the category. Both aircraft are narrow-body twin-engine airliners. The Boeing 737 fills the short to medium-haul role, while the Embraer E175 is a regional airliner at heart.
When flying as a passenger, the first thing you will notice once you board the Embraer 175 is that it only has four seats per row.
The seating arrangement on the E-Jet is the first to be symmetric in Embraer aircraft. All other airliners from the company, from the EMB-110 Bandeirante to the ERJ family, used three seats per row in a one-two arrangement.
The Boeing 737 family has used a three-three configuration since the 737-100 entered service in 1968. This seating arrangement became the industry standard for medium-range jet airliners with the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8.
Despite the seating capacity gap, the Boeing 737 and the Embraer 175 have similar dimensions on the ramp. The Embraer E175 is 103 ft 11 in long, only marginally shorter than the Boeing 737-700 at 110 ft 3 in. However, while the E175 typically carries 78 passengers, the 737-700 can take up to 149.
Both airliners use two turbofan engines, but there is a catch. The Boeing 737NG family, the closest contemporary to the E175, uses the CFM International CFM56-7B series starting at 20000 lbf of thrust.
This is well above the 14200 lbf output on the General Electric CF34-8E used by the Embraer E175 and the smaller E170.
The more powerful engines are a necessity. With around twice the passenger capacity, most Boeing 737NG variants weigh twice as much as the E175. Even the Boeing 737-600, the lightest in the series, has a maximum takeoff weight of 144500 lbs, compared to 89000 lbs for the Embraer 175.
The regional aspirations of the Embraer E-Jet become clear from its range. The E175 can fly out to 2200 nautical miles, compared to 2935 to 3235 nmi depending on the Boeing 737NG model.
Pilots will find the flight decks comparable. On both planes, the pilots use yoke controls with multifunctional displays and share engine instruments down the middle.
Boeing opted for square screens, while Embraer picked tall, rectangular ones. Each company stuck with its traditional yoke design, the more classic one by Boeing on the 737 and the unique M-shaped one on the E175.
- Most popular regional airliner in the world (818 units sold as of late 2022)
- 70 to 78 passengers depending on the configuration
- Fly-by-wire on pitch and yaw, with conventional controls for roll
- Used primarily by regional airlines or in feeder routes by mainline carriers
- The last original E-Jet is still in production
- E-Jet E2 evolution on hold
- First jet airline without a flight engineer
- Produced continuously from 1966 until today with over 11000 units delivered
- Best-selling medium-haul airliner in history
- Conventional controls across all variants
- Its main rivalry is with the Airbus A320 family since the latter entered service
- 737 MAX generation mired by controversy after two fatal accidents
One glaring advantage of the Boeing 737 is the overhead baggage bins. They are far more spacious in the American jet. I often find myself having to stuff my backpack under the seat in the Embraer E175.
Other than that, there are few practical differences for passengers. Couples flying together might enjoy the two-and-two seating on the Embraer 175 more. Larger families may prefer having everyone in the same group of seats in the 737.
The Boeing 737 and Embraer E175 have the means to be incredible and mediocre rides depending on the airline configuration. Pseudo-low-cost airline Norwegian has done a fantastic job with their 737NG fleet, with plenty of legroom, free internet, and a pleasant interior.
I like the 737 as much as anyone else, but the linear passage of time is inescapable. The Boeing 737, even in its MAX iteration, is still an evolution of a 1960s airliner. It is almost unfair to make it compete with a 21st-century option.
Modern versions of the Boeing 737 pack an adequate avionics suite. The flight controls remain primitive at best and unintuitive at worst. The 737 is the only jet airliner still in production that does not use fly-by-wire controls. The sole envelope protection available to the crew is their better judgment, aided by aural cues.
The latest attempt to keep the 737 current led to the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) on MAX variants. The system aimed to keep handling similar enough to the 737NG to warrant a shared type rating.
Design, certification, and training flaws led to two deadly accidents and a long grounding period. Boeing and the FAA got MCAS up to standard, but was this odyssey necessary?
Fly-by-wire controls have progressively become the industry standard, especially since the introduction of the Airbus A320 in the late 1980s. The Embraer 175 uses a digital fly-by-wire system on the pitch and yaw axes, as do all first-generation E-Jet aircraft.
These flight control systems have more redundancies, offer better envelope protection, and weigh much less than conventional controls.
The Boeing 737 entered the glass cockpit era with the NG series. The cockpit has remained broadly similar in the MAX, only with an updated avionics suite. The number of knobs and switches on the row above the displays remains staggering. Many pilots complain about the cockpit still being more old-school than it should be.
It only takes a glance at the E175 flight deck to see the difference in design philosophy. The minimalistic approach and clean-sheet project allowed Embraer to put only the essentials in front of the crew. The displays on the E175 match the 737NG in size.
Ergonomics are a personal affair, but I find the M-shaped yoke on the Embraer 175 much more comfortable than the classic design on the Boeing 737. The wrists rest naturally, and the grip shape makes hand-flying less taxing.
There is no clear winner between the Embraer 175 and the Boeing 737. Both airliners offer good performance and reliability and are priced appropriately for their segments.
The right choice depends on the operational requirements of the company. Alaska Airlines plans to operate a unique fleet that relies exclusively on the Embraer E175 and Boeing 737.
The most common division is the E175 serving with regional airlines, while the Boeing 737 takes on the mainline duty.
Not all airlines can afford to operate many types at once, and that is where the higher flexibility of the Boeing 737 comes in. Although the Embraer E175 is a fantastic aircraft in what it does, its range and passenger capacity are still meant for short-haul, regional routes.
Neither can replace widebody behemoths like the Boeing 747 or the Airbus A330. Still, the Boeing 737 can carry about 200 people from one coast to another in the United States. The order numbers speak for themselves: the Embraer E-Jet family has sold 1749 units, compared to an incredible 7124 of the contemporary Boeing 737NG.
Most Boeing 737NG sales have been of the 737-800 variant, with 4991 orders. The most popular E-Jet is the E175. Embraer sold 818 units.
The History of the Embraer 175 and Boeing 737
The Birth of the Boeing 737
While the Embraer E175 competes with the Boeing 737 in the short-haul segments, the Boeing offering is a good few generations older.
Boeing began work on the 737 in 1964 to fill the gap Embraer would identify for the E-Jet. The trijet Boeing 727 was a brilliant performer for busy domestic routes and an expensive solution to shorter, less popular ones.
After toying around with the configuration, the American aviation manufacturer settled on a swept low-wing with a conventional empennage.
The design team decided to drop the fuselage engine mounts in favor of the underwing pylons used on the older Boeing 707 family.
One key difference from the Boeing 727 was the cockpit. Following industry trends, the Boeing 737 had removed the flight engineer position, trimming the crew down to the pilot and co-pilot.
It is fair to say that the Boeing 737 introduced the short-haul airliner as we know it. All designs currently in production follow the same formula and with good reason.
The first generation of the Boeing 737 used a pair of Pratt & Whitney JT8D low-bypass turbofans. The initial 737-100 could typically carry 103 passengers and had a modest range of 1540 nautical miles. Boeing delivered 30 models before production shifted to the new 737-200.
The Boeing 737-200 model addressed a lot of shortcomings. The fuselage stretch allowed passenger capacity to grow to 130, though most airlines would fly it with 115 seats.
An additional fuel tank added 1250 gallons, while newer versions of the JT8D engine provided more fuel and efficiency. These changes allowed the Boeing 737-200 to reach 2600 nmi. Boeing sold over 900 units of the 737-200.
The 737 in the High-Bypass Era
Engine technology advanced since the days of the Pratt & Whitney JT8D, and Boeing gained valuable experience and customer feedback over a decade of successful operations.
Boeing executives launched a stretched version of the 737 with high-bypass turbofan engines, which offered considerably better fuel economy.
The centerpiece of the new generation of the Boeing 737 was the CFM56 engine. The engine was a joint venture between the French engine manufacturer Snecma Moteurs and General Electric Aviation from the United States.
Today it feels crazy that one of the most widespread aviation turbines ever almost failed without a single order. The CFM56 came dangerously close to that fate. The French government threw a lifeline by electing the CFM56 to replace the low-bypass engines on the French Air Force KC-135 tanker fleet.
The order inspired United, Delta, and Flying Tiger to place orders to re-engine the aging DC-8 units still in airline service in the United States.
Boeing picked the CFM56 for the new Boeing 737 generation and unveiled its choice in 1980. Mating the engine to the airframe was not a trivial task.
The Boeing 737 sits very close to the ground, so the standard CFM56 pylon mount would not clear the ramp. The engine and aircraft manufacturers worked together to find solutions.
The final arrangement is unique but quite functional. CFM International designed a new version of the CFM56 with a smaller fan. The company also moved the accessory gearbox to the port side instead of the bottom. The assembly went into a wider redesigned nacelle with a flat bottom, a signature look of the 737.
Instead of hanging the engine under the wing, the new 737 had the CFM56 mounted out front. The changes lowered the power rating from 24000 lbf to 20000 lbf in the first variant, a considerable improvement over the 16400 lbf on the later Boeing 737-200 models.
The first Boeing 737-300 flew in February 1984. The aircraft reached its first customer in November. It could typically seat 140 passengers and had a range of 2255 nmi.
In 1985, the company launched the longer 737-400 to bridge the gap between the 737 and 757 families, followed by the shorter 737-500 in 1987. The passenger capacity in this Boeing 737 generation, later christened the 737 Classic, ranged from 110 to 168 based on the model and seating configuration.
Rather than offering a standard flight deck, Boeing offered both legacy and modernized versions for clients. The first choice left the cockpit broadly similar to the 737-100 and 737-200.
The digital option added two displays per crew member and a flight management system (FMS). The arrangement was inspired by the Boeing 757-200.
Production of the Boeing 737 Classic ran from 1984 until 2000, with 1988 units sold, of which 1113 were the original 737-300.
Boeing versus Embraer and Airbus
Although the 737 Classic sold well, Boeing felt pressure to update it almost as soon as it had launched the series. The Airbus A320 family experienced a meteoric rise, and many regular Boeing operators like United Airlines changed allegiances.
It was easy to see why the Airbus A320 bested the 737 Classic. The European offering flew faster and farther. On top of that, it had a state-of-the-art digital fly-by-wire control system and a glass cockpit. Boeing had to react.
The Boeing 737 NG (Next Generation) program was launched in November 1993. While Boeing and Airbus duked out for the medium-haul segment, Brazil’s state aviation company Embraer slowly worked on an aircraft tailored for the regional market.
Embraer hoped to attack the gap between turboprops and larger jets like the Boeing 737 for shorter routes and smaller companies.
Boeing redesigned the wing of the 737NG, resulting in a 25% increase in wing area, and made changes to all aerodynamic surfaces. The CFM56 turbofans stayed, as did their unique mount and a flat bottom. The new CFM56-7B variant offered better fuel economy and a quieter cabin.
The flight deck of the Boeing 737NG has two square multifunctional displays per pilot, with another pair stacked vertically. The modern instrument panel was a welcome departure from the chaotic earlier variants.
American low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines became the launch customer in December 1997. ExpressJet Airlines had pressed the Embraer ERJ-145 into service in April that same year. The two companies were not competing directly, but this would change soon.
The Boeing 737NG spawned four variants from 1997 until 2019, numbered 737-600, -700, -800 and -900. The introductory model was the Boeing 737-700, with a capacity between 128 to 148 seats. The new aircraft was 110 ft 4 in long and had a wingspan of 117 ft 5 in, including the winglets.
As a direct competitor to the Airbus A320 family, the Boeing 737NG could fly at 41000 ft and had a top speed of Mach 0.82. Typical cruise speeds were around Mach 0.78.
The Boeing 737-700 had a range of 3010 nautical miles. The 737-800 and 737-900ER expanded seating, reaching a maximum of 215 seats. Despite the significant increase in capacity, the range never dropped below 2900 nmi.
By the time production of the Boeing 737NG ended, the American company had sold an incredible 7124 aircraft. The most popular model was the Boeing 737-800, introduced in 1998, with 4991 orders.
In the regional market, Embraer found the ERJ family was practically unmatched in feeder routes, but the limited passenger capacity pigeonholed it. In 1999, a mere two years after the introduction of the ERJ-145, Embraer launched the E-Jet project at the Paris Air Show.
The Brazilian company presented the family in two models, the E170 and E190. As their names suggest, they accommodated 70 and 90 passengers.
The new aircraft ditched the fuselage engines for pylon mounts under the wing. The T-tail gave way to a conventional empennage.
Embraer picked the General Electric CF34 high-bypass turbofan to power the E-Jet. This engine complies with strict noise abatement regulations, allowing the E-Jet family to operate from deep urban airfields such as London City Airport.
After three generations of using three seats per row, Embraer moved to four in the E-Jet. The cockpit had a Honeywell Primus Epic avionics suite, in a cleaner but overall similar arrangement to that found on the Boeing 737NG series.
While Boeing remained loyal to conventional controls on the 737NG, Embraer installed a digital fly-by-wire system on the pitch and yaw axes of the Embraer E-Jet. Curiously, the ailerons remained conventional.
The Embraer E170 and E190 entered operational service in 2004. Consultations with companies during development exposed a need for a slightly larger aircraft between the two models.
Designing the variant was simple enough, adding a modest fuselage plug and expanding passenger capacity to 78 typically. Air Canada was the launch customer of the Embraer E175.
Like the E170, the E175 used the CF34-8E variant of the engines, with a thrust rating of 14200 lbf. The E175 matches the speed and ceiling performance of the Boeing 737NG, but its range is considerably lower at 2200 nautical miles.
Embraer had sold 818 units of the E175 by the end of 2022. Most of these aircraft are flying in the United States today. SkyWest Airlines remains the largest operator, with 205 units in its fleet.
Despite blistering sales, it is fair to say that the Boeing 737 and the Embraer 175 have reached their final stop for different reasons.
Boeing fell behind Airbus when the European conglomerate introduced the A320neo family and rushed to catch up with the 737 MAX. The program centered on the new CFM LEAP engines, a downscaled version of the General Electric GEnx fitted on the Boeing 787 and 747-8.
The accelerated design and certification program led to Boeing delivering the 737 MAX without explicitly training new pilots on the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) or acknowledging its existence at all initially.
Following two deadly crashes in 2018 and 2019, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) revoked the airworthiness certificate for the Boeing 737 MAX family.
The airline crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 compounded Boeing’s woes. While the company had over 5000 orders for the Boeing 737 MAX, by March 2023, it had only fulfilled 1144.
The Boeing 737 MAX looks increasingly likely to be the last family of this iconic airliner. The Boeing medium-haul jet of the future needs to be a clean-sheet design incorporating fly-by-wire controls and built with modern engines in mind.
It is possible to keep the 737 current by continuously upgrading it. However, I feel we are past the point where this makes sense.
Embraer is also unlikely to carry the E175 any further. The company went as far as building the prototype for the E175-E2, incorporating the improvements inherent to the E-Jet E2 series. This aircraft has performed multiple flights to date.
No airline has demonstrated serious interest in a larger version of the E175 compared to the E190-E2 and E195-E2.
The Embraer 175-E2 currently falls foul of scope clauses in most American carriers, so it cannot fly for regional subsidiaries as a replacement for the E175. Where such limits do not apply, companies have found the larger E2 versions more attractive.
According to Embraer, the E175-E2 program is not canceled but is on hold. I have very little hope for this aircraft to enter operational service unless some cataclysmic changes occur.
The Boeing 737 invented the short and medium-haul jet airliner as we know it. The 737 began airline operations with Lufthansa in 1968, and I expect it to stay in service for many decades.
The most prominent variant of the 737 is the Boeing 737NG, introduced in 1997 as an answer to the Airbus A320. The Boeing 737-800 seats up to 184 passengers in a single-class layout and uses a pair of CFM56-7B high-bypass turbofans.
Thanks to the more efficient engines and aerodynamic refinements, the Boeing 737-800 can reach 2935 nautical miles while cruising at 41000 ft with a top speed of Mach 0.789.
- Lowest operational costs in its class
- Long range
- Large passenger capacity
- A reliable design validated and refined over the decades
- Outdated flight control system
- Limited room for growth
- Smaller seats on most airlines
- Expensive for small carriers to operate
The Embraer 175 is the second shortest version of the E-Jet family of regional airliners. Embraer created the E175 after many customers requested an intermediate model between the original E170 and E190 designs.
The E175 follows the same aerodynamic configuration as the Boeing 737, with a pair of General Electric CF34-8E engines for propulsion and a passenger capacity of up to 88. The flight control system has a fly-by-wire channel for pitch and yaw but retains conventional aileron controls.
The top speed and service ceiling of the Embraer 175 match that of the Boeing 737NG, but the original scope of the design shows when we look at the range. The E175 can fly out to 2200 nmi. This is a respectable number but no match to contemporary Boeing 737 variants.
- Clean sheet design
- Advanced flight control system
- Comfortable interior
- Low acquisition costs
- Restrictive range
- Small passenger capacity
- Tiny overhead baggage bins
- Few modernization prospects
Some might say comparing the Boeing 737 to the Embraer E175 is apples to oranges. Airlines often have to make a choice between them.
The advantages of the Embraer 175 lie in the low acquisition and operation costs. In an airline industry where mainline carriers dominate most busy routes, attacking smaller airports with a cheaper jet like the E175 is a smart way for emerging airlines to become competitive. To put it in numbers, the E175 costs around $50 million, compared to $100 million for a Boeing 737NG.
The cheap acquisition cost is not free. The Embraer 175 range is almost 1000 nautical miles shorter than the Boeing 737NG, with half the passenger capacity. If an existing segment becomes more popular, the demand can become too much for an E-Jet fleet.
The Embraer E175 is a clear winner in technological terms, as is expected of a clean sheet design. At the same time, the numbers paint a good picture of how the needs of airlines influence this choice. Embraer sold 818 E175 units until 2023, compared to 4991 of the Boeing 737-800 variant alone.
Question: How many Boeing 737 and Embraer 175 aircraft fly in the US today?
Answer: According to 2020 data from Forecast International, there were 367 E175 units operational, compared to an impressive 1904 Boeing 737 of all models. The most popular 737 generation remains the Boeing 737NG, introduced in the 1990s. If we count other Embraer E-Jet models, there were 687 aircraft flying in 2020.
Question: Is the Embraer 175 cheaper than the Boeing 737?
Answer: Yes. As of February 2023, a new E175 cost $49.9 million, whereas a Boeing 737 cost $106.1 million for the 737-800 and $121.6 million for a 737 MAX 8.
Question: Is the Boeing 737 faster than the Embraer 175?
Answer: The Boeing 737NG and the Embraer E175 have a maximum speed of Mach 0.82. However, while the Embraer 175 typically cruises at Mach 0.75, the Boeing 737 cruise speed is Mach 0.789.
Boeing and Embraer came close to uniting to displace Airbus, but Boeing pulled out of the partnership. If the project had gone through, this joint venture could have offered packages of 737 and E-Jet variants for airlines covering multiple niches.
The Boeing 737 and the Embraer 175 do not always compete. Alaska Airlines remains the best example of this. Starting in 2024, the company will only fly the Embraer 175 and Boeing 737 variants.
Though the future prospects for the Embraer 175 and Boeing 737 may look bleak, I expect both families to stay in service for many decades. The Boeing 737 MAX and the E175 remain in production, and even if there is no follow-up to the MAX or if the E175-E2 is canceled, there are plenty of new airframes to go around.
These very different jets have become staples of airlines, especially in the United States, and it is impossible to imagine flying without them today.
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