“No Big Deal To Land Here”- Embraer Test Pilot Says Winds and Gusts at St Helena Airport Are Normal
PROPER FLIGHT TESTS, POSITIVE RESULTS | Darrin Henry
We have good news and more good news about St Helena Airport, which do you want first?
Brazilian aerospace company, Embraer Commercial Aviation have carried out extensive Embraer E190 St Helena flight trials at the island’s Airport and had no problem landing their passenger jet in 25 knot winds and 35 knot gusts on runway 20.
Captain (also Test Pilot and Flight Instructor), Joel Faermann, said the quality of St Helena Airport is, “amazing.”
Runway 20 (the Barn end) approach from the north, which proved problematic for Comair’s Boeing 737-800 in April 2016, was tested repeatedly by the Embraer team with low level passes, landings and full stops, and all declared, “very safe, very easy,” by Captain Faermann.
Rio de Janeiro has a more challenging runway than St Helena with strong winds and cross winds; Embraer aircraft operate more than 10 flights a day from there.
Correction from original statement: The Embraer E190 has long range capability – it could carry 96 passengers up to St Helena from Cape Town and should weather conditions prevent a landing, it has the capability to fly to Ascension Island. In order to return to the African mainland it would need to fly from an airport in Angola. It does not have the range from Cape Town to St Helena and back as orginally stated – (updated info from Captain Faermann)
The Embraer E190 St Helena Flight Trial Begins
Arriving from Recife, Brazil, on Wednesday 30 November, the Embraer team of pilots and flight test engineers stayed two full days, departing on Friday 2 December. Their flight testing over St Helena Airport took place on Thursday 1 December.
On Friday before they departed, Sharon and I received a message that the Embraer boss wanted to meet us before they left, specifically to show us their aircraft and give us an interview on board.
When we met up we were chuffed to bits to discover they already followed What The Saints Did Next online and recognised us as we approached. Unfortunately St Helena Airport officials denied the Embraer team permission to take us through to see the E190, citing international regulations. However, we did manage to conduct two interviews inside the terminal.
Considering the airport’s history, what was said was very exciting to hear, so, we’ve transcribed the interviews in full.
There is one reference to a wind condition we are unable to decipher clearly, this is noted – also, please allow for English not being Mr Faermann or Mr Mendonca’s first language as we have tried to transcribe as close as possible to the spoken word.
We have also edited a short video of the Embraer E190 flying test circuits at St Helena airport, overlaid with audio extracts from Captain Faermann’s interview.
Interview with Captain Joel Faermann, Embraer
Can I have your name please?
My name is Joel Faermann I’m a captain and test pilot and flight instructor of Embraer. Embraer is the Brazilian aero-nautical enterprise and we have several branches of equipment in the aero-nautical industry. This equipment here, this plane is dedicated to our airline, it’s a family of four airplanes we call the e-jets. Four airplanes, 170, 175, 190, 195. This one is 190. The capacity of seats is 96 seats with a business class or first class included but we can go up to 106 economy only.
This airplane does a long range capability with a high speed and high performance airplane, and with the latest technology we have on the market today and this airplane that we brought here is a prototype fully equipped for test flights. That we performed in the test flights and approach here on both runways, mainly the runway 20, the runway that has some winds and gusts.
We have to understand the idea of gusts and winds because some pilots or other aero-nautical people can understand and wind shear. Wind shear mostly depends on several factors, here the factor is mostly because of mountain wave and the mountain wave cause some of the wind gusts and variable wind. So sometimes it’s not exactly wind shear. We test there, now we have the engineering department and equipment inside the plane collecting the data to make a nice report to evaluate the situation and give a final report.
Meanwhile I can tell that the winds here are normal like any other island and any other places I have been [and] operated, I operate all over the world. In Asia, in India, South America, North America, Europe, I’ve been delivering this airplane and training people and the interesting thing that during this test here, I also took advantage to start making some training with new pilots here. Probably next year they will start flying here with Embraer, I hope, from Africa, South Africa, probably Cape Town, we’re not sure yet. So, this is the good news that we have here.
Sounds great, I’ll go back to Wednesday when you arrived. You arrived for the Embraer E190 St Helena flight trial on runway 02 with the tailwind, how was that and what was the tailwind speed?
The tailwind speed was around 10 knots wind but this plane can land with 15 [knot] tailwinds and the landing distance is enough because this runway pavement is concrete, very rough and scratched, it makes the brake connection very nice, even if you have light showers or rain. So we can land with tailwind.
The other way if go runway 20 because we have some winds, yes we would expect some turbulence in 500 feet down to 300 – 200, then if the pilot correct the winds, gusts and variable wind it’s a normal test, normal drill for the pilot so there’s no big deal to land here on runway 20 with the headwind.
Of course the planes must have the capability and to land and brake and even go around if the weather’s not good, low visibility or low clouds and if they decide to go to another place, to alternate, our plane can return, can reach back to Africa for example because we have a long range capability with this airplane.
So you could come here from Cape Town and get back?
Updated statement: The Embraer E190 has long range capability – it could carry 96 passengers up to St Helena from Cape Town and should weather conditions prevent a landing, it has the capability to fly to Ascension Island. In order to return to the African mainland it would need to fly from an airport in Angola. It does not have the range from Cape Town to St Helena and back as orginally stated – (updated info from Captain Faermann)
Yesterday, I watched you do four circuits was it?
Yes, four circuits and approach just to evaluate the winds, the fifth we did a full stop and land. Then I changed the crew, then we did a new take-off, then we make a touch and go landing runway 20, then we came for a full stop again then I changed the crew again, took off on runway 20 did a touch and go, then a full stop. So it was five full stop landings four go arounds to check the environment and the winds so we can really tell you that it was nice and everything went okay.
What was the maximum wind speed?
We have some moments 25, gusts 35 knots.
What height were you with the 35?
Around 300 feet already close to the threshold, getting close, but it’s okay not a big deal, only some light bumps and corrections. Our airplane has some advantage because of the wing shape it gives a lot of controllability for the pilots. Also the control column and yoke have a good grip and good response of the airplane. Also on our airplane is some features called steep approach. It’s a button that opens the speed brakes together when we have full flaps for landing. Then you can make steep angles up to 5.5 degrees to approach and land if necessary because if the gusts of the wind are in low level we can fly over the gusts and land safely. So this is another option we have from other airplanes in the market.
Yesterday you had the 35 gusts, did you continue with a landing or did that necessitate a go around?
No, we landed. We landed. 25 and gusts 35 is ok, it’s not a big deal, it’s no problem the airplane can control very well, the pilot can control manually the airplane very well. If the pilot takes so long to control the airplane and feel that it is unsafe then he can perform a go around but in this case our plane did very well. So there is no need to go around.
All the go arounds that we did yesterday were planned, we planned to do the go around because engineering was collecting the data so the idea is to make the go around at exactly that point that we have the gusts, then the sensors of the plane can collect other data necessary to perform our report.
After four different angles that we performed, then we did a normal 3 degree angle approach and full stop, very safe, very easy.
Was there anything at all during your tests that gave you cause for alarm during the Emraer E190 St Helena flight trials?
No, nothing at all, nothing. Only good news I have, I observe here, I don’t understand what such a taboo, we can say like that maybe, because of course there’s some seasons you’ll have more wind, more gusts, but like any other place. And then if it overpass the limitation or recommended crosswind of any other airplane you must evaluate the situation to land on runway 02 with tailwind. But I would suggest the pilot to go to try. This is a category C airport so needs training. Train in simulator or in other places category C the pilot has flown.
So, it’s interesting that the pilot performed a nice training, like we always do, every six months or every year depending on the authority. We have to go to simulators, in simulators we practice there, so this is normal for the pilots. When we’re talking about wind shear, wind shear is related mostly for the thunderstorms, down draughts of water and strong winds make a big strong vertical movement, rolling. Then we have some instruments in the airplane that can tell the pilot, caution wind shear, when you gain performance, or warning wind shear that you are losing performance.
So when you have a thunderstorm surrounding the airport in less than five miles then you can expect the wind shear alarm and also the bad effects of wind shear, and then the pilot must go around. In this case it’s a mountain wave with variable wind and gusts and (possibly “curling” – audio unclear) wind close because of King and Queen Rock rocky mountain close to the threshold that makes those variable winds and gusts.
If the pilot is aware about that and correct promptly can land safely.
If you were to operate from this airport you would look to use runway 20?
Sure, I’m going to land on runway 20, always. Always.
If Embraer was to operate here what would be your passenger capacity?
This aeroplane can carry 96 passengers, then the engineering department for every company must calculate how much payload they want to carry. Because not only passengers you have the cargo and baggage of the people and the fuel to alternate. But our airplane is capable to carry 96 passengers and depending on the alternate you can come here with a full payload, let’s say like that and then return to Africa.
With 96 [passengers]?
Yes. Yes. And then this depends also how many cargo you have in the cargo compartment. This then can vary. Maybe you are limited in the compartment a little bit. Because the total payload of this airplane is 13,000 kilos, and the maximum landing weight is 44,000 kilos. With 44,000 kilos we can land safely on both runways. With 44,000 kilos it’s including 96 passengers. Then only the cargo compartment that will vary if you load up or not.
Brilliant news! This plane, where is the most difficult, most challenging airport it operates at?
One of the most difficult we can say and we need the special training is in Brazil we have short runway, 1200 metres in Rio de Janeiro city and this airport is surrounded by mountains we have the Sugar Loaf mountain with the cable car in front. That runway is a short runway, have some strong winds, cross winds and also when you take off or go round you have a mountain very close like four miles in the runway heading so when you reach 200 feet you have to immediately turn left 45 degrees to avoid the mountain. This is one challenging place that I’m watching and operating and in Brazil everybody use the Embraer very well there as well as other airplanes like Boeing 737 and Airbus 320 in a 1,200 metres runway and it’s asphalt runway. So this one is concrete it much better, the braking action is much better here.
So that runway in Rio would you say is more challenging than here?
Yes. For sure.
You operate there everyday?
Yes, all the people we have some routine from Sao Paolo to Rio we have a shuttle service, more than 10 flights a day taking people there in and out.
And it’s fine? No problems?
It’s fine. The only problem is when you have low visibility to the terrain or low clouds, then we have low ceiling limitation then this is like any airport in any other place.
Does your plane need any special modification to operate or is it ready to go?
It’s ready to go. But if the company choose an option of what we call steep approach button we have more chances to make different angles if the pilot wants to try different angles because this airplane is certify to land in London City. London City is 4.5 degrees of angle. Then we need to use this button, steep approach to make a steep angle and land short. In London City their runway is very short, also very challenging it’s a 1200 metres runway in the middle of the buildings. We can do this with this airplane using this feature. It’s an optional feature depending on each customer if they want to use or not. But you don’t have to use that one to land here because I test with a three degree angle and working nicely. No problem.
Is Embraer looking to provide a service for St Helena? Is that what your visit is about?
Our visit is a demonstration and test flight for all, any other customers interested in using Embraer to operate here. It’s an independent test and demonstration flight from the commercial department from Embraer, like a marketing demonstration. To have anyone and to help to develop the ‘ability’ (edit) here in the airport to increase the possibility of any other company using other airplanes, other aero-nautical equipment to fly here safely. It’s their purpose.
I asked Atlantic Star this same question. Is this being paid for by Embraer?
Only by Embraer. Full costs of this demonstration flight is by Embraer.
How long have you known about St Helena and the Airport?
Around one month ago and then we started to prepare this demonstration flight.
The plane has Empress of London City on the side is it only that one plane?
Yes, only this one. This is the prototype. The first airplane, this plane has 12 years old and we have that skin painting like that because of the London City campaign when we were certifying the steep approach in London with that and it matches very well to come here so this is wonderful.
I think that’s all of it. Did you enjoy St Helena?
It was a pleasure I felt very welcome, nice people, warm people. Nice infrastructure you have here, you have great facilities in the airport so we have to come soon and start…
…and the airport; the quality of the airport?
Amazing. Amazing. Everything working very well, the communication. I got communicated here 200 miles in VHF is more than normal when I was coming from Brazil. When we come from Africa it is 300 miles when a friend of mine was coming here on week ago with a Falcon 7X. Three hundred miles before you reach the island you can communicate with the island in VHF. Imagine that. I communicate at 200 miles because I was coming behind the mountain, from Brazil the route is from behind the mountain so it blocks it a little bit the signal of the VHF. But 200 miles was great enough.
End of Embraer E190 St Helena flight trial interview with Captain Faermann.
Interview with Celso Mendonca – Embraer Flight Test Engineer
And your job is the…?
I’m the flight test engineer.
Tell me a little about yesterday I saw you doing the circuits, how’d it all go?
We are doing the circuits to evaluate the best operational conditions to operate the aircraft concerning flight path, angle, speeds and check the controllability, check also workload for the pilots. Each pass we were doing evaluating and we’ll issue some comments about what we are doing.
All the passes that we have has positive comments from the pilot’s point of view regarding controllability, workload and safety, it was a successful flight yesterday.
Was there anything at all that gave you cause for concern?
No, no, nothing. It’s not a different airport than any one with specific conditions. So the pilot must know what he’s doing, know well the airport and as long as he’s used to doing that there is no issue at all.
The conditions you flew in yesterday the pilot told me the maximum wind speed was 25 knots?
25 knots, yes.
A little bit higher. But it is a little bit stable then sometimes varying in speed and direction of the winds but it was fine.
Have you tested in worst conditions in another place?
Yeah, yeah. That’s the first one, airplane of the series is the Embraer 190-001, during the flight test campaign we moved to cities like Punta Arenas, to test the crosswind conditions, to test still wind conditions, in strong tail winds, strong cross winds. We had already test before if the airplane is capable of tailwind, crosswind, turbulence, a steep approach and what we are doing here is just to cross check the airfield conditions and see the airplane operating. But you are [-transcription not clear-], worst conditions before.
Finally, if I looked at the aeroplanes, the 737 and the Embraer they look very similar, but obviously they are different. What’s the big difference between the Embraer and 737?
The size is not pretty much different but the capacity of passengers for the 737 is higher than 190. So it’s a little bit fat than the 190, the 190’s thinner. For a pilot’s point of view a thinner and longer airplane is better for controllability.
So basically that’s what makes it more stable?
Yes, it’s lighter and have a long tail concerning the weight of the airplane so it’s better, more controllable.
So in your opinion operating that plane from this airport, would there be any problem?
Yeah, it’s fine.
It would be fine?
It will be fine, yeah. We had the pilots from the other company that did the approach on landing also in their experience also a very good landing.
End of Embraer E190 St Helena flight trial interview with Celso Mendonca.