Air Astana Goes into Court On Embraer Case

Special correspondent of the "News" department
Because of a chain of failures of E190-300 aircrafts

According to a Kazakhstani company, the Brazilian producer has broken its contract and didn’t provide proper guarantee services. The airline estimates its cost of «unsafe» flights at $11.9 million plus court expenditures.

The claim against Brazilian Embraer was filed in New York on July 2 by Latham & Watkins LLP on behalf of Air Astana, which has kept five E190-300 in its fleet. Interestingly, they are almost new and remained in service for less than a year. All of them are well-known to Kazakhstani passengers thanks to the hand-made image of a snow leopard on the nose of the aircraft.

Brazilian Herd 

After Boeing and Airbus, Embraer is the number three aircraft producer in the world. The very first Embraer 190 from Brazil came to Kazakhstan in 2011, when Air Astana started to change propfan Fokker 50 aircraft with new jets. By the middle of 2013, this process was completed.

In the summer of 2017, an Air Astana general meeting approved the operational rent of the new generation of Embraer E190-E2 for six years. According to information provided by the producer, this new model was supposed to require less fuel (17.3%), service charges (15–20%) and have a much longer flight range (plus 1,000 kilometers).

On April 10, 2017, International Lease Finance Corporation (ILFC), an American company, bought four Embraer Е2, and then through its corporate parent company AerCap passed the aircraft over to Air Astana. In turn, Embraer, which promised ILFC all the technical support needed, agreed to extend a warranty on those planes transferred to Air Astana. This helped Air Astana to decide on leasing new E190-E2 from AerCap.

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History of Failures 

On June 22, 2019, during a flight from Tashkent to Almaty, the Е2 controlling system informed pilots that the ice protection on the plane didn’t work. According to information in the court claim, this system is vital for flight safety because it prevents wings from icing, which might be very dangerous due to lower buoyancy and less control. 

Pilots tried to reboot the system twice with no result and were forced to land the place in Shymkent. Embraer was aware of this failure but didn’t inform Air Astana and other clients about this, according to the court claim.

On September 26, 2020, the crew of an Е2 flight from Kyzylorda to Almaty got a false warning about smoke onboard. The flight protocol requires the crew to shut down the electric system and make an emergency landing. At first, Embraer suggested that the problem could be solved with some changes in wires but later admitted that its smoke detector wasn’t able to distinguish between smoke and dust. Since February 2019, the Kazakhstani airline has registered 23 false smoke warnings in total.

On November 9, 2020, during a flight of E2 from Aktau to Nur-Sultan, the plane’s onboard computer signaled about high temperature in the hydraulic system and some other technical failures that prompted the crew to take all relevant measures.

In two separate cases on May 6 and July 22 last year, E2 changed the altitude of flight on its own with no actions by pilots. In the last case, the aircraft was able to gain 800 feet of altitude before the rise was noticed by the crew. Embraer has said that it is going to fix the problem in conjunction with another company, which is responsible for E2 avionics.

Moreover, the Kazakhstani airline reported six cases of wing slat failure that can cause a loss in altitude.

The Result

The airline has analyzed all these incidents twice: on its own at the initial stage and then with help of third-party specialists. On December 8, 2020, Air Astana notified Embraer about its decision to suspend E2 aircraft from service. The airline wanted the aircraft producer to fix all technical problems and reimburse all costs and losses that the company accrued because of E2 troubles. However, Embraer refused to do so, which prompted the airline to file a claim. According to the document, all E2 incidents should be covered by the producer’s warranty and Embraer has everything needed to fix the problems but failed to do so. As a result, the airline was forced to conduct its operations in an unsafe mode.

The total amount of losses is about $11,888,495 plus court expenditures, according to Air Astana. 

On May 21, 2021 Aviation Administration of Kazakhstan formed the commission, which has to assess the level of flight safety of E2. As the regulator has noted, Air Astana’s decision to suspend the E2 service is justified. However, according to data from Almaty International Airport, E190-E2 aircraft is still flying between Almaty, Nur-Sultan, Shymkent and Kyzylorda.

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