Customers from the Asia/Pacific region played a big part in the banner year European airframer Avions de Transport Regional posted in 2005. They accounted for just over two thirds of the 90 firm orders and 26 options that ATR received for its 48-seat 42-500 and 68-seat 72-500 twin turboprop regional airliners–in what was the company’s best year for sales since 1989, when it logged 107 sales.
Of 61 sales from the region last year, 50 came from ATR 72 orders placed by two major Indian operators: 30 from Air Deccan (plus 20 options) and 20 from Kingfisher Airlines (plus 15 options). Pakistan International Airlines ordered seven ATR 42s, Air Tahiti took one ATR 72 (plus one option) and Air Caledonie committed to two 72s and a 42.
At the beginning of 2006, 112 ATRs operating in 15 countries throughout the Asia/Pacific region and a backlog of 55 aircraft is heading for this part of the world. These comprise 47 for India, four for Tahiti, three for New Caledonia and one for Taiwan.
Repeat Performance Unlikely
ATR senior vice president commercial John Moore told Aviation International News that the exceptionally high number of orders for aircraft in 2005 will probably not happen again this year, but the underlying trend points to a plumper order book than in the last few years. “The Asia/Pacific region continues to present growth opportunities for ATR aircraft, and the conditions and factors of the market that contributed to our success should remain positive for additional sales in the region in 2006,” he stated. “Clearly the rise in oil price has been a reason for the renewed interest in turboprops. They are considerably more fuel-efficient than jets and therefore they are benefiting from this effect.” Moore maintained that the cost efficiencies that regional carriers are still finding in turboprop equipment like the ATR family have prompted rival manufacturers Bombardier and Embraer to “practically discontinue [production of] 50-seat jets.”
The average stage length of ATR’s operators in the Asia/Pacific region is 200 nm and trip times range between 48 and 54 minutes. Moore argued that this type of route is where the turboprop is the most efficient aircraft because of the low fuel burn and operating economics. He added that they can also beat jet alternatives in terms of airfield performance. According to ATR, a 70-seat jet will burn 55 percent more fuel than the ATR 72-500.
About 25 percent of ATR’s annual revenue now comes from support activity and the manufacturer is in the process of building infrastructure in India to back its growing fleet there. In addition to the recent 50 Air Deccan and Kingfisher orders, Jet Airways and Indian Airlines’ subsidiary Alliance also operate eight and four ATRs, respectively. “Our modest prediction is that the ATR fleet in India will grow from the current level of nearly 30 [ATR] aircraft to approach 100 units over the next four years, so it is a natural development to build up the support structure for this fleet,” said Moore.
The manufacturer expects to make a final decision in the first half of this year, but at present the expanded support facilities would include a dedicated spares and logistics center in New Delhi this year and training facilities in Mumbai for Kingfisher and in Bangalore for Air Deccan. It is also currently talking with a potential partner for this new maintenance infrastructure. ATR already operates a fully integrated support center in Singapore and a training center in Bangkok to support operators in Asia.
Eye On China
ATR sees China as the next major growth market in the Asia/Pacific region, even though today very few regional aircraft, and even fewer turboprops, operate in the country. These include five ATR 72s flown since the end of the 1990s by China Southern subsidiary Xianjiang.
“The paucity of regional aircraft is due to a variety of reasons but we can expect that many of these barriers will decrease over time and the potential of the regional market can be realized,” concluded Moore.
In addition to Bombardier’s Q Series aircraft, Chinese carriers can also choose from out-of-production twin turboprops offered by Saab and BAE Systems on the second-hand lease market. Other imported alternatives to the ATR family include the Ukrainian Antonov An-140. Of course, China builds a turboprop of its own, the Pratt & Whitney Canada PW100-powered MA-60, which has reportedly drawn orders for at least 15 examples from four Chinese airlines. A derivative of the XAC 47-200, the MA-60 began flying for Xi’an’s Changan Airlines in 1999. Last year final assembler Xi’an Aircraft delivered the first two export versions of the airplane to Air Zimbabwe.