Farnborough Air Show

ATR mulls options for larger turboprop

 - July 12, 2008, 7:48 AM

French-Italian regional turboprop manufacturer Avions de Transport Régional (ATR) is considering a new aircraft to complement its 46/50 passenger ATR 42 and 68/74-seat ATR 72 regional turboprop aircraft. CEO Stéphane Mayer confirmed that the airframer is studying a larger turboprop, probably to seat between 90 and 100 seats, and options including a two- or three-member family. “A stretch [of today’s ATR 72] is not a solution,” he said.

The company is “contemplating a larger, new-generation aircraft with the same capabilities as the new ATR 72-600 with lower emissions, [better] comfort, [more] concern for the environment and [better] cost-effectiveness, compared to similar-range turboprops and jets,” Mayer told AIN. “This could be in the 70- to 90-seat range or even up to 98 or 99.”

The new ATR family–two or three aircraft depending on the market–must represent a “real breakthrough” in technology and cost to the customer, Mayer added. The fuel bill is growing, he said, even for ATRs, but turboprops remain the most economic aircraft. “The big question is how the planet can afford air transport,” said Mayer. He could offer no explicit information about a potential engine, cost or a time frame, however.

 “The main question is whether the 50-seater is still viable,” he said, alluding to the clear downward trend for turboprops of 50 seats and under that has taken hold.
Since 2005 the ATR 42 has accounted annually for only 15 percent of sales, compared to 55 percent in 2004. Overall ATR produced 24 aircraft in 2006 and 44 last year. It expects to build 64 airplanes this year, 75 in 2009 and 80 to 85 in 2012, a level of production Mayer believes will stay stable in the long term. ATR’s backlog increased from 10 in January 2005 to 193 last month, a number that effectively sells out production until 2010. Revenues in 2007 reached $1.1 billion–twice as much as in 2005–and are due to hit $1.4 billion by December.

International Orders
Over 50 percent of ATR’s orders came from Asia/Pacific carriers, about 30 percent from Europe and the rest from South America and Africa.

In the last three years, turboprops have taken 61 percent of the under-90-seat aircraft market. ATR claimed over half the 50- to 74-seat range from Bombardier’s Dash 8Q series, its only Western competitor. A big question centers on the extent of the challenge from a new generation of regional turboprops and jets such as the Sukhoi SuperJet 100, Mitsubishi’s MRJ and a possible new turboprop entry from Brazil’s Embraer. For Mayer, jets do not concern ATR as much as new turboprop competition, particularly on routes of less than 500 nm, where speed doesn’t play a big factor.

Mayer views the 50- to 60-seat Xi’an Aircraft MA60 as a competitor only because “it is made in China, but this is its only advantage.” However, the Chinese plan to fly a lighter, improved version called the MA600 in September and eventually expect to develop an all-new turboprop to compete in Western markets called the MA700.

At the moment Chinese suppliers make three parts of the ATR’s fuselage. According to Mayer, ATR will expand some production outside France and Italy, but he insisted that would not happen at the expense of work at ATR’s existing plants. “The weak dollar compels us and our supply chain to consider production elsewhere, but we have not yet decided whether this will be in dollar zone and/or low cost countries,” said Mayer. “Final assembly in China is an option, but sales there are zero and this is not on the cards today.”    

FFT X helps atr get back to basics

ATR has completely renovated its dedicated pilot training center (ATC) at the turboprop manufacturer’s Toulouse headquarters with the help of Mechtronix Systems’ FFT X–an updated Full Flight Trainer “brain motion” simulator program. According to Capt. Jean-Michel Bigarré, vice president of ATR training and flight operations, the company has also restructured the ATC’s courses to bring training “back to basics.”

The FFT X enables pilots to perform all their recurrent training including CAT II, captain upgrade, recent experience and operation proficiency checks in a fixed-base environment relying on a new concept of “motion-cueing system,” more cost effective to operate than a classic full flight simulator.

The FFT X comprises a high level of dynamic environment cues, namely a collimated visual system, a high-end sound, enhanced vibration system feedback associated with seat cueing capabilities as well as a level-D data package.

ATC organizes 100 courses for flight and cabin crews, maintenance personnel and ground staff involving around 3,500 professionals. Courses range from basic one-day ground operation courses and three-day modules for flight attendants to four- to six-week flight type rating courses for ATR 42/72 crews.

Pilots must have 200 flying hours experience in single-engine aircraft and must be able to write and communicate in English or, by special arrangement, in another language using an interpreter.

In addition to modern classrooms and fully equipped briefing stations, facilities include GNSS trainers, ACOS stations, flight deck mock-ups, flight deck evacuation mock-up, virtual flight decks, virtual procedures trainers and virtual walkaround. It uses two full flight trainers and three full flight simulators.

According to Bigarré, an experienced DGAC pilot training instructor, modern aircraft enhance pilots’ ability to manage computers that provide a higher level of assistance but also result in a reduction of basic skills and knowledge, thus maintaining the continuing need for basic training.

Bigarré believes that over the last 10 years simulator developments and improvements in simulators have focused increasingly on full flight versions and less on training outcomes.

This satisfied the needs of the ATC, but did not match the requirements of the airlines. “So as an aircraft manufacturer we reacted to raise training levels by initiating a radical departure built on recurrent educational updates for instructors, constant revisiting of training programs and the non-motion FFT X,” said Bigarre.