Avions de Transport Regional (ATR) is a little over a year away from completing certification of the new -600 version of its ATR 72 twin turboprop, with the smaller ATR 42-600 due to follow just a few months later in early 2011. Despite the slow sales environment in the air transport sector, the European airframer has been able to log 54 orders for the 70-seat ATR 72 and seven for the 50-seat ATR 42 from eight customers in seven countries. The latest order, placed last month by Libya’s flag carrier Libyan Airlines, is for two 48-seat ATR 42s to be delivered by year-end and is valued at $35 million (U.S.). ATR remains convinced that its investment in a new generation of turboprop transports will pay off when the market recovers.
Here at the Dubai Airshow, ATR (Stand C410) is encouraged that none of the 22 order cancellations it has received during the economic downturn have been from customers in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. However, senior vice president commercial John Moore acknowledged a slowdown in the Indian market that was booming until a year or so ago. Nonetheless, the July 2008 merger between Kingfisher Airlines and Air Deccan has not resulted in any cancellations among the 65 ATR 72-500s that the carriers had ordered between them (35 for Kingfisher and 30 for Air Deccan). In fact, the merged Kingfisher Airlines has converted 23 of these aircraft to the new -600 version.
The 72-600 is powered by new Pratt & Whitney 127M engines and its cockpit features Thales’s latest generation avionics suite, including five six- by eight-inch LCD displays and a multi-purpose computer that optimizes systems integration. Its cabin includes lighter and more comfortable seats, larger overhead baggage bins, LED lighting and in-flight entertainment systems. According to ATR, the new version will deliver improved performance in terms of fuel consumption, engine power and maximum takeoff load, as well as reduced maintenance costs and lower CO2 emissions per passenger.
The aircraft that ATR began flight testing on July 24 is an existing ATR 72-500 upgraded with the elements of the -600. In fact, the PW127M turboprop engines have been in service for some time on late models of the -500.
The flight-test program will see the ATR 72 log 150 hours and the ATR 42 just 75 hours. Due to the high degree of systems commonality between the two models, many of the tests conducted on the ATR 72 tick the same certification boxes for the ATR 42.
Launch customer for the ATR 72-600 is Air Caraibes; Air Tahiti was the first to commit to the ATR 42-600. Other -600 customers include Italy’s maritime patrol force, the Turkish navy and Spanish regional carrier Air Nostrum.
According to Moore, the Middle East region has yet to show much appetite for regional airline growth. However, ATR has had success in neighboring territories such as the Indian subcontinent and central Asia, where orders have come from Pakistan International Airlines (seven ATR 42s), India’s Jet Airways (13 ATR 72s), Azerbaijan Airlines (two ATR 42s and four ATR 72s) and Azerbaijan’s Silkway (one ATR 42). Other ATR operators can be found in Iran, Israel, Oman, Algeria and Morocco.
Royal Air Maroc ordered six ATR 72-600s in June and in 2011 is to have the distinction of being the first operator of the type. Two other undisclosed operators in the Middle East and North Africa have ordered a mix of two ATR 42s and four ATR 72s.
ATR, a joint venture between EADS and Italy’s Alenia, has reported an order book covering three years of production. It still has plans to develop a 90- to 100-seat twin turboprop but has yet to give any indication as to how or when it may proceed with that concept.