Here at the Paris Air Show, ATR is showcasing its newly certified ATR 72-600 in the livery of Royal Air Maroc. Meanwhile, the European airframer’s final assembly line in Toulouse is to ramp up production of the 70-seater by 40 percent–in part driven by expectations of significant new orders to be placed at Le Bourget this week. Plans for a 90-seater could be firmed up next year.
The ATR 72-600 received its European Aviation Safety Agency certification in late May. U.S. FAA approval is expected soon, thanks to the joint certification process the two agencies follow, ATR CEO Filippo Bagnato said last week in Paris. The six-month delay in getting the aircraft’s certification, which was planned for 2010 at the program’s launch in 2007, is not due to any specific issue, according to Jacques Desbarats, commercial senior vice president.
The aircraft on display is soon to be delivered to the Moroccan operator. The -600’s second customer is Brazilian airline Azul. The improved ATR 72 has a list price of $22.7 million ($800,000 more than its predecessor, the ATR 72-500). It is powered by a pair of Pratt & Whitney Canada PW127M engines for better hot-and-high capabilities. Maximum takeoff weight and zero-fuel weight increase by 1,100 pounds.
In the modernized cabin, passengers will enjoy 30-percent larger overhead bins. Bagnato told AIN that ATR engineers have found a good tradeoff between bin volume and headroom.
In the cockpit, the crew will benefit from a new Thales avionics suite with five six- by eight-inch LCD displays. It is built under an integrated modular avionics architecture. An AFDX bus makes data interchange swifter. The autopilot has Cat 3A approach capability.
The ATR 42-600 sells for $18.9 million, again $800,000 more than the -500 version. It is to be certified by year-end. Bagnato specifically mentioned the autopilot as a component that calls for extensive flight-testing by ATR and EASA engineers. The certification program involves one aircraft.
In sales, Bagnato highlighted the emerging markets of Brazil, Russia, India and China as holding a lot of hope for the near future. There are already two ATR operators in Brazil: Azul and Trip Linhas Aéreas. In Russia, deliveries have started to UTAir, which has ordered 20 aircraft; and in India, traffic is growing again, Bagnato noted.
But China is not as promising for ATR. As Desbarats explained to AIN, the Chinese government has set a 26-percent import tax for ATR-category aircraft because they compete with a local design: Xian’s MA-60. In total, the so-called BRIC countries will have accounted for 15 to 20 percent of ATR sales in the first half of 2011.
Thanks to sustained sales (including orders to be announced here at Le Bourget), production is to increase from 52 or 53 aircraft this year to about 70 next year. Desbarats told AIN he would like more but Bagnato has decided to limit the ramp-up to what he sees as a reasonable level. He does not want to create too much complexity, as the ramp-up is simultaneous with the inception of the new -600 versions. He made it clear that the 70-aircraft production plan will be confirmed once the company has ensured the supply chain can accommodate the increase, and he said he hopes production will go beyond 70 in 2013 and 2014.
The -500 variants will still be produced along with the newer -600s until 2013. Bagnato hinted 2014 will see the termination of the -500 production run. However, ATR does not want to rule out -500 orders too quickly, in case a -500 customer would want to keep fleet homogeneity.
To support the increasing production rate, ATR is growing its workforce. From today’s 3,000, it should reach 4,500 in 2013–mainly in France and Italy–including ATR direct jobs and jobs at shareholders EADS and Alenia Aeronautica. ATR currently employs about 900 people directly.
Asked about the 90-seater project, Bagnato wanted to appear conservative. Citing Boeing 787 and Airbus A380 woes, he said he wants to have a clear idea of the technology the aircraft will use before it is launched. Next year, ATR shareholders will be able to make an informed decision, he said.
ATR customers are perceived as “not needing tremendous performance.” They just need a larger turboprop, Bagnato asserted. “The enemy is cost, economics are paramount,” he said.
The company claims a 60-percent share in the regional turboprop market today. According to Desbarats, the ATR 72 has a 35- to 40-percent fuel burn advantage over the speedier Bombardier Q400. “Fuel accounts for 30 percent of an airlines’ costs,” Desbarats said. At 360 knots, the Q400 can cruise 80-knots faster than its European rival.
The 1,000th ATR aircraft should be delivered during the first half of 2012.
ATR 72-600 by the Numbers
Engines Pratt & Whitney Canada PW127M (2)
Takeoff power 2,750 shp each
Range with max payload 900 nm
Mtow 50,700 pounds
Max payload 16,500 pounds
Passenger seats 68 to 74