For ATR, 2011 is already a record year for sales of its regional airliners, but the European manufacturer could have more business to announce soon. Promotional materials seen at the Dubai Air Show site this week suggest that an African carrier could confirm an order for a pair of ATR 42-600s on Monday, plus options for two more and also one for the larger ATR 72-600.
As of the eve of the airshow, ATR had logged 145 firm orders this year and with an additional 72 options the value of these deals is $4.8 billion. The Toulouse, France-based company’s backlog now totals 267 of its twin turboprop aircraft, representing four years of production. Next year, it will increase production rates from 54 to 72 aircraft and rising sales could drive this up to 80 and then 85 over the subsequent two years.
“Despite the financial crisis [regional airline] traffic is still increasing,” ATR chief executive Filippo Bagnato told AIN. “That’s the positive, but the negative is that [airline] yields are decreasing because the costs, such as fuel and for personnel, are increasing. So airlines have growth but profits will be lower.”
But ATR is convinced that this dilemma plays to its strengths. “Airlines cannot make mistakes in their product policy and the profitable airlines these days are the ones with the right aircraft for the right services. This is one of the reasons ATR sales are growing. For short sectors up to 350 nm the ATRs are real moneymakers for the airlines, with fuel consumption that can be half that of the alternatives and lower maintenance costs,” he said.
According to Bagnato, reduced profitability on longer-haul routes means that airlines can no longer take the view that these services can subsidize loss-making regional connections. In this respect, he claimed the ATR 42s and ATR 72s (with up to 48 and 74 seats, respectively) offer more viable breakeven load factors than larger jets.
August saw Royal Air Maroc become the launch operator for the new ATR 72-600. In addition to providing improved performance, the -600 also features the new Armonia cabin interior.
Bagnato believes that Africa is full of promise for further ATR sales, with an existing operator in Tanzania, for example, using the aircraft to serve destinations that would otherwise be inaccessible because only unpaved runways are available. The aircraft also do well in markets like these because they can operate autonomously with no ground support equipment.
The manufacturer’s faith in the African market is demonstrated by its plans to open new training facilities in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2012. Another new flight training center is due to open in Bangalore, India.
But what of the Middle East itself? Why do regional airline services seem slow to take off here? In Bagnato’s view, this is simply because operators have chosen to prioritize the development of long-haul routes to compete directly with Western airlines. “We have to give these countries time to take the next step [and develop regional services]–and the same is true in China–but in terms of regional connectivity [in the Middle East], there is still a mountain to climb,” he concluded.
In addition to Royal Air Maroc, other ATR operators in the Middle East and North Africa include: Air Algerie, Iran Aseman Airlines, Libyan Airlines, Oman Air and Syrian Arab Airlines.
The new ATR 72-600 is powered by a pair of 2,750-shp Pratt & Whitney Canada PW127M engines. Maximum range with a full passenger load is 899 nm