Anyone doubting the staying power of turboprop aircraft in the regional airline sector probably should have visited Toulouse on May 3 to see ATR delivering the 1,000th example of its twin turboprop series. Spanish carrier Air Nostrum received its latest ATR 72-600 in a ceremony presided over by the heads of ATR’s shareholders: EADS outgoing chief executive Louis Gallois and Giuseppe Orsi, chairman and CEO of Italy’s Finmeccanica.
ATR delivered its first aircraft—an ATR 42—to France’s Air Littoral on Dec. 3, 1985. The popular, fuel-efficient turboprop has seen a resurgence in recent years thanks to the negative effect of high fuel prices on the productivity of jets on shorter, regional routes. Some 180 airlines in 90 countries around the world now operate ATRs. “Since 2005, ATR has recorded almost half of all of its orders and delivered nearly a third of its aircraft,” ATR chief executive Filippo Bagnato pointed out.
Last year’s record sales of 157 aircraft by the Franco-Italian manufacturer represented 80 percent of international sales of regional aircraft carrying 90 seats or less. “In 2004 we had an order backlog of five aircraft… [and] we were delivering only one aircraft a month… It was one of the last years of ‘jet mania,’” reflected Bagnato. “Then [in 2005] we said we have to launch the message that we are confident and go for 1,000. Now we are three times the size of 2005. We have more than 1,200 aircraft already in our order book.”
The company now aims to produce seven aircraft a month by 2014. ATR’s work to modernize the aircraft over the past five years has further accelerated demand. Before the May 3 ceremony AIN had the opportunity to fly the ATR 72-500 simulator, which clearly showed how much of an advance the newer -600 flight deck represents. ATR is now moving toward building all of its aircraft with the new ‘glass cockpit,’ which makes it a more pilot-friendly aircraft and helps prepare airlines for future advances in the ATC environment.
The 1,000th aircraft is the second of five to be acquired by Air Nostrum through a sale-leaseback arrangement with Nordic Aviation Capital. Air Nostrum expects to take delivery of three more ATR 72s in July, by which time it will likely decide whether or not to convert options it holds on another 10 to firm orders.