Singapore Air Show

Regional Aircraft Selling Well in Southeast Asia

 - February 9, 2014, 7:00 PM
Garuda Indonesia now flies ATR 72-600s under its new “Explore” banner.

With its diverse geography and increasingly prosperous and mobile populations, Southeast Asia has become a target of opportunity the world’s regional aircraft OEMs can no longer afford to overlook.

One of the earliest to tap the region’s potential, Franco-Italian turboprop maker ATR (Chalet E01) has for the past 15 years developed a visibility in the region unmatched by its competitors. While others concentrated on the U.S. and Europe, ATR, perhaps out of necessity but also because of its aircraft being well-suited to remote airfields, took to exploiting less obvious opportunities in developing markets within Vietnam and Thailand, for example. More recently, it has placed significant fleets with Malaysia Airlines and its largest customer in the region–Lion Air, whose subsidiaries Wings Air and Malindo together fly 45 ATRs and hold firm delivery slots on another 15.

ATR claims that since 2005 it has enjoyed a virtual monopoly in the 50- to 90-seat regional aircraft category among the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). ATR has now collected firm orders for at least 170 aircraft in Southeast Asia, and it counts 260 of its aircraft flying with 30 airlines in 23 countries in the Asia Pacific region as a whole. That figure amounts to double the number of ATR airplanes the region’s airlines flew in 2005. ATR’s backlogs suggest that by 2016 the total will triple, bringing it close to 370.

ATR attributes its success not only to the cost efficiency of turboprops, but to the nature of the region’s route structures; most, it notes, do not require the speed or range of jets, meaning the low-cost ATR enjoys a considerable constituency in several of the developing countries of Southeast Asia. Where operators must cope with short, unprepared airfields, speed and range become less of a concern than an airplane’s field performance. In Indonesia, where the world’s fourth largest population has become increasingly dependent on air links among the country’s 17,000 islands, ATR has collected firm orders for more than 85 airplanes since 2008. Delivery schedules show some 100 ATRs operating in Indonesia within the next two years.

On longer routes, mainly between more developed population centers, regional jets have shown their value as well. Garuda Indonesia, for example, flies both ATR turboprops and Bombardier CRJ1000 regional jets under the name “Explore.” By last month Garuda had taken delivery of its 12th of 18 CRJ1000s on firm order. Holding options on another 18 of the 100-seat jets, the airline remains in the throes of its “Quantum Leap 2011-2015” transformation and expansion program, aimed especially at broadening the airline’s domestic flight network. The wider project reflects Garuda’s efforts to improve its network and service quality ahead of its planned introduction into the SkyTeam global alliance next month and the introduction of the ASEAN Open Sky policy in2015.

Introduced on December 3, the new Explore brand marked the entry into service of the airline’s first ATR 72-600. The airline plans to fly up to 35 of the 70-seat turboprops between hubs at Bali, Makassar and Ambon to destinations that include Labuan Bajo, Ende and Bima.

Superjet

Another Indonesian airline that flies a mix of turboprops and regional jets, Sky Aviation, ranks as Sukhoi’s largest Superjet customer in Southeast Asia. Holding firm orders for 12 SSJ100s, it now operates three of the jets in a two-class, 97-seat configuration. As of last month it had also taken three of 10 ATR 72-600s on firm order, as it pursues an operating model not unlike that of its much larger and better-known Garuda compatriot.

Outside Russia and the former Soviet states, Southeast Asia might well represent Sukhoi’s most promising market for its SSJ100. Other customers in the region include Orient Thai Airlines, which holds a firm order for 12 SSJ100s as well as an option for another dozen, and Lao Central Airlines, which placed a firm order for three and holds an option for six more.

Of all the established regional aircraft manufacturers, Brazil’s Embraer perhaps projects the weakest profile in Southeast Asia, at least in terms of numbers of airplanes in operation among the ASEAN countries. As of last November it counted only a pair of E190 jets flying with Myanmar’s Myanma Airways. Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, a single Embraer EMB-110 flew with Papua New Guinea’s Southwest Air.

In Asia as a whole, the highest concentration of Embraer airplanes appears in China, where as of the end of last year 102 E190s and ERJ145s flew with five separate airlines. In Australia, 18 E190s operate with Virgin Australia, four E170s fly with Airnorth and three ERJ135s provide charter lift for JetGo Australia, while another 17 EMB-110 and EMB-120 turboprops fly with six different operators.