When taking the helm of a company that already owns a substantial portion of the regional aircraft market, one might be tempted to wonder if there’s anything more to be done. But Patrick de Castelbajac, who was appointed CEO of ATR at the beginning of June, knows there’s plenty of work left to do.
“When you’re at the top, the challenge is not only to stay at the top, but to find ways to continue to grow,” de Castelbajac told AIN. De Castelbajac succeeds Filippo Bagnato, whose four-year mandate, in accordance with ATR’s statutes, expired at the end of May.
Considering ATR’s dominance in the market, it’s easy to understand the new CEO’s challenge. Since 2009 ATR has captured more than 40 percent of the global market for 50- to 90-seat regional aircraft. Orders for its ATR -600 series, launched in 2010, already exceed 500 aircraft. The company boasts a record-breaking backlog, which has doubled in less than four years. At more than 320 and valued at $7.9 billion, the backlog stands as the strongest among all regional aircraft with 90 or fewer seats, ATR claims.
“We’re in the midst of commercial aviation’s most ambitious ramp-up in recent years, increasing by 37 percent in the last two,” de Castelbajac said. “We are set to deliver 80 aircraft this year and are positioning ourselves to reach 95 next year and 100 by 2016.”
De Castelbajac, who came to ATR from Airbus, where he served as head of contracts negotiations since 2010, noted that one cannot sit on past successes. “I intend to keep ATR powering forward,” he said. “Our recently EASA-certified PW127N engines and enhanced avionics suite are excellent examples of how ATR is doing this.”
The PW127N engines provide 4.5 percent more maximum takeoff power than the ATR 72-600’s PW127Ms, giving the aircraft better hot-and-high performance and opening more airports with challenging environments to ATR 72-600 operations.
ATR plans to introduce the engine progressively this year and next, and an Avianca aircraft is the first to be delivered with the upgrade. Operators can also convert from the PW127M to the new PW127N in the field with only minor hardware modifications.The airplane’s enhanced all-glass cockpit also plays a role in allowing operations at more airports. For example, its LPV system means the aircraft can now land independent of ground equipment commonly lacking at many secondary airports.
Both the engines and the avionics combine to cut fuel consumption and increase efficiency, creating what ATR characterizes as a remarkably green turboprop. Although markets have grown primarily in the Asia-Pacific region and South America, ATR sees promise in the long-stagnant and regulation-heavy European market.
As a mature market, Europe provides little room for fleet growth. However, ATR sees fleet renewal opportunities, noting that half of the turboprop regional aircraft in Europe comprise models no longer in production.
“The ATR 72-600 is the greenest regional aircraft,” claimed de Castelbajac. “In fact, a flight from Brussels to London with the ATR 72-600 burns less fuel than taking the Eurostar train between the two cities.
“This all exemplifies the ATR philosophy that I have inherited and intend to carry forward,” he added. “As a turboprop manufacturer, ATR is not in the field of speed, we are in the field of economy. And that means continuing to look for ways to increase the ATR’s efficiency and decrease its operating costs.”