ATR preps for record production rate

 - February 27, 2008, 8:53 AM

ATR plans to deliver more than 60 new aircraft this year and expand production capacity to answer a surge in demand for its regional turboprops, while increasing its revenue to more than $1.3 billion. Meanwhile, the company continues to contemplate a bigger aircraft, possibly a stretched version of its newly announced ATR 72-600.

ATR chief executive Stéphane Mayer told AIN it is “still far too early to say anything more” about a larger model and he declined to provide a launch date. He confirmed, however, that some clients have asked for a longer aircraft and that ATR engineers are studying a version of the ATR 72 that would seat between 90 and 100 passengers, as well as other options, such as an entirely new line of aircraft.

“Despite jet mania, turboprops are back for the long term,” said Mayer. “We are now more able to prepare ATR’s long-term future and R&D is under way for what could [result in] a post-ATR 72 aircraft, but we are in a very preliminary stage.” Last year ATR delivered the first turboprop equipped with in-flight entertainment and LED lighting in the passenger cabin and in October announced the launch of its ATR 42- and 72-600 series. The new developments will feature what Mayer described as the “most up-to-date integrated avionics for a turboprop” and more powerful Pratt & Whitney Canada PW127M engines.

ATR plans to start deliveries of the -600 in late 2010 and deliver the last -500 in either 2010 or 2011. The company hasn’t yet decided on the exact date it will switch to producing the -600 series exclusively.

ATR last year booked record orders for 113 (plus options on 26 more) aircraft, almost 80 percent of them the 66- to 74-seat ATR 72, the larger of the two variants. It reported orders for 12 aircraft in 2004, 90 in 2005 and 63 in 2006. New customers accounted for two-thirds of last year’s orders, and 52 percent came from Asia Pacific carriers. The company also sold several used aircraft.

The Toulouse, France-based airframer last year delivered 44 aircraft, also a record, up from 24 in 2006, 15 in 2005 and 13 in 2004. Deliveries this year and next include a new fleet of eight 66-seat ATR 72-500s to London’s Lonrho for its Nairobi-based Fly540 airline subsidiary. An ATR spokesman told AIN that the present turmoil in Kenya would not affect deliveries as the pan-African airline would not base the aircraft there.

Sold out until 2012, ATR production will rise to 64 this year, 75 next year and 85 in 2011. The backlog increased from 89 on Dec. 31, 2005, to 195 two years later. Last year’s revenues reached $1.098 billion, representing a 56-percent hike in a year.
Mayer said he wants to see ATR’s order tally rise from 950 to 1,000 this year.
Although order growth would continue, he said, it won’t rise at the rates of the past two years. “In view of the supply of raw materials, ATR and its suppliers are working to capacity,” he added.

In the last three years, turboprops have taken 61 percent of the market for aircraft with fewer than 90 seats, and ATR claims to control more than 50 percent of the market for 50- to 74-seat turboprops. Mayer said ATR’s main focus at the moment is ramping up production capacity at its Toulouse assembly facility. ATR itself has increased its workforce by 13 percent, and suppliers have also been hiring.