ATR poised to pounce as RJ economics wobble

 - May 8, 2008, 4:41 AM

Turboprop manufacturer Avions de Transport Regional (ATR) believes that European regional airlines’ ardor for the 50-seat regional jet may be cooling and wants to take advantage of the situation. “Some European operators are thinking again about turboprops,” the French-Italian airframer’s general secretary, Jean-Pierre Cousserans, told AIN.

The ATR executive maintained that with traffic levels down airlines have found regional jets can be up to 25-percent more expensive to operate than turboprops on routes shorter than 350 nm. He said that–after initially being deployed on long, thin routes that were not suitable for turboprop equipment–the new-generation regional jets had since been moved onto former turboprop routes of just 250- to 350 nm, where their operating economics are coming undone. “The good news for ATR is that very few European airlines have gone to all-jet fleets and they may now be tempted to stop increasing the weight of their jet fleets,” Cousserans concluded.

ATR currently has a backlog of just 26 of its ATR 42-500s and ATR 72-500s (48- and 68-seaters, respectively) having delivered 643 turboprops to date. The Toulouse-based firm hopes to deliver 20 aircraft this year and expects to log new orders soon to keep its backlog at around 25 units.

Cousserans said ATR’s future now depends on continuing to meet its financial objectives, rather than maintaining backlogs at a particular level. This was in response to scuttlebutt that its parent companies–European Aeronautics Defence & Space (EADS) and Italy’s Alenia–may be losing faith in the future of turboprops.

Dispatch reliability for both ATR models currently stands at around 99.5 percent. Cousserans said there is a “very active” market for used ATRs, and that demand for the ATR 72, in particular, currently outstrips supply.