ATR 72-600 to fly early this summer

 - February 27, 2009, 10:43 AM

Avions de Transport Regional has scheduled the first flight of a prototype ATR 72-600 regional turboprop for early this summer, following completion of the first “power-on” test in December in Toulouse, France. The ATR 42/72 variant that will supersede the -500 features a new flight deck supplied by Thales. A pair of PW127Ms will provide 5 percent more power than the previous-generation Pratt & Whitney Canada PW127E/F engines, thanks to a “multi-rating” concept.

“We will complete flight testing by the spring of 2010,” Luigi Lombardi, ATR’s senior v-p for operations, told AIN. Two preproduction aircraft will take part in the trials–the aforementioned ATR 72-600 and one ATR 42-600. Schedules call for the latter to fly by the end of this year. ATR plans to receive EASA certification in the second half of next year.

However, Lombardi declined to explain a slight delay in deliveries. When the company announced the program in 2007, deliveries were to begin in 2010. The most recent delivery schedule shows the first handover happening in the second quarter of 2011.

ATR plans 150 hours of flight testing for the ATR 72-600 and another 70 hours for the ATR 42-600. The company expects many of the tests on the 72-600 will provide useful data for both aircraft.

Lombardi explained the multi-rating concept: “You can use the power when you need it, for example, in hot-and-high conditions.” The additional 5 percent of power will be for takeoff and maximum-continuous ratings. As a result, the single-engine net ceiling increases by about 1,000 feet.

At a given power setting, the engines burn as much fuel as current PW127E/F engines. ATR has not sought greater fuel efficiency because no competing aircraft offers lower fuel burn, according to Lombardi. Under ATR’s “pay per power” philosophy, maintenance costs increase if the operator uses the extra power. Otherwise, they stay the same, Lombardi said.

A pair of 2,160-shp PW127Es powers the smaller ATR 42-500, and 2,475-shp PW127Fs power most ATR 72-500s. However, the new PW127M gained certification in March last year and ATR has thus started installing those variants on the current-production -500 series.

Thanks to an increased payload, fuel burn per passenger will improve in the -600, bringing CO2 emissions per passenger relatively close to those of a car, according to ATR. The 50-seat ATR 42-600 will emit 8.8 kilograms of CO2 per seat per 100 kilometers (36 pounds per seat per 100 nm). The 74-seat ATR 72-600 will emit only 6.3 kilograms (26 pounds per seat per 100 nm).

As for external noise, some “fine tuning” will bring levels within Stage 4 standards, Lombardi said. Cabin noise will decrease by 2 dBA, to 77 dBA. More fine tuning such as improved acoustic insulation will further cut vibrations.

Designers expect LED interior lighting to reduce electric power consumption. Moreover, they emit less heat, which translates into more efficiency. They also allow passengers to adjust cabin lighting more precisely.

In the cockpit, the crew will benefit from a new avionics suite, with five 6- by 8-inch LCD displays and an integrated modular avionics architecture. An AFDX bus makes data interchange faster, Alain Boursier, Thales’ v-p for regional and business aircraft, told AIN.

The autopilot has optional Category 3A approach capability, and
the standard fit includes vertical navigation. Thales is integrating some hardware from other providers, such as the terrain and traffic collision avoidance system made by ACSS.

The new avionics are more easily maintained, according to Thales. “Maintenance indications and alerts appear on the displays,” Boursier said. Technicians can resolve some issues simply by replacing an electronic board, and the system contains fewer line replaceable units–about 60, according to Boursier.

Because of a tight program schedule, Thales elected to keep a standard interface on the flight management system (FMS)–a multifunction control and display unit. The cursor- control device and accompanying interactive display that equip other Thales-made cockpits, such as that of the AgustaWestland AW139, thus doesn’t appear aboard the -600 series.

Thales still must deliver some software this spring, and the company expects the new flight deck on the prototype ATR 72 to be fully operational by the summer.