ATR banks on resumption of turboprop revival

 - February 23, 2011, 3:00 AM

Judging by figures released at a Paris press briefing on January 20, the waning resurgence of the commercial turboprop market has, if anything, resumed at a stronger pace than at any other time since the segment began reclaiming lost ground from the regional jet market a half-decade ago, at least for Franco-Italian manufacturer ATR. In fact, the EADS-Alenia joint venture appeared to take a commanding lead over its only Western rival in the segment in both sales and back-order totals last year.

ATR finished the calendar year with an order total of 80 airplanes and a backlog of 159. Meanwhile, Canadaπs Bombardier announced orders for just 45 Q400s. Because Bombardier’s fiscal year ends on January 31, it released its last official Q400 status report after the last day of its third fiscal quarter, on October 31, at which time its backlog stood at just 67. Extrapolating its October 31 calendar-year-to-date delivery total of 42 to roughly four airplanes per month and considering a 15-aircraft order from Indiaπs SpiceJet in December, Bombardier would have finished the calendar year with a backlog of approximately 74 airplanes.

Although one wouldn’t consider Bombardier’s performance substandard by recent years’ criteria, it seems less impressive when compared with ATR’s out-of-the-ordinary showing. ATR collected orders for exactly twice as many turboprops in 2010 as it logged in 2009, while its backlog now accounts for some three years of production at its current rate of just over 50 airplanes a year.

Carrying its largest backlog since early 2009 and emboldened by projected demand for some 3,000 turboprops over the next 20 years, ATR has decided to raise its production rate to 70 airplanes by 2012, at which point it expects revenues to rise from some $1.35 billion to $1.8 billion.

ATR’s backlog includes 107 of the new ATR 72-600, scheduled for first delivery by the middle of this year, and five ATR 42-600s, the first of which the company plans to ship by year-end. It also holds unfilled orders for 42 of the current-generation ATR 72-500s and four ATR 42-500s.

“I am delighted that ATR has regained speed in 2010 by doubling the previous yearπs order intake,” said CEO Filippo Bagnato. “We registered significant orders from new customers in Latin America and the Caribbean region, as well as strong signs of confidence of lessor Air Lease Corporation, thus increasing our worldwide presence. We now have now a strong baseline to prepare ATR for its next important step.”

Still, ATRπs presence in North America remains weak, a condition it hopes to remedy with the help of the 600 Series, with its new Thales avionics suite, more powerful Pratt & Whitney Canada PW127M turboprops and an option for a forward passenger door that will allow the jetway access particularly valued by U.S. customers. o