Smaller ATR Gets EASA Nod

 - July 8, 2012, 1:40 PM

ATR’s 50-seat 42-600 turboprop was certificated by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) late last month, bringing to fruition a test campaign that saw the larger, 70-seat ATR 72-600 gain certification in May last year. The aircraft have been updated with glass cockpits and modern avionics systems along with other refinements, including the Armonia cabin designed by Italian car designer Giugiaro. The first example is to enter service later this summer with an undisclosed customer.

“We are pleased to see that the entire ‘-600’ family is now ready to operate for our customers,” said ATR chief executive Filippo Bagnato. “Today we are the only manufacturer of 50-seat aircraft in the world.” The company at present has orders for 15 ATR 42-600s, which have sold in smaller numbers compared to the popular ATR 72. It now offers only the -600 variant of each (a few 72-600s are still being built, all of which are to be delivered by the end of 2012).

Bagnato, commenting on prospects for selling more ATR 42-600s, concluded that “the U.S. market [in particular] represents a strong potential for the ATR 42, as this is a market with an increasing number of equivalent-size jets grounded as they became inefficient and do not provide business opportunities any more. There are more than 250,000 frequencies in North America operated by 50-seat jets that are not operated in a profitable way.

ATR has identified 500 aircraft in the 50-seat market in its 20-year forecast, for replacement of jets and also Saab 2000, Bombardier Dash 8-300s and Fokker 50s. There is also a market for the ATR 42-600 to replace 30-seat aircraft where traffic demand is growing. There are 1,000 aircraft in the 30-seat market–for example, the Dornier 328, Embraer 120 and Saab 340–that need replacement over the next few years.

The avionics upgrade includes five LCD screens, new communication, navigation and monitoring systems, flight management system (FMS), automatic pilot, alert management and multi-purpose computer (MPC–integrating aircraft maintenance and protection functions, among other things).

ATR has enjoyed considerable success by way of orders in recent years thanks to high fuel prices and the efficiency of turboprops compared with jets on shorter routes. “We are in a substantial ramp-up,” explained Bagnato. “From 15 aircraft delivered in 2005 to 54 in 2011. This year we are ramping up to 70, 80 in 2013 and 85 in 2014. You can imagine the industrial effort this represents.”

The European manufacturer’s market position is that it achieved an 80-percent share of the market for 50- to 90-seat regional aircraft in 2011, and has recorded 70 percent of total turboprop aircraft sales since 2005. The company now has more than 180 operators in more than 90 countries, and delivered its 1,000th aircraft (to Air Nostrum) at a ceremony in Toulouse on May 3.

“Currently we have a historical backlog of more than 200 aircraft–and this makes more than three years of production,” Bagnato told AIN. “We estimate that there will be a demand for more than 2,000 50- to 90-seat turboprops in the next two decades.” This is a remarkable turnaround for turboprop airliners, a category that almost died out ten years ago.

“We have sold more than 1,200 aircraft since the beginning of the program in 1981 and almost 50 percent of these orders have been booked since 2005, after the so-called ‘jet mania’ years,” added an ATR spokesman. Exact figures for 2012 are to be provided at the Farnborough airshow, added the spokesman.

Following this week’s Farnborough International Airshow, various airlines are poised to receive ATR 72-600s; among them: Brazil’s Azul, Spain’s Air Nostrum, Morocco’s Royal Air Maroc and Brazil’s Passaredo. In the static display at the show are an ATR 72-600 and a concept car designed by Giugiaro.

Asked about its plans for a new-design turboprop aircraft, Bagnato told AIN that the company is evaluating aircraft with substantial efficiency gains (some 20 percent lower operating cost per seat) and totally new engines. It also wants to increase the use of composite materials (up to 30 percent of the aircraft structure) and to further increase passenger comfort. “The idea is that all these improvements can also be developed in the 50- and 70-seat versions of the ATR aircraft,” he concluded.

ATR estimates that the cost would be “around half the cost of developing a new regional jet aircraft. “We are talking of below $2 billion. Some engine manufacturers have clearly already studied the engine for a 90-seat turboprop, which may accelerate, for a technical point of view, and entry into service of the new aircraft,” he concluded.