ATR Wants Better Access to China Market

 - February 11, 2014, 3:40 AM
ATR 72s are common among Asian airlines. In fact, ATR claims an 85 percent market share in Asia but has not sold any of its regional turboprops in China.

For Franco-Italian regional turboprop manufacturer ATR (Booth E01), the Asia Pacific region now takes top spot in its geographic sales rankings, but orders from China still seem to be eluding the company. Last year ATR saw orders and deliveries grow again, reaching record levels and steady profitability, but it has yet to convince shareholders Airbus Group and Finmeccanica to launch a new larger turboprop in the 90-seat category.

In ATR’s backlog, 39 percent of the customers are based in the Asia Pacific region, where the airframer claims an 85-percent market share (based on all aircraft with fewer 90 seats ordered since 2007). The most dynamic countries, both in terms of sales and prospects, are Indonesia and Malaysia. This has been the case for more than five years, according to senior v-p commercial Jacques Desbarats. “Indonesia, with a multitude of islands with short runways, is well suited to regional aviation,” he explained.

A second training facility, using an ATR 42/72-600 simulator, will be established in Southeast Asia this year. ATR will thus establish a partnership with a local company, Desbarats said. The Toulouse-based airframer already offers training on an ATR72-600 full flight simulator at Singapore’s Seletar Aerospace Park.

Sales in China, however, remain nonexistent for ATR, a situation that stems from local market conditions and high tariffs, according to ATR’s CEO Filippo Bagnato. “The Chinese are giving priority to investing in large aircraft; despite an emerging need for regional connections, the regional market does not exist yet,” he said. Tariffs is a serious issue, he complained, “[as] the 24-percent import tax for aircraft below 90 seats is not in line with commercial practice.”

He expressed his dissatisfaction at the behavior of Chinese manufacturer Avic, perceived to involve unfair competitive practices. When Avic exports its own regional turboprops, he said, notably the MA600, the interest rate can be as low as 1 percent with the loan spread over very long durations–up to 20 years. In addition, a three- to four-year grace period can be allowed, according to Bagnato. “This is not a financing,” he said, before suggesting the European Commission should tackle the issue. “The day when the Chinese really want to enter the international market, they will be forced to comply with international rules,” he stated.

The next region of growth, in ATR’s analysis, is Africa, given the growth of GDP on the continent. The company already has a customer base there, including Royal Air Maroc.

In 2013, a record 74 aircraft (seven ATR 42s and 67 ATR 72s) were delivered and it recorded firm orders for 10 ATR 42-600s and 79 ATR 72-600s, for a total of 89. Lessors accounted for 70 percent of firm orders, which has been a particular source of contentment for Bagnato. “Years ago, we were not even considered by the lessors; now they see ATRs as a good investment,” he said. For 2013, ATR claims the top spot in regional aircraft deliveries between 50 and 90 seats (comprising both turboprops and jets), with a 48-percent global market share. Thanks to the brisk sales, the backlog remains stable, at 221 aircraft, as of Dec. 31, 2013.

The financial performance is also showing a positive trend as revenues totaled $1.63 billion in the last financial year. The profit margin (EBIT) is said to be steady, at close to 9 percent, and Bagnato predicted that revenues would eventually reach $2 billion.

Despite the record, deliveries did not meet the planned number of 80. Bagnato cited supplier issues in aerostructure manufacturing. He said the company planned to have these solved swiftly, as he sees production increasing to “a minimum 80” this year and “beyond 90” in 2015.

90-Seater Poised

The 90-seater project is still on the cards–the design driver would be cutting operating costs per seat, according to Bagnato. This would translate into a lightweight, efficient and, above all, simple aircraft, he said. “Such a simple concept, with simple systems, is difficult to design,” he told AIN.

While the 90-seater remains in the “feasibility-definition” phase, it has yet to gain the full support of the shareholders. A formal proposal, including a business case study, was issued to Airbus Group and Finmeccanica in 2012; Airbus is understood to be reluctant to the idea of launching a 90-seater, and CEO Fabrice Brégier was recently quoted in the French press expressing disagreement with “the eagerness of some people.” Bagnato hinted that the shareholders want ATR’s priority to be solving current production issues.

Bagnato suggested that the current consortium structure should be changed to a full-fledged company. “We would be working as a normal industrial entity,” he said. This would not necessarily free the executive team to submit a new product launch for approval but, at least, would make everyday life easier. “Under the current structure, we need approval for everything,” an ATR spokesperson said.