Turboprop airliner manufacturer ATR says it is doing better than ever as the company, which is a joint venture between Airbus and Italy’s Leonardo, continues to enhance its products as well as what it can offer airline customers—most recently by creating a new finance and leasing unit. Meanwhile it has been studying the potential for a short-takeoff and landing ATR 42 upgrade, to cater to clients; including those wishing to replace 30-seaters.
Speaking to AIN before the Paris Air Show, CEO Christian Scherer, who joined the company from Airbus some six months ago, said ATR has been “going out with some energy to stimulate demand, and we’re getting good traction. There is a lot more activity today than when I joined.”
He noted that this was not because he joined, necessarily, but said that “I think we’re seeing maybe the start of a wave of replacements as some older aircraft hit their limits, including some regional jets as well.” He agreed that some airlines see the fuel-efficient ATRs as “a natural fuel hedge.”
Scherer noted that continuous development of ATR aircraft is a key factor in its continued success and that any day it is due to receive certification of its new “Standard 3” avionics, which is designed to reduce both pilot workload and ease airline operations—including the ClearVision System (head-mounted Skylens visor displaying basic flight data, synthetic vision system and enhanced vision system). These can be seen on Elbit’s display at the show (Static A8).
On the cabin side Scherer said “You’ll also see our new seats and the modern, clean, lean cabin—and with more overhead volume than many business jets. The noise levels [in the cabin] compare favorably to RJs too.” ATR customers can select the new seats to save 300kg per shipset—“that’s more than three passengers,” said Scherer.
With ATR’s smaller aircraft, the ATR 42, Scherer said “We’re the only manufacturer now offering a 50-seater and we’re proud to have delivered the first one of a recent order to JAL, and some lessors have gone speculative on the 42 as well.” ATR has been working on the “untapped potential” offered by the ATR 42 by developing its short takeoff and landing capabilities–“enabling it to fly in and out of very short runways, as short as 800 meters [2,625 feet] or so. This should open up a whole range of new possibilities–with steep approach capability and operating costs that compare to 30-seaters.” Many of the latter are ripe for retirement, for example Saab 340s, believes Scherer. “Basically you get 20 seats for free, guys!”
He said that the company had “just completed the feasibility study” but was not launching just yet, as it wants to “go to the market” to gauge the level of interest first. But Scherer said the upgrade would probably include “substantial tail modifications, mainly to the rudder,” and replacement with fly-by-wire actuation control, “and enhanced brakes.” It would be “a nice piece of engineering,” he suggested—which is “currently at the maturity gate 3.”
Asked about the new large (90-seat) turboprop which ATR has had on its drawing boards for some time now, Scherer admitted it was still being kept on the back burner. “Of course we’re studying it—I believe there is a market for it but there’s no rush…ATR is doing very well and we’re at record high output.”
He said production was “stabilizing at around 80 aircraft a year, and for the foreseeable future that’s our target. And we can see stability coming to our backlog too—we have two-and-a-half to three years.” He also said that ATR “enjoys a very strong relative position” to its main competitor, Canada’s Bombardier. He concluded: “I don’t think there’s room for more than two players in this market place.”
ATR -600s ranked first among all regional aircraft sales last year, with orders for 36 aircraft (34 ATR 72-600s and two ATR 42-600s), meaning its market share in the 50- to90-seater segment has remained above 35 percent since 2010.
With the company’s 35th anniversary falling in 2016, it saw historical levels of turnover and deliveries “despite a challenging market environment” and achieved its second-highest turnover ever ($1.8 billion), and its third-highest year in terms of deliveries (80 aircraft).
Story updated with new information on June 17, 2017.