Indonesia, Japan, and various Pacific island nations appear particularly strong prospects for sales of the recently launched short-takeoff and landing (STOL) version of the 50-seat ATR 42-600 turboprop airliner, according to the Toulouse-based manufacturer.
Zuzana Hrnkova, ATR Aircraft’s v-p of marketing, told AIN that the company sees the ATR42-600S as potentially valuable in Indonesia for opening new routes to existing and new short-runway airports on many of the nation’s islands. Last year, Indonesia came in third behind India and Brazil in terms of new routes opened by ATR aircraft and the vast island nation is today ATR’s biggest individual country market in the Asia-Pacific region, she said.
Some 110 ATR turboprops are now operating for Indonesian carriers—Lionair Group being ATR’s biggest Asia-Pacific customer, with about 80 aircraft in service in Indonesia and Malaysia—and “roughly 70 percent” of the ATR fleet in Indonesia comprises new-generation 600-series aircraft, according to Hrnkova.
On launching the ATR 42-600S in October, ATR said it reckoned the new STOL version would open up about 500 new routes worldwide, of which more than 150 would be in the Asia-Pacific region. The region already leads all others in terms of new routes opened by ATR aircraft in the past year, having accounted for 88 of the 164 new routes ATR turboprops launched in 2019, according to Hrnkova.
The potential attractiveness of the ATR42-600S for Pacific island-nation carriers became clear from the moment ATR launched the STOL version, with Air Tahiti becoming the launch customer for the type. Air Tahiti will operate the ATR42-600S on its routes linking Tahiti with the other islands in the Society Islands and the other island groups in French Polynesia. Hrnkova said ATR thinks other carriers based on islands in the Pacific will be interested in the ATR42-600S as well.
Japan is another Asia-Pacific national market where ATR thinks the ATR42-600S will prove attractive. Three Japanese regional carriers—Amakusa Airlines, Japan Air Commuter, and Hokkaido Air Commuter—already operate ATR turboprops and the aircraft are popular there with passengers on regional routes, according to Hrnkova. She said the Japanese Government wants to invest in the development of additional secondary air routes directly connecting remote Japanese communities to its major cities to try to stem a continuing drain of young people from countryside areas to Tokyo and other large metropolitan areas.
One specific Japanese market for which ATR believes the STOL type may win sales is in the Ogasawara subprefecture. Some 540 nm southeast of Honshu, the ATR42-600S could open air routes for the first time between its remote islands and mainland Japan. Only two of the islands—Chichijima and Hahajima—are inhabited and the total population of the islands numbers slightly fewer than 2,500 people. Today the only transport link between the Ogasawara Islands—also known as the Bonins—and the islands of the Japanese mainland is a long ferry journey by sea.
While the Asia-Pacific region is ATR’s top market globally (some 470 ATR turboprops, more than one-third of the entire active ATR fleet, are in service there) until now it has had virtually no sales success in China. But the company thinks that is about to change. The Civil Aviation Administration of China has approved ATR’s application to have its 600-series turboprop airliners certified in China—indicating the government’s potential willingness to consider allowing Chinese airlines to order ATR aircraft—and the manufacturer has begun the certification process.
The market potential for regional turboprops in China is vast, according to Hrnkova. Today about 90 percent of all Chinese domestic air traffic is carried on routes in eastern regions of China linking cities which are also connected by high-speed trains. However, “in the rest of China, there is nothing” comparable to that in terms of air service, “so we believe there is a dynamic [within the Chinese Government] to connect” larger communities in central and western China.