DALLAS – Today in Aviation, the prototype of the ATR 72 performed its maiden flight in 1988. On this same day in 1989, Finnair (AY) became the first airline to operate the type.
In its decades of service, the ATR 72 has been used as a commercial and corporate transport, cargo aircraft, and maritime patrol aircraft.
The ATR 72 is a twin-engine turboprop, short-haul regional aircraft developed and manufactured in France and Italy by ATR (Aerei da Trasporto Regionale or Avions de transport régional), a joint venture created by the French aerospace group Aérospatiale (now Airbus) and Italian aviation conglomerate, Aeritalia (now Leonardo S.p. A.).
Almost 11 months after its prototype took to the skies, on September 25, 1989, the ATR 72 received airworthiness certification from the French Directorate-General for Civil Aviation. The number ’72’ in its name comes from the standard configuration of the aircraft, which could accommodate 72–78 passengers in a single-class arrangement.
ATR 72 Development
In the 1980s, the aforementioned French and Italian companies combined their work on a new generation of regional aircraft. Thus, a new joint-owned company, ATR, was formed for the purpose of establishing, manufacturing, and selling its first airliner, the ATR 42.
On August 16, 1984, the first model of the series, the ATR 42-300, performed its maiden flight. On January 15, 1986, ATR announced the launch of the stretched ATR 72 program.
The ATR 72 was a direct descendant of the ATR 42 and shared several commonalities with the latter; the one difference between the two aircraft was an improvement in the overall seating capacity, from 48 to 78 passengers.
ATR accomplished the increase in capacity by expanding the fuselage by 4.5 m (15 ft) along with an increase in wingspan, the use of more powerful engines, and an increase in fuel capacity by around 10%. Further developments came in new variants of the type.
In October 2015, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) granted ATR the certification for its new passenger-cargo ‘combi’ variant of the ATR 72-600 turboprop. According to the ATR press release, the new cabin configuration would allow a combined cargo volume of over 19 m3 in volume and nearly 3,000 kg in weight with up to 44 passengers.
ATR 72 Sales, Customer Base
At the turn of the century, ATR’s global fleet had reached its 10,000,000th flight, covering a distance of approximately 4 billion km (2.5 billion statutory miles) and carrying 450 million passengers. Seven years later, ATR production set a new sales record for the program, with a total of 113 new aircraft ordered in a single year.
The numbers grew. 2011 was a record-breaking year for sales at the company. In 2013, ATR reported a 48% global market share for regional aircraft deliveries of between 50 and 90 seats (including both turboprops and jets), making it the dominant manufacturer in this market segment.
That same year, leasing companies accounted for 70% of firm orders, totaling 10 ATR 42-600s and 79 ATR 72-600s.
By the end of 2014, ATR had received 1,000 orders for the type and produced a total of 754 with a backlog of 246 aircraft. By 2018, Air Botswana (BP) and Swiftair (WT) had already taken delivery of their first ATR 72-600. As of July 2019, 775 ATR 72s were in airline service, with a further 171 on order.
In that same year, the primary ATR 72 airline operators (with 15 aircraft or more) were Wings Air (IW), Azul Brazilian Airlines (AD), Air New Zealand (NZ), IndiGo (6E), WT, Firefly (FY), Cebgo (DG), Binter Canarias (BT), ASL Airlines Ireland (AG), Alliance Air (9I), Air Algérie (AH), Bangkok Airways (PG), and Stobart Air (RE).
Aurigny also confirmed in 2019 the acquisition of three brand-new ATR 72-600s turboprop aircraft equipped with ATR’s innovative ClearVision low-visibility system. In November of that same year, Silver Airways (3M) became the first ATR 72-600 operator in the US. In June 2020, Hi Air (4H) purchased two ATR 72 aircraft, and the next month saw an Azul ATR 72 take to the skies.
Since its inception, the ATR 72 has been the workhorse for regional aviation on a global scale. As for ATR, it has sold 1,800 aircraft worldwide, serving 1,300 airports with 200 operators that fly 2,095 routes (2022).
Article sources: atr-aircraft.com, airliners.net, Tisdell & Seymour Flight International 30 July – 5 August 2019. Featured image: Astra Airlines SX-DIP ATR 72-200. Photo: Alberto Cucini/Airways