PARIS — Despite of being a +30 year-old program, ATR is reaping benefits from its -600 series family aircraft. The maturity and popularity of the 42 and 72 variants is well known among operators, as evidenced by a preceding record year of 160 orders –a major commercial success for the Toulouse-based manufacturer.
Propelling New Horizons
Patrick de Castelbajac, ATR CEO declared during a press conference held during the 2015 Paris Air Show that ATR family aircraft is firmly established as the favorite among regional operators worldwide. Since last January, the manufacturer registered 46 orders, and even if this is far from the record number of last year, Castelbajac attributes this to “the rise in the value of the dollar and the economic slowdown in countries that are very important for our business, such as Brazil and Indonesia.” Nevertheless, the ATR CEO assured that “we have managed to preserve our position as the number one choice.”
This last statement is not a mere euphemism: Castelbajac noted during the press conference that the manufacturer has a 77% market share in the turboprop market since 2010, leaving its direct competitor—the Bombardier Q400—in a far second place with a 23% market share.
The European manufacturer has gained important regional markets during the last years. An example has been the Caribbean region, wherein traditional Dash 8 operators such as Caribbean Airlines, LIAT—and now Bahamasair with a disclosed order of five aircraft, have opted to modernize their fleets relying on the ATR family aircraft. Other relevant market for the manufacturer has been Latin America, in which ATR has also found two important customers: Avianca and Azul Linhas Aéreas in Colombia and Brazil, respectively.
Slow But Constant Sales Leading to Success
Since the launch of the program in 1981 and the entry in service of the first ATR aircraft (the 42- series in 1984 and the 72- series in 1989), regional aircraft sales were slow, partly due to world economic woes and the stiff competition amid different aircraft manufacturers such as Embraer, Bombardier, Saab, Dornier and Fokker.
Even so, ATR managed to score a major win—and milestone—announced in the Paris Air Show: the 1500th aircraft sold since the beginning of the program to Japan Air Commuter (JAC) for eight firm ATR 42-600s, plus one option and 14 purchase rights. The deal also happens to be the first between the manufacturer and a Japanese carrier.
“We are proud to be able to introduce the ATR aircraft to the skies of Japan. The ATR 42-600 is a perfect match for the regional routes of JAL Group by its economical, environmental and operational specifications” declared Arata Yasujima, President of Japan Air Commuter.
New Cabin Developments – Combi and High-Density Versions
Among the announcements made during the Paris Air Show, it was a Combi version—a response to Bombardier’s Q400 combi option launched last year—offering doubled storage capacity compared to standard ATR configurations, plus a passenger cabin for 44 seats. This option, also available as a retrofit for existing ATR 72 aircraft, will be launched by the Papua New Guinea-based operator PNG Airlines.
Other of the orders reported during the event was 16 ATR 72-600s plus 10 options as part of Cebu Pacific fleet renewal program. These aircraft will be equipped for the first time with a high-density Armonia cabin, taking the ATR seating capacity to 78 at a seat pitch of 28 inches (and also by eliminating the galleys and reducing the forward cargo hold area), and adding enhanced overhead bins for extra capacity. The manufacturer expects to certify this cabin configuration by the end of this year.
A Bright Yet Challenging Future
ATR’s market outlook is positive: the manufacturer has estimated the demand for about 2,500 turboprops in the coming 20 years. However, the challenge might be ahead and some questions remain unanswered whether the manufacturer, with its growing logbook, will be able to cope with a constant production rate able to fulfill its deliveries on time.