Photo: Virgin Australia ATR breaks cover

Virgin Australia ATR72

Update: The above photo, by AirSpace photographer Commercial Aviation, has been added.

Virgin Australia’s first ATR72-500 turboprop, operated by Skywest, has been snapped on spotting website Skyliner bearing French test registration F-WWEH. The photo is here.

The ATR is the first of up to 18 -500 and -600 variants the Western Australia carrier will operate for Virgin Australia, predominantly on the East Coast although routes have yet to be announced. Virgin and Skywest have not disclosed how many of the aircraft are firm orders versus options, or what the breakdown will be between variants. The -600 received EASA certification last month and the first example will soon be delivered to Royal Air Marco.

Virgin Australia will wet-lease its ATR aircraft from Skywest under an agreement announced in January. Skywest in turn will lease the aircraft from leasing company Avation with an initial term of ten years.

The order was disclosed in February, at which time Virgin Australia chief executive said the first ATR should arrive in May with three more by the end of July. “We plan to have at least eight – at least eight – within the next 16 months,” Borghetti said in February, putting the eight aircraft (at least) time frame at June 2012.

“The ATR is the best aircraft to operate on regional routes throughout Australia,” Borghetti said during the order announcement. He added that the ATR burns one-third less fuel than the E170 and 20% to 30% less than its equivalent competitor, a statement likely in reference to the Bombardier Dash 8-400 aircraft that QantasLink operates on its regional routes.

“Not only is it compelling from an economics point of view, it’s compelling from a customer perspective,” Borghetti said. “It has a wider aisle and wider cabin than other aircraft we were looking at.”

Virgin Australia has not disclosed its interior for the aircraft but has said it will operate in a single-class configuration. The ATR72-500 typically seats 68-72 passengers.

The ATR72 aircraft largely replace the carrier’s six E170 aircraft, which the carrier announced last August announced it was removing as the type was not a right fit for its network. The aircraft will be leased to trans-Pacific partner Delta.

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