ATR floats idea of stretched model to tackle 90-seat sector

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A 90-seat variant of the ATR 42/72 is one alternative being studied as the turboprop manufacturer examines its next move after the launch of the new -600 series in October.

ATR chief executive Stephane Mayer says that with around 80% of the airframer's 180-aircraft order backlog being for the 70-seat ATR 72, that the "trend is for bigger aircraft". He adds that while the next step is "not decided, one option is to build an ATR with a higher payload and a higher number of passengers".

The EADS/Finmeccanica joint venture's 50- to 70-seat ATR 42/72 family competes with the Bombardier Dash 8 QSeries in the turboprop market.

With Bombardier examining a "Q400X" stretch of the 78-seat Q400, Mayer says that ATR is also "thinking about" a larger ATR, but declines to reveal further details of any stretch study.

"We are looking at it with our customers as we think about what we will do in the next five to 10 years," he says. "Some airlines are already asking about a 90- to 99-seater [turboprop]."

ATR is set for its record sales this year with around 90 orders already booked. Production is rising from 24 aircraft in 2006 to 44 this year and 64 next year, with output set to reach 80 aircraft annually in 2009.

Mayer says that the airframer has "one or two delivery slots" left in 2009 and 2010, but a customer wanting to take a batch of ten aircraft or more would have to wait until 2011.

ATR launched the improved -600 family last month, with deliveries due to begin in 2010. Central to the updated models is an all-new Thales integrated LCD cockpit and more powerful Pratt & Whitney PW127M engines.

Mayer says that there has been a lot of interest in the -600 family and that one proposal has been made to a potential customer for the variant with two or three others under discussion.