ATR partner weighs 'back-up options' as it pushes 90-seater

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Alenia Aermacchi has reiterated its desire to launch a 90-seat turboprop within the framework of its existing ATR joint-venture, but has "back-up options" if partner EADS cannot agree on the scope of any programme.

Discussions between the two parties, which each hold a 50% stake in ATR, have been ongoing "for the last few months", says Ugo Vinti, chief operating officer, business, at Alenia.

"I believe it is never an easy discussion when you try to identify what is best for the market," he says. "But I think that we are together pretty close to a conclusion.

"In Alenia we all hope that we will come to the same conclusion and continue in the family of ATR, so the 42, 72 and something bigger, together with EADS."

Vinti adds that as a "back-up plan" preliminary talks have been held with "some other partners"' as possible alternatives if EADS chooses not to proceed.

But he stresses that the Italian partner's preference is to remain within the existing joint-venture: "It would make a lot of sense for us and also for EADS to to continue the collaboration within ATR. The only question mark is if we share the same view of the product."

Alenia sees a requirement for a turboprop in the 90-seat range "with some growth capability in the design", says Vinti, hinting at a potential future stretch beyond the 100-passenger mark.

It forecasts a market for 3,000 90-seat turboprops over the next 20 years, and believes ATR can capture a "conservative" 30-40% share.

With service entry envisaged for around 2018-19, Alenia "would like to start the real project at the beginning of next year", says Vinti, although he is quick to point out that it is under "no pressure" to accelerate the programme: "We don't believe there's anybody else that is ahead of us with a 90-seater. So we have no need to rush."

New powerplants will be required for any larger aircraft, and Vinti notes that the engine manufacturers are "already well advanced with some engines that could fit well the envelope of the new turboprop".

Pratt & Whitney Canada is the incumbent engine provider on the ATR 42 and 72, supplying its PW127 turboprops.