ATR sees promise in the US; plans no large aircraft decision this year

Washington DC
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Turboprop airframer ATR continues to believe market forces in North America are strengthening the case for its aircraft, particularly on short-haul markets operated inefficiently with regional jets.

Speaking to ATI recently in Washington, DC ATR chief executive Filippo Bagnato explained in the US 50-seat regional jets are used on the majority of routes below 350nm, and operators "can't make money with a 50-seat jet on those routes".

But no US customers were included in 80 firm orders ATR recorded in 2010, a doubling of aircraft sales for the manufacturer compared with 2009.

However, Bagnato states the two-class configuration and forward passenger door offered on the new ATR 72-600 "is what we've done first to be prepared for the North American market. It is the main driver of this new configuration". However, ATR's chief also believes it is possible the two-class configuration "will be very soon required by other customers".

Bagnato is also encouraged by what he describes as a convergence of many factors in the US for a "re-entry of ATR in the market after many years". Among those elements are a return to profitability for most US carriers and rising fuel costs that make turboprops more attractive.

ATR has also recently opened a training centre to support its customers in the Americas in Toronto, Canada, where rival Bombardier has a significant presence. But Bagnato states there "is nothing strategic" regarding ATR's Toronto training site, explaining it was a economic decision to place a training facility in the city.

ATR's main focus in 2011 is certification and delivery of the ATR 72-600, says Bagnato, who firmly states, "for sure this year we will not be taking a decision" this year regarding a larger turboprop.

However, if and when ATR decides to offer a larger aircraft, Bagnato envisions that customers are looking for a "city car" that it a little larger than the ATRs currently optimized on short distances. "I don't think they are looking for sophisticated performances," he states.