Firefly sends letter of interest to ATR for 90-seat turboprop

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Firefly has sent a formal letter to ATR, expressing its interest in a 90-100 seat turboprop, which the airframer is awaiting its shareholders' approval to launch.

"We sent the letter of interest partly to support ATR, to tell their shareholders that look, you should put resources into this project," Firefly chief executive Ignatius Ong said in a recent interview with Flightglobal Pro. "We also said that if everything falls into place, we don't mind being the launch customer."

Besides having a longer range and being more fuel efficient, Ong also wants the larger turboprop to have fewer parts and lower maintenance costs.

He adds that he has had "a couple of discussions" with ATR on the turboprop, and that even engine makers vying for the project have approached him, asking for advice on what he would like to see in a new engine.

"The 72-seat turboprop is good, but the 90-seat is great," says Ong, adding that the larger aircraft will be especially helpful in allowing the carrier to add capacity without adding frequency, which is ideal for services to destinations such as Singapore, where slots are limited.

"If the new generation turboprops come on board, it will be a different game. I can almost guarantee you that even airlines playing with jets could go into turboprops when they see the dynamics of it," says Ong.

Manufacturer ATR has said, on its end, that it is seeing strong demand for a 90-seat turboprop, but that it is waiting for shareholders Alenia Aermacchi and EADS to give approval for the project's launch. Alenia has publicly said that it wants EADS to decide by year-end whether it wants to be part of the 90-seat programme, otherwise it will team up with another manufacturer for the development.

Those familiar with the issue says EADS has been slow to approve the new generation turboprop because of its limited engineering resources, much of which is now focused on Airbus's A320neo and A350 programmes.

Besides Firefly, other operators including Lion Air and Danish lessor Nordic Aviation Capital have also encouraged ATR "to come out with the 90-seat sooner rather than later".

Firefly operates a fleet of 13 ATR 72 turboprops to destinations in Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and within Malaysia from its hubs in Subang and Penang.