ATR has become the latest manufacturer to develop a solution that enables operators to adapt passenger aircraft for cargo flights, in an effort to help airlines return assets to service.

The airframer – jointly owned by Airbus and Italian aerospace group Leonardo – says 60% of the global ATR fleet is not in active service today.

Cirium fleets data shows that 506 ATR 42/72 turboprops are in service, while 781 are listed as being in storage. Among the in-storage fleet are 426 ATR 72-600s and 32 ATR 42-600s representing 76% of all 600-series aircraft – ATR’s current product line.

Some 119 ATR 72-600s and 24 ATR 42-600s are listed as being in service.

Airlines have been using passenger aircraft for cargo-only flights – with some operators taking out seats to store freight pallets – amid the collapse in belly-freight capacity caused by the coronavirus crisis.

ATR says its newly developed cargo solution enables operators to “quickly and temporarily convert [aircraft] to a light freighter configuration” and to “unlock potential operations”.

The manufacturer disclosed today that it had delivered 68 aircraft and taken 79 orders in 2019.

In 2018, ATR delivered 76 aircraft and won 52 orders.

Revenue declined to $1.6 billion last year, from $1.8 billion in 2018. However, ATR says sales were “boosted” by its services division. Aftermarket support is an increasing focus of aerospace manufacturers in general.

ATR notes that, despite the coronavirus crisis, customers have not cancelled orders “to date”, but warns: “It is too early to understand the full impact on our backlog.”

Cirium fleets data shows customers have 228 ATR-family aircraft on order and hold 103 options.

The manufacturer says it is committed to the development of a short take-off and landing (STOL) variant of the ATR 42-600, and a freighter version of the ATR 72-600 of which deliveries are set to begin later this year.

Following a four-day production suspension in March to prepare the manufacturer’s Toulouse facility for operations during the pandemic, ATR has continued aircraft production – albeit at a reduced rate – and is providing support for the in-service fleet.

“We have implemented a very strict health protocol that has allowed us to continue critical activities.”

ATR expects that regional operators – which it credits with playing “huge role” in “connecting communities around the world with necessary supplies” – will restart flights faster than international airlines.