ATR has received strong interests from clients on a 90-seat turboprop, and is awaiting the company's shareholders, EADS and Alenia Aermacchi, to give the go-ahead to launch the project.

"We've finished our major part of the work, and now the ball is in the camp of the shareholders," ATR chief executive Filippo Bagnato tells Flightglobal at the inauguration of its training facility in Singapore.

He adds that the turboprop manufacturer has done work on a feasibility study "in order to be ready as soon as shareholders give the go-ahead".

The manufacturer has a clear project of the larger turboprop and is now refining the design, adds Lilian Brayle, ATR senior vice-president product support and services.

"The aircraft is not a modification; it's a completely new aircraft. The overall philosophy is the same but the wings, landing gear, fuselage, everything will be bigger," says Bagnato.

He expects that it could take up to five years for the new aircraft to receive certification, once shareholders give the approval.

"We're in regular contact with our customers and there is definitely strong demand for the 90-seater turboprop," says Bagnato.

Flightglobal understands that EADS is unlikely to approve the new generation turboprop soon because of its limited engineering resources, as much attention is now focused on Airbus's A320neo and A350 programmes.

Lion Air's president director Rusdi Kirana, whose regional subsidiary Wings Air will be the largest ATR operator, tells Flightglobal he is "definitely interested" in the larger turboprop as it will be "more economical". He is also open to switching from jets to turboprops on some routes to cut costs.

"Now the trend is for the aircraft to go bigger and bigger with the lack of pilots, congestion and growing market. The question is, is ATR willing to take the risk?" says Kirana.

"If Bombardier comes up with a 90-seater, I will take it for sure. Of course if ATR does it, I'm happier because of the commonality."

Malaysia Airlines turboprop operator Firefly had also said it is keen to be a launch customer for the larger turboprop.

Rival Bombardier had previously indicated that it could develop a larger version of the 70-seat Dash 8 Q400 for entry into service in the second half of the decade.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news