ATR is expecting to ramp up production of its high-speed turboprops following a series of orders that have taken its backlog up to 70 aircraft.

The Franco-Italian company, jointly owned by EADS and Finmeccanica, is to raise production from 15 aircraft this year to 20 next year and 24 in 2007. Filippo Bagnato, ATR chief executive, says the rate is rising in response to civil orders for over 50 50-seat ATR 42-500s and 70-seat ATR 72-500s so far this year. Indian low-fare carrier Air Deccan took delivery at the show of its first 72-seat ATR 72-500 from an order of 30 placed in February, and ATR announced eight firm orders from Finnish regional Finncomm, six from French carrier Corse Méditeranée and three each from Air Calédonie and Air Madagascar. The civil orderbook so far this year stands at 52, with an additional 10 to be delivered green to Alenia Aeronautica for modification into maritime patrol aircraft to fulfil an order from the Turkish navy, and a further eight for unspecified military contracts.

Bagnato says there are three factors leading to the upswing in demand; traffic growth, fare wars and high oil prices, all forcing airlines to re-evaluate turboprops. “ATR provides an economic solution not only at the time of acquisition, but also through the total direct cost of ownership,” he says. ATR estimates 70-seat jets to be around $20/seat per sector more expensive that the ATR 72 on short flights.

Air Deccan managing director G R Gopinath says the airline chose the aircraft due to its rugged handling characteristics, necessary for regional services in India, where many large cities only have unpaved airfields. Bangalore-based Air Deccan has signed a five-year maintenance agreement with ATR worth $90 million. The Indian airline started its operations with four secondhand ATR 42s in August 2003 and now has 12 ATR 42s. ATR has won 25 remarketing contracts for used types this year.

Source: Flight International