ATR is looking for a new sales head for its US office to replace former vice president of sales for North America John Buckley.

ATR North America president Guillaume Gasparri confirms Buckley left the France-based turboprop manufacturer earlier this month to pursue new opportunities. Buckley had been ATR's primary sales contact in the US for more than 20 years.

"It's a big loss for us," Gasparri said in an interview with ATI sister publication Flight International Magazine.

Gasparri says ATR is seeking to fill the void by hiring someone with extensive experience working in the US turboprop market.

He acknowledges the candidate pool is very limited given the small size of the turboprop sector in the US but is confident ATR North America will be able to find a new vice president of sales by November.

"There still a few people in the US with this background of turboprops and regional carriers. We're talking to them," Gasparri says.

"Our target is to be operational with a full sales staff by the end of the year. By November we should have someone in place. The sooner the better," he adds.

Gasparri says in the meantime Toulouse-based senior vice president commercial John Moore, who was president of ATR North America from 2000 to 2004, will help work ongoing US sales campaigns.

While ATR North America has 17 employees at its office near Dulles Airport in northern Virginia, Buckley was part of a sales and marketing team that only consisted of two employees. Buckley's colleague, Kelly Creamer, continues to work on this team and look after marketing as well as public relations.

The rest of ATR North America's staff oversee support for existing customers, which today operate just over 100 aircraft across the US and Canada. As president of ATR's North American division, Gasparri is responsible for both support and sales but is relatively new to the regional industry, having joined ATR in April from helicopter manufacturer Eurocopter. He acknowledges this makes it particularly important for ATR North America to hire a vice president of sales with industry experience.

Buckley's departure comes at a time when ATR is focusing heavily on the US market as it tries to overcome a decade-long sales drought. While ATR sales activities have significantly increased in recent years in nearly every other region, the manufacturer has not sold an aircraft to a US passenger carrier in more than 10 years.

"For 10 years US airlines only bought jets," Gasparri says. "We had some success in Canada but there weren't any campaigns in the US."

Gasparri is confident ATR will start securing sales over the next year or two as US carriers start to re-think turboprops in light of today's environment of high fuel prices and the need to cut costs. Gasparri says ATR is also working hard to overcome the poor image turboprops have had in the US over the last decade.

"As far as the passenger is concerned the turboprop is seen as yesterday's aircraft and people aren't comfortable with turboprop aircraft. The fact all US airlines switched to regional jets didn't improve the image," he says. "But now the image of turboprop is changing dramatically."

Gasparri says a few years ago US carriers "weren't interested at even in talking to a turboprop representative. Now people are willing to talk to me. I hope in five years from now to say I've participated in the rebirth of ATR in the US."

He adds if sales activities in the US pick up as expected ATR will consider hiring a second sales executive but for now it is focused only on finding a replacement for Buckley.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news