After a heads-up from ATR of an imminent announcement regarding a new aircraft launch, the speculation was that perhaps the fabled 90-seat turboprop was about to become a reality.
In the event, we were to be disappointed – instead of the larger turboprop, ATR was instead unveiling a freighter variant of the 72-600. It has US parcel giant FedEx as the anchor customer, on the back of an order for up to 50 of the type.
On the face of it, so far so underwhelming – but that is to underestimate the move’s strategic importance.
ATR does not necessarily need the orders, of course, having already amassed a significant 193-unit backlog for the 72-600 alone.
However, the growth of the orderbook by another 15% is not to be sniffed at: it is currently over four times as large as that of its chief rival, the Bombardier Q400. Perhaps more importantly, adding another variant that is extremely likely to garner additional sales further bolsters ATR’s turboprop supremacy.
The move may also dampen calls from Leonardo, one half of the ATR joint venture, to develop a 100-seat turboprop for both commercial and military use.
Leonardo’s new chief executive Alessandro Profumo is more guarded than his predecessor on this topic, but perhaps the programme’s obvious longevity will cause a final rethink. For now, at least.