ATR chief executive Stefano Bortoli is confident the manufacturer can officially launch the new short take-off and landing version of its ATR 42-600 after securing 17 commitments already.
Turboprop specialist lessor Elix Aviation and Air Tahiti have struck initial deals covering 10 and two aircraft respectively. Speaking during a press conference at the Paris air show to unveil the preliminary launch of the ATR 42-600S, Bortoli disclosed that the manufacturer had also secured an incremental commitment for five of the type from an undisclosed customer.
"We have also signed a memorandum of understanding with Development Bank of Japan, here at the show, and the agreement is to work together on the STOL project. The strong interest of Development Bank of Japan with ATR STOL is evidence of the trust in the product and it shows that there is potential market worldwide which is significant, including Japan," he says.
"All of this a good head-start for STOL and we are confident we can launch the programme industrially before the end of the year."
He says ATR has been working on focus groups with a dozen customers seen as prospects for the type. He notes that these span a range of operating conditions, from cold, in the northern hemisphere, to hot, in the south.
John Moore, chief operating officer of launch customer Elix Aviation Capital, says the lessor has been "looking at this for more than a year now".
The deal is "quite an important step for Elix as well", he notes. "This is the first time we have ordered speculative aircraft from a manufacturer. We are confident it will be a success.
"We have had good success with the ATR 42," he says. As a turboprop specialist, the lessor is working in a niche market, but sees the STOL variant as interesting because it marks a "niche market within a niche market", Moore explains.
"There is already ready replacement market for STOL operators. Some of them [the aircraft] are quite old now. We [also] see good growth potential where the infrastructure is not going to be able to develop with the market – Indonesia is an example.
"So we see a good replacement [opportunity] but also a good growth market for this type of aircraft."
The ATR 42-600S will be capable of operating from 800m runways, as opposed to the 1,050m lower limit of the non-STOL version. "In terms of technical modifications there will be slight changes to the aircraft braking system, the rudders, some control mechanism of the flaps, and some changes in software. In terms of certification, it won't need a new type certificate," says Bortoli.