Orders from four customers at the Paris air show will push regional airframer ATR's sales in 2011 beyond the record figure of 53 achieved at the same point in 2007.

ATR expects to disclose orders that will take it "well beyond" the previous figure, chief executive Filippo Bagnato tells Flight Daily News.

Two of the orders will be for at least 10 aircraft, adds a source familiar with the situation, while a leasing company is tipped to place a landmark order.

The deals are likely to come from a North American firm, marking renewed strategic interest for the European turboprop on the continent, as well as customers from Southeast Asia and Latin America, including Brazil.

Bagnato says the North American market "was closed" but "now it's reopened".

He adds that ATR had about 50 aircraft in the "growing" Brazilian market, and says: "Taking into consideration what we signed last year and what we have today in the oven, it's not a dream to say this will be doubled very soon."

ATR expects some 50-55% of the orders in 2011 to come from new customers. "This seems to me the overall picture for the order intake," Bagnato says.

Orders at the Paris air show should take the ATR backlog figure beyond 200 turboprops, equating to some $5 billion, as the airframer looks to raise its production rate next year.

ATR is keeping production this year "in the area" of 50-53 aircraft. Bagnato says it would be "imprudent" to hike the production rate while it concentrates on bringing its -600 series family into service.

The ATR 72-600 is certificated and ready for first delivery to Royal Air Maroc - the aircraft is on display at Paris in the airline's colours - while the ATR 42-600 is undergoing final flight tests, primarily centred on the autopilot, with certification planned by the end of this year. First delivery will be in 2013 but ATR has not finalised a customer.

The manufacturer has sold around 150 of the -600s and expects to deliver -500s next year, although Bagnato says there will be "very few" -500s produced from 2013.

ATR still plans to raise production next year to 70 aircraft, and possibly further in 2013-14 if the airframer is confident that the supply chain can cope.

"I'm in the process of discussing and preparing ground for a delivery plan which will require more aircraft," says Bagnato, but adds: "We've not finished the analysis for the supply chain for 2013-14."

He says the airframer's slots are exhausted for 2011 but it still has slots for 2012.

Around 3,000 personnel work for ATR, including 900 directly employed. The production ramp-up will involve raising the number by 1,500, taking the total to over 4,000.

With the -600 programme under control, ATR also intends to take a closer look at a larger turboprop. The airframer has considered a 90-seat aircraft but previously been vague on the timing owing to uncertainty regarding key components, particularly the powerplant.

"We've done some additional work with the engine manufacturers. Today they've progressed in the harmonisation of [requirements] between us and them," says Bagnato. "We think in 2012 we'll have elements for taking a decision."

Bagnato says there is a need for a larger turboprop but the economics of the aircraft are critical. "The enemy is cost, so the first performance [factor] is the economics," he says, adding: "It's one thing to go to the [ATR] shareholders [with a proposal] - coming out again is another."

Source: Flight Daily News