ATR chief executive Christian Scherer sees “no urgency” to decide about the turboprop family’s future development, despite Embraer’s evaluations about a potential return to the turboprop segment.
Speaking at a results briefing in Toulouse on 21 January, Scherer said: “We will do a new airplane programme. But I can’t tell you what it is yet.”
He says ATR and its shareholders – Airbus and Italian aerospace group Leonardo – have begun a strategic planning process about the turboprop family’s future development.
Leonardo has repeatedly expressed its interest in expanding the ATR 42/72-family with a new, larger aircraft with at least 90 seats, and suggested in 2017 that it could pursue such a project alone or with other partners.
However, Scherer says the ongoing future studies are “very focused” on the existing joint-venture. Airbus and Leonardo view ATR as a “valuable brand” and as the “right vehicle to develop their regional aircraft programmes”, he says.
Scherer asserts that it is not yet clear whether the partners will develop a larger turboprop – as a potential evolution from the current ATR 42/72 family – or introduce more radical technologies for a next-generation aircraft. This could potentially involve hybrid-electric propulsion systems, new materials and construction techniques, and cockpit configurations with just one or no pilot at all, Scherer says.
He notes that Airbus is interested in potentially employing “rupture technologies” on a future ATR type, because it would provide an opportunity to trial technical advances with a lower industrial risk than on the group’s mainline aircraft production.
Pratt & Whitney Canada has previously disclosed that it is developing a new-generation engine that could power a turboprop aircraft with at least 90 seats, and that the engine’s service entry is targeted between 2023 and 2025. P&WC is ATR’s sole engine provider today.
Scherer acknowledges that development of a new aircraft would typically take about five years. But he says ATR’s future programme schedule will not be determined by external suppliers, and notes that the airframer is in contact with GE Aviation, Rolls-Royce and electric power specialist Siemens about their development efforts.
In 2017, Embraer indicated that it was exploring the possibility of returning to the turboprop market with a new aircraft. In September the Brazilian airframer held an initial customer advisory panel with more than 20 international operators to hear their views on the turboprop segment.
Noting Embraer’s E-Jet E2 development effort – the first model, the E190-E2, is scheduled to enter service in April – Scherer shows confidence that ATR will not be pushed by the competitor into a new aircraft programme. “If I was an Embraer shareholder… I would be very, very nervous to go and stick my neck out and launch a regional turboprop programme before I know what the leader in the field, namely… ATR, is going to do,” he says.
That assessment has not been changed by talks between Boeing and Embraer about a potential tie-up of their activities – which were disclosed by the two manufacturers in late 2017 – Scherer says. He insists: “There is no pending urgency for us to ‘quick, quick, quick’ go into something. We can take our time.”