Designing a brand new turboprop to handle higher passenger numbers is appearing more attractive to European airframer ATR than a stretch of its current ATR 72 to tackle the 90-seat sector.

"I would say we haven’t ruled out any options but it’s probably less likely we’d do a stretch of the existing [aircraft] and more likely that we’d look at the next generation of technology available on engines and other systems - that goes well beyond what’s available in the market," says ATR head of sales John Moore.

He notes, however, that ATR "really needs to look at the market more and understand what the requirement is before we move ahead with anything".

During the recent Dubai air show, ATR chief executive Stephane Meyer confirmed that with Bombardier examining a "Q400X" stretch of the 78-seat Q400, ATR is also "thinking about" a larger ATR.

"I would say that we’re certainly looking at the market for a larger turboprop and we see that the general trend over time has been toward larger aircraft," Moore now says.

"Although we still do sell a good number of [ATR] 42s, we are aware of potential future requirements for larger aircraft. We are talking to airlines and trying to understand what the need is and what the timing on the need is but we haven’t made any decision at this point."

ATR recently took its latest generation ATR 72-500 on a demonstration tour across the USA, as it seeks a landmark deal with a US operator. The aircraft, which boasts some of the latest developments from ATR in communications, navigation tools and passenger comfort, made a favourable impression on US Airways, which is evaluating replacements for the ageing Bombardier Dash 8 fleet operated by subsidiary Piedmont Airlines.

"I would say that what I saw in the press about US Airways – I was quite happy to see that. We got a similar response from other airlines," says Moore.

He says the company is confident it will make greater strides in the US market. "Certainly the US market overall has been fairly quiet in terms of new acquisitions. I just can’t see how that could remain the same. There is a large fleet of turboprops that need to be renewed and with economics and fuel prices, the demand is there."

He adds: "I would say we are discussing with a number of airlines in the US that could have requirements to renew existing fleets or even to add turboprops to their mix. We visited almost a dozen airlines on the demo tour."

Moore does not believe that the recent Q400 gear-related incidents at SAS will equate to better ATR sales in the USA. "On balance, I wouldn’t say that we’ve seen any particular impact."