Posted on: 12 November 2015 by Ross McSweeny
"This region tackled air transport development from the larger end of the market because you cannot have mega-hubs without widebodies, but now the economies are maturing to the point where smaller routes with lower density are being examined.” So declared ATR’s sales director for the Middle East and Africa, Milco Rappuoli, who reported busy traffic through the company air show stand.
Rappuoli’s title is a tad misleading as his territory cover a tricky triangle from Tunisia down to Somalia and up to Afghanistan. He remains very confident though about prospects in his region.
“We’ve had an extremely busy show. There have been solid meetings with more than 30 airlines and other likely customers and these talks have real potential,” Rappuoli emphasised. He also noted the support coming from lessors which have already placed orders for ATR aircraft, including the region’s own Dubai Aerospace Enterprise.
One of the challenges faced by ATR has been the expectation that all flights need to be lengthy, reported Rappuoli. “We’ve had to educate people about regional routes, that they’re not four hours long. Take a route like Tabuk to Amman, for example. It’s about 160 nm but by car can take quite a few hours across the desert as well as getting across the Saudi Arabia–Jordan border. It’s about a 45 minute flight on an ATR,” he explained.
Saudi Arabia is indeed one of the countries which Rappuoli believes will benefit from regional services. “There are more than 30 regional airports in the Kingdom and they’re mostly underserved,” he noted.
Also in his sights are Iran and Iraq, though these clearly have issues to overcome at present. “We’re monitoring the situation in Iran [with regard to any changes in sanctions], but there is no boots-on-the-ground action yet,” Rappuoli confirmed. “Clearly there will be opportunities as ATR has an industrial thread there which goes back to the early 1990s when the first ATR aircraft to the country was delivered.”
In Iraq, once the turmoil in the country has subsided, there is likely to be air transport development to the remoter regions. “One of the drivers will be the need to visit Najaf and Karbala for religious pilgrimages. These are holy cities for Shi’a Muslims where an annual visit is required,” Rappuoli explained. “Turboprop operations to cut travel time will be welcomed and there are many airfields from where people may travel where aircraft such as A320s cannot go.
“There has been a considerable commitment from ATR in this region,” Rappuoli emphasised, but his busy week at the show looks like making it all worthwhile.
Bernie Baldwin, editor, Low-Fare & Regional Airlines/laranews.net