ERA 2015: ATR certifies ‘combi’, re-sets 2016 production rate

ATR has received certification for the passenger–cargo ‘combi’ version of the ATR 72-600, with delivery of the first aircraft planned before the end of the year to launch customer Airlines PNG of Papua New Guinea which will be taking eight ‘combi’ aircraft in total.

The ‘combi’ has more than 19 m3 in cargo volume and can take up to 3,000 kg in weight with up to 44 passenger seats. The deliveries to Airlines PNG will be in full passenger configuration, explained ATR’s head of sales, John Moore. Conversion to the ‘combi’ is rapid, enabling the carrier to mix safe configurations as requirements demand.

The large cargo section, which can accommodate four containers, is created by replacing the forward seven rows of seats. The ‘combi’ version design is also offered as a retrofit on existing aircraft.

Meanwhile, ATR CEO Patrick de Castelbajac confirmed the prediction he made at the company’s results conference last January, that 2015 would be a tough year after the excellent sales results in 2014. “We did at least start the year with two years ahead sold out,” he noted. “And we want to keep book-to-build ratio at 1 or higher. We currently have 60 orders in total with about 17 of those undisclosed.

“During this year, the fuel price went down and the US dollar went up which has been challlenging for some of our customers. Some countries have seen a 60% increase in their exchange rate with the dollar,” the CEO added. “We therefore refocused on other regions, such as selling into Japan where the market is really opening up. The country needs a new level of connectivity as they can’t bring all the population into the large cities, they cannot put high-speed trains everywhere and there are many islands to be connected.

“We’re also looking to increase our presence in India, where there is now a clear willingness from the government to reduce red tape and make it easier to develop regional services. Flights by single-aisle aircraft are going to need feeders in India and that will come from our aircraft.

“We’ve started to have some traction in China and have opened an office there with some senior Chinese personnel,” de Castelbajac reported. “The development of the [Xian] MA700 shows that the authorities recognise the need for a turboprop.”

Assessing the Middle East, de Castelbajac pointed out that most airlines there use bigger aircraft, but that there are possibilities in countries such as Iran. “Sanctions on Iran are not yet lifted though, so cannot make offers or give technical data. Once lifted, we definitely believe there is room for us,” he declared.

The current backlog of aircraft is around 280 with 100 options. “The conversion rate of options to firm orders is around 90%,” highlighted Tom Anderson, SVP commercial & customer support.

Further developments of the aircraft are progressing, such as the high density 78 passenger version. “We had some interest for this in the Asia-Pacific – and indeed announced Cebu Pacific Air as the launch customer at the Paris Air Show – but the high dollar has affected further sales progress. We expect certification soon,” de Castelbajac noted.

“We realise that our major competitor is in a tight spot at present, but we don’t see that as a reason not to improve our product,” he added.

On the production rate of ATRs, de Castelbajac announced that with dollar increase, the company has decided “it would be prudent to stay at about 90 aircraft this year and next. Then we’ll aim to get to 100 in 2017.” He recalled that ATR produced 83 aircraft last year – a record – and that it expects to beat that total this year.

“The lessor percentage of the backlog is about a third, which I believe is the right ratio. We’ve been concentrating more on airline sales recently, but it’s a good combination for airlines who need short term deliveries,” the CEO remarked.

Photo shows ATR CEO Patrick de Castelbajac (right) and SVP commercial & customer support, Tom Anderson.

Bernie Baldwin, editor, Low-Fare & Regional Airlines/
Berlin, Germany

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