ATR sets sights on replacement market

The ATR 42-600 is the only 50-seat class turboprop currently in production.

ATR has Australia’s ageing regional fleet in its sights as it seeks new opportunities in this part of the world following the reduction of Virgin Australia’s turboprop operations.

The Toulouse-based manufacturer, which is jointly owned by Airbus and Leonardo, offers the ATR 42-600 (46-50 seats) and the ATR 72-600 (68-78 seats). There are also cargo and combi variants.

As the only company with an in-production 50-seat turboprop, ATR appears well placed to offer operators of 34-seat Saab 340s or 50-seat Dash 8-Q300 a viable alternative in the form of the 42-600 when those older aircraft reach the end of their operating lives.

“When you have a 36 seater or a 48-seater, the ATR 42 is a good replacement,” ATR managing director Jean-Pierre Clercin told Australian Aviation in an interview at the Singapore Airshow on February 8.

“And if you want to upgauge it is also a good option.”

While the capacity jump from 34-seat Saab 340s to the 42-600 might a bit too much for some markets to absorb, Clercin noted the lower operating costs of the newer ATR compared to some of these two-decade old airframes.

“If your cost per trip becomes higher actually because of maintenance costs and you have cancellations because of reliability issues, yes, at the end of the day although you might have too many seats it might be cheaper to operate a slightly bigger aircraft,” he explained.

“With more seats you have more opportunity also for upswings, so stimulating the market is an option as well.

“All the turboprops actually are potential targets. You look at the Saab, the Dash 8 100, 200, 300, 400, Metros even.”

Clercin was previously ATR’s sales manager with responsibility for Australia and other countries in Oceania before recently moving to his current role in ATR’s support team.

New ATR sales manager for Australia Ryan Belguidoum, who has been in the role for two months, said the region was an important market.

“The fleet is ageing in Australia. The whole regional fleet is more than 23 years old, we’ve got a lot of opportunities there,” Belguidoum said.

“On the 50-seater we are the only one in the market.”

Regional Express (Rex) is the world’s largest operator of Saab 340s, with 56 aircraft in the fleet according to its website. In 2014, Rex announced it had purchased 18 Saab 340B+ aircraft which it been operating under a lease. At the time it said the airframes still had a remaining useful life of at least 20 years.

One of Regional Express's (REX) "new" Swan 340s has arrived in Australia still sporting the pink livery of the previous operator. (Matt Kelly)
One of Regional Express’s (REX) “new” Swan 340s has arrived in Australia still sporting the pink livery of the previous operator. (Matt Kelly)

Meanwhile, Qantas has 16 Dash 8-Q300s and three 36-seat Dash 8-Q200s that are flown by subsidiary Eastern Australia Airlines both under the QantasLink banner in Australia and for Jetstar in New Zealand.

And QantasLink’s Sunstate Airlines operates 33 Bombardier Q400s that are configured with 74 seats.

A QantasLink Q200 at Sydney Airport. (Seth Jaworski)

Across the Tasman, Air New Zealand is the world’s third largest operator of ATR with 17 72-600s and nine 72-500s, which have 68 seats in an all-economy layout. The aircraft are flown by the Air New Zealand subsidiary Mount Cook Airline.

The airline recently put up three of its 72-500s for sale, according to Flightglobal. It has a further 12 72-600s on order, with deliveries running out until 2020.

An Air NZ ATR 72-600. (ATR)
An Air NZ ATR 72-600. (ATR)

Virgin Australia began flying ATRs in 2011 and grew the fleet to 14 aircraft, comprising six 72-500s and eight 72-600.

In all, six 72-500s have been withdrawn and placed in storage at Nelson in New Zealand, with a further two 72-600s also expected to exit the fleet.

While the parking of some Virgin Australia ATRs was disappointing, Clercin said the move was a reflection on the changing market conditions in Queensland, as well as the airline’s inability to grow its turboprop operations out of the busy Sydney Airport rather than the aircraft itself.

“One of the big challenges that they had actually is the fact they couldn’t develop the market in Sydney as much as they wanted because of the slots,” Clercin said. “That, combined with Queensland and the situation in the FIFO market, was a tough moment.”

“We have been doing our best to see how we can accomodate the situation and try to promote some ideas in terms of network and these kinds of things.

“I think they have a great business in Australia. I am sure when the market bounces back there will be opportunities to reopen some routes.”

A file image of a Virgin Australia ATR 72 turboprop at Brisbane Airport. (Rob Finlayson)
A file image of Virgin Australia ATR 72-500 VH-FVH at Brisbane Airport. (Rob Finlayson)

Another significant ATR operator in the region is PNG Air, which has seven 72-600s in operation and five more due to be delivered by 2022.

ATR is also working on short takeoff and landing (STOL) that could also enhance the aircraft’s appeal for regional operators.

First announced in June 2017, the new variant, dubbed 42-600S, could takeoff with a full passenger load from runways as short as 800-850 metres. Currently ATR quotes a 1,025m takeoff distance for an 42-600 with a max passenger load at ISA and sea level.

That would open up the 42-600 to a lot of smaller regional airfields in Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the islands of the South Pacific.

“When you look at the infrastructure, the cost of having a runway extension in some the areas is just prohibitive,” Clercin said.

“Having a tool to allow you to operate to those runways without changing it, it is a great asset.”

The STOL variant of the 42-600 could be significant for Lord Howe Island Airport, which is located about 425nm east of Sydney in the Pacific Ocean. The airport has a single runway in an east-west orientation that is 866m in length, which limits the types of aircraft that can operate there.

Currently, QantasLink schedules up to 19 flights a week to Lord Howe Island from Sydney, as well as some seasonal services from Port Macquarie, with 36-seat Dash 8 Q200 turboprops, the smallest aircraft type in the Qantas fleet.

While an 42-600 was able to land and takeoff from Lord Howe Island Airport currently, Clercin said the aircraft was not able to do with 50 passengers on board, with the number closer to 36.

However, Clercin said the 42-600S would be able to operate to Lord Howe Island Airport with a full load.

The STOL variant was first announced in June 2017 and was expected to be formally launched later in 2018.

“We have defined all the main features of the development,” Clercin said.

“We are discussing with few operators to finalise the configuration. We hope to see something in the coming months.”

In December, the NSW government said it was committing $450,000 to investigate extending the runway at Lord Howe Island.

This Youtube clip from wiiwheel64 provides a good perspective on the geographical challenges of operating from Lord Howe Island, plus the Q200’s excellent field performance!

Comments

  1. Australiana says

    Those SAAB things that REX flies are an embarrassment. The smaller ATR would be a perfect replacement. No way would I set foot on a 20 year old turboprop.

  2. Doug bell says

    Despite the perception that “tubbies” have a limited life span, they do fill a natural void in capacity. That said with the jet equipment now available in the 32-46 seat range, it makes for important discussions in board rooms going forward

  3. Roger says

    Fiji Airways and its subsidiary Fiji Link also operate ATRs. The largest worldwide operator, I believe, is IndiGo.

  4. Max says

    From a passenger viewpoint, the ATR models are the worst of the current turboprop models , cramped and noisy…

  5. Craigy says

    I don’t see Qantas buying the ATR in the short term just for LHI. They would be orphans in a fleet dominated by the dash 8. Qantas’ preference I’m sure is for a lengthened runway to take the 300 or 400 in the existing fleet. Then the 200s’ could be retired.

  6. k lane says

    would the 48 seater configuration of ATR-42 600 be a viable option to replace Air NZ Q 300 or will they purchase additional 72-600’s as replacements

  7. Chris says

    The article forgot to mentioned, that Air NZ Regional has 23 Q300’s since 2004 operated by Air Nelson, which will need to see replacement from 2020-2025. The ATR42-600S would be ideal for the Q300 replacement, as the Q300 is used for regional airports with short runways plus they provide pack up to mainline ATR72-600 regional services

    With Air NZ’s one aircraft type for route policy, having a fleet of ATR42-600S/ATR72-600’s for Air NZ regional, will give simplified aircraft mix n match to suit loadings and routes, standardized cabin and flight crew training, spares and engineering.

  8. ktd says

    There’ve been a few attempts to get the Dornier 328 back into production though the most recent one was dropped a few months back.

    REX has said they don’t want to go any larger due to a requirement to provide security screen for flights involving aircraft over 36 seats (or thereabouts).

  9. James says

    @ Peter

    I believe QF would rather just get out of the LHI market as soon as they are able. Unless the runway gets extended in the next couple of years.

    A source tells me there was a plan to operate Q400’s capped at 36 into the place. Apparently performance was not an issue but more to do with PCN of the strip and parking for the thing.

  10. Mal says

    Makes sense for Air NZ to replace Q300 fleet with more ATR72-600’s. The 42’s are an option – a buddy of mine is a senior pilot on ATR 72’s and said the rumour is that they’ll keep getting 72s. It’s a rumour, so regard it as just that. But interrdting nonetheless.

  11. Adrian says

    Air NZ are not very likely to purchase a 50 seater to replace their Q300s IMO,. The trend is for more capacity and most regional airports easily support ATR 72s already.. Airports that can’t are likely to have services cut IMO…

  12. k lane says

    Tend to agree with posted comments re Air NZ replacing 23 Q300 with ATR 72-600 series rather than smaller 42 series given capacity, economics and likely desire to exist some additional marginal routes and leave to 3rd tier player
    Timaru, Kaitaia, most at risk

  13. matty says

    ATR42-600 fits underneath the screening requirements of 20,000 MTOW so would suit the REX philosophy of avoiding screening requirements at smaller airports.

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