On the 25th of January the French Italian operator ATR announced the sale of seven ATR72S to the Brazilian company Transport Regionais do Interior Paulista. This company has also taken an option on five additional planes in this 68 seater range.
This contract, the latest in a long series, confirms, in case confirmation is needed, that the regional twin turboprop is enjoying a second and lasting lease of life. It is linked as much with the high price of fuel as an interesting awareness on the part of the regional airline companies clients : at last they have understood that a plane can be ultra-modern, efficient and comfortable, and still have propellers. The remark may appear rather basic but it is nonetheless based on tangible reality.
Bombardier and Embraer created amazing “jet mania” ten or so years ago, that resulted in making the twin turboprop planes look completely out of place. It was necessary to go through new fuel crises in order to get back to reality: the fuel consumption of an ATR 72-500 on a 400 km trip is 60% less than that of a jet. Therefore there is no room for argument, at least on that subject.
It was still necessary to eliminate a serious problem before the return to favour was assured for a technical formula that was prematurely discarded; that of convincing the passengers that a propeller is certainly not from Roman times.
With prejudice ingrained, and efforts to explain being really inadequate, it has needed a great deal of patience before an adequately objective view of the situation was re-established. Without a doubt, those that were the most dubious should have been led to the Ratier-Figeac factory in the Lot region (yes – right out there in the sticks!)to show how they were producing the extraordinary six blade propellers made of composite materials that are precisely the reason why those turbo propellers made by Pratt and Whitney in the outskirts of Montreal work so well. We are talking here about state of the art technology, just like the sophisticated methods that have eliminated vibration and improved cabin comfort to the level of the most costly jets. The main thing is to make such things known and on this particular subject, to be honest, the experts certainly didn’t do a very good job.
Even better, Kingfisher Airlines, the Indian regional airline that is showing exceptional growth, has just taken delivery of the first ATR equipped, just like the “big boys”, with an in-flight entertainment system. There is no longer any reason, from now on, to have any vaguely condescending attitude towards propeller aircraft!
The facts are that ATR sold 63 planes in 2006, disposes of a well stocked order book with 124 orders in it, has 60% of the market and is employing extra staff to ensure an increase in the pace of production. Forty four planes will be delivered this year and there will be a good 60 others in 2008. Airbus France and Alenia Aeronautica equally share the production, with the support of a certain number of subcontractors, the final assembly line being in Toulouse.
Conclusion: since industrial tourism is very much in vogue, the moment has definitely come to organise visits to the Raqtier-Figeac factories in order to further polish the image of the modern propeller and make the successful comeback of the twin turbo propeller planes complete. Moreover, the Lot region is very lovely!