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"Our Turboprops are the Most Efficient and Lowest Emission Regional Aircraft Today, Emitting 45% Jess CO2 than Similar-Size Regional Jets"

Issue 16 - 2023

Interview with Mark Dunnachie, Head of Commercial Europe & North America, ATR 

Ayşe Akalın: First of all could you please inform us about ATR aircraft family?

Mark Dunnachie: The ATR family (ATR 42 and ATR 72) is made up of high-wing, six-blade twin turboprop aircraft, designed right from the start for efficiency on regional routes, which translates into low fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, along with maximum operational flexibility. 

The ATR 42-600, with up to 50 seats, has the lowest trip cost in its category. It is the ideal local commuter and a low-risk solution for an airline to explore new markets. The ATR 72-600 is our larger module, with up to 78 seats. It offers the lowest cost per seat on the market. Both aircraft have the lowest fuel burn and CO2 emissions compared to other turboprops and regional jets: for instance, the ATR 72-600 burns 45% less fuel and therefore emits 45% less CO2 per trip compared to a regional jet. 

Since our beginnings in 1981, we have grown our family with two variants of these two models. The first one being the ATR 72-600F, the only purpose-built regional freighter on the market, the first of which we delivered late 2020 to FedEx Express. It includes the latest generation avionics, a rear door optimised for freighter operations, and a large cargo door to accommodate unit load devices and outsized cargo. Its wide cross section allows for high modularity, to transport bulk, containers and palettes. 

Finally, the youngest member of the ATR family is the ATR 42-600S. This Short Take-Off and Landing variant of the ATR 42 offers take-off and landing capabilities on runways as short as 800 meters. It offers new opportunities to the most remote communities, as it will be able to access over 1,000 underutilised commercial airports with runways that are less than 1,000 meters long.  It is the only replacement solution for ageing aircraft with STOL performance. 

To date, we have sold over 1,800 aircraft and delivered over 1,600, therefore playing a vital role to connect people and businesses in a sustainable and modern way. 

Ayşe Akalın: Could you give us an overview of 2022 from ATR point of view in terms of orders, manufacturing, services and technology?

Mark Dunnachie:  After three difficult years due to COVID, in a complex economic and geopolitical environment which led to industry-wide supply chain issues, ATR delivered 25 new and 11 pre-owned aircraft in 2022. Nonetheless, the global ATR in-service fleet is now close to pre-COVID numbers with 1,200 aircraft flying, and the current backlog stands at a solid 160 aircraft. 2022 was also a record year for us in terms of support and services with revenues close to 350 million $. 

Last year saw 150 new routes created with ATR aircraft. As part of our commitment to decarbonisation, we performed the first 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) flight in history with a commercial aircraft, and our brand new PW127XT engine was certified and entered into service. At the same time, we successfully advanced the development of our aircraft family, completing the first test flight of the ATR 42 600S (Short Take-Off and Landing) and launching a feasibility study for our next generation EVO concept. These achievements showcase the commitment to connectivity, sustainability and innovation that ATR stands for.

Ayşe Akalın: What could you tell us about the international presence of ATR in regional aircraft market  and the major international programs that you have been involved in recently? What key geographical markets are your next targets?

Mark Dunnachie:  The best testimony of the strong role our aircraft are playing across the globe is in their success. We have a large and diverse customer base with around 200 operators who have chosen our aircraft. They are flown in 100 countries worldwide, on all continents. And we also operate on a global scale with sites in Paris, Toulouse, Miami, Singapore, Tokyo, Beijing, etc., which enable us to offer 24/7 support to our customers. 

Traditionally, Asia Pacific has always been a strong market for ATR, accounting for 40 to 50% of our activity, however we see a lot of potential for the ATR to increase regional connectivity across the Turkish market. This has the immediate benefit of providing essential links to often remote communities but also in terms of feed in and out of the Istanbul hub. The importance of these vital links is clear when you also consider that a 10% increase in regional flights generates +6% local GDP, +5% tourism and +8% foreign direct investment.

We can also mention the United States, where regional connectivity is dropping and we strongly believe we can contribute to restoring these essential links. 32% of routes below 500NM operated in 2000 had stopped in 2021, and almost half of the aged 50-seater regional jets retired during the pandemic. Their replacement creates a sizeable opportunity for us, as the modernity of our product offering, environmental performance and adequacy on short thin routes makes them the perfect aircraft to serve small communities and create quicker and more sustainable connections between cities. 

ATR’s leadership is also demonstrated through our involvement in major French and European research and technology projects (PARIDES, EDG²E, Clean Aviation), the aim of which is to develop new disruptive aircraft technologies to support the European Green Deal and net-zero 2050 ambition. Our efforts towards these goals have been constant, leveraging the efficiency of our platform and using incremental innovations to reduce emissions even further. 

Ayşe Akalın: What are your predictions for regional aircraft in terms of growth, challenges and opportunities? How do you see the regional aircraft market developing globally and how does ATR provide support?

Mark Dunnachie:  As reflected in our 20-year market forecast, released at the Farnborough Airshow last year, we see a need for 2,450 new turboprop deliveries by 2041. The primary driver is the replacement market, accounting for 1,500 aircraft. These deliveries will also be driven by the entry into service of the ATR 42-600S, which will open new opportunities in the most remote areas. We will also continue to position ourselves on the freighter market, as we see a potential for 550 turboprop freighters in the up to 9 tonnes category. This forecast has been built considering current technology, but we estimate further growth from the early entry into service of 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel propulsion, particularly in markets where sustainability issues are key. The high cost of fuel could spur a return to turboprops for short hauls currently served by jets. 

The reinforcement of essential connectivity and domestic operations remain a fundamental part of the demand, particularly where costly ground infrastructure and lengthy sea travel are the only alternatives.

Ayşe Akalın: Can you elaborate on ATR’ efforts and projects that focused on safe and sustainable aerospace? How would you summarize ATR’ ongoing sustainability projects with global partners?

Mark Dunnachie: At ATR, our mission goes far beyond manufacturing aircraft. We aim to ensure that all communities across the globe can benefit from essential connectivity in the most responsible, reliable and affordable way. Our turboprops are the most efficient and lowest emission regional aircraft today, emitting 45% less CO2 than similar-size regional jets. Noise emissions are also well below current ICAO standards. As the whole aviation industry, we are committed to reaching net-zero carbon emissions and our low-carbon strategy is based on five pillars. First, we aim to achieve the 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel certification of our aircraft by 2025, joining forces with Braathens Regional Airlines, Pratt & Whitney Canada and Neste. This will lead to 80% fewer CO2 emissions. In June last year, we were the first to fly a commercial aircraft with 100% SAF in both engines, demonstrating that the technology is ready. We have also further reduced the fuel consumption of our aircraft by introducing the new PW127XT engine. Everything in this engine means more efficiency and durability for our customers, as it enables a 3% improvement in fuel efficiency, a 20% reduction in engine maintenance costs, and a 40% extended time on wing, bringing the engine overhaul to 20,000 hours. Our customer Air Corsica is already operating it successfully, as this new engine is now standard for all new ATR deliveries. These are short-term solutions, but we are also very much working towards the future of regional aviation. Last year we have launched a feasibility study for our ATR ‘EVO’ concept, to enter the market by 2030. The plan foresees a renewal of the propulsion system with a hybrid capability, new propellers, improved cabin and systems, all of which will be eco-designed. The aim is to further reduce operational costs while offering a more responsible aircraft with higher performance. 

To reduce emissions, we also collectively need to look at operations, implementing for instance the latest Air Traffic Management innovations. And we also look at the whole lifecycle of our aircraft, from design to recycling. 

Ayşe Akalın: ATR participated at Istanbul Airshow in October 2022. Can you enlighten us about the current status of your cooperation, plans and activities in Türkiye?

Mark Dunnachie: We had the pleasure of attending the most recent Turkish Airshow in Istanbul and this allowed us to renew contacts and open new leads in promoting a wider use of ATRs across the region. The Turkish market holds strong potential to grow its domestic connectivity. The importance of linking small and remote communities has already been shown across the world and the Turkish market will be no exception. To ensure these essential services are served with the most efficient and lowest emission solution available today will bring real benefit to the communities served.

Ayşe Akalın: Like many other industries, digitalisation is transforming the aerospace sector. What can you tell us about your efforts and activities on digitalisation?

Mark Dunnachie: Digitalisation is also top of our agenda, be it in terms of improving our manufacturing processes, providing paperless operational documentation, or even further refining passenger experience. The ATR -600 cabin is the only one on the turboprop market offering in-flight entertainment solutions and USB charging power supply. Our approach is always to meet customers’ needs and adapt to the requirements of their passengers, where it makes sense economically. 

Ayşe Akalın: How is ATR  addressing the future of flight in commercial aviation? What kind of new technologies do you see a demand for in the coming years?  What  R&D actvities to further meet the evolving needs of global customers?  Which technology or trend do you think will have the biggest impact on the regional aircraft  industry?

Mark Dunnachie:  The future of flight is very much linked to environmental concerns and our capacity as an industry to take actions against climate change. As I said earlier, we are actively working with the whole aviation ecosystem towards net-zero. The introduction of disruptive technologies will be decisive to achieve this ambitious goal, and it is our collective responsibility to ensure that all airlines across the globe, even the smallest ones, even the ones serving the most remote communities, can access these new solutions to continue to provide essential links. Ensuring the availability of Sustainable Aviation Fuel in sufficient quantities will be the short-term challenge, while the longer term one will be related to the implementation of a whole infrastructure to support the entry into service of more complex technologies. 

This is why we are considering mild hybridization for our EVO concept: we want to ensure that ATR continues to be the most advanced platform when it comes to low CO2 emissions, whilst also remaining the most affordable solution on the regional market. We want to leverage innovation to offer both the most cost-efficient and sustainable aircraft, able to operate in places where infrastructure is still a challenge.

However, it’s essential to highlight that more sustainable solutions already exist today, and it is also our responsibility as the world leader on the regional aviation market to continue conveying that message. Studies show that, even today, if all regional jets in Europe were replaced by turboprops, the reduction of CO2 emissions would be equivalent to the amount of CO2 removed by a forest of around 5000km². 

Globalisation has deeply changed our approach to travel and created a greater need for quick connections to support our heartfelt desire to be connected, be it with relatives, friends or business partners. That said, the need for every community to have access to fresh produce, healthcare, education and culture has always existed, and we need to shape the future of aviation bearing in mind that for many communities, aviation is a lifeline that connects them to the wider world, and that regional aviation plays a prominent role in territorial cohesion. Progress and sustainable development for all go through more connectivity, and it is our duty to make these connections ever more responsible so that they do not come at the expense of the environment, and that the very people relying on them can continue benefit from all the opportunities of a connected world, long into the future. This is why we are also working on solutions to further improve connectivity, through our Short Take-Off and Landing variant, the ATR 42-600S, but also through unpaved runway options. 

Ayşe Akalın: Would you like to add a message for our readers?

Mark Dunnachie:  At ATR it fills us with much pride to see the daily role that our aircraft play in linking people and communities all over the world and we look forward to expanding a similar partnership with Türkiye as it grows its domestic and regional flying. We are convinced that turboprops will play an increasingly important role in the future of aviation. They are both modern and low emission aircraft, already available today to help airlines address their sustainability challenges. They incorporate the latest avionic standards on the market, as well as cabin connectivity solutions and USB power supply. They offer storage, personal space and comfort levels equivalent to single-aisle jets, along with low levels of cabin noise, for maximum passenger comfort. They are also the lowest emission regional aircraft on the market, emitting 45% less CO2 than regional jets, and we will continue to push the boundaries of regional air transport, to offer even more sustainable solutions to connect people and businesses in a responsible way.

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