In its latest ‘Market Forecast 2018-2037’, European planemaker ATR speaks of an ongoing demand for turboprop freighters servicing regional routes. A second attractive operational field for motor-powered aircraft are feeder services provided to global carriers and integrators.
In its latest outlook, ATR estimates a market need for 3,020 turboprop aircraft over the next 20 years. The largest demand is expected to come from Asia (43%), followed by Europe, Africa and
Middle East (31%) and the Americas (26%).
According to the Toulouse, France-based planemaker, the key driver for this positive outlook is traffic growth in regional connectivity. This comes from both traditional markets where less connected locations are being linked with direct regional new routes, as well as from emerging markets where the most viable solution for connecting people and transporting goods are turboprop air links.
ATR estimates that turboprop aircraft have the potential to generate 2,770 new routes in the 20 years to come. Within this time span, the authors of the study expect regional traffic to grow annually at a pace of 4.5% in average, with around 30% of the air traffic in 2037 coming from routes that do not currently exist.
“Lot of interest” for ATR freighters
Turning to cargo, the company expects 460 turboprop freighters to be delivered within the next two decades. This figure includes their newly-built ATR 72-600F as well as their passenger-to-freighter converted ATR 42 (P2F).
ATR vice president marketing Zuzana Hrnkova speaks of “a lot of interest” for her company’s freighters coming particularly from mature markets, pointing at a firm order placed by parcel delivery giant FedEx last autumn for 30 ATR 72-600Fs, including options for 20 additional aircraft. It is the first production freighter ever launched by the Airbus-led (51%) French-Italian company. All other models started as a passenger variant to eventually be converted to freighters (P2F) after years in passenger operations.
Going into the cargo matter deeper, Ms Hrnkova estimates that the current three weight options of three, five and eight tons in the lower transport sector will successively shrink to two standards in the years ahead, with the three-ton variant vanishing. If so, the company seems to be well prepared with their P2F converted ATR 42 covering the five-ton segment and their newly built ATR 72-600F fitting the eight-ton class.
Besides mature markets the demand from airlines located in Africa or Latin America for smaller aircraft will also rise, estimate both ATR and their Brazilian peer Embraer, which will be taken
over by Boeing soon, as announced last week. In Africa, the focus is shifting away from being served primarily by carriers based outside the continent, particularly in the Middle East, to smaller
regional airlines offering intra-African connectivity. Concludes Embraer: “The emerging regional African markets require smaller aircraft to connect them, especially where ground infrastructure
is lacking, and urban areas can be far apart.”
Despite the positive market outlook presented by ATR there is trouble ahead particularly for operators of turboprops, caused by the growing shortage of cockpit personnel. Experience has shown that for many pilots it is more attractive and better paid to sit in the cockpit of an Airbus or Boeing jetliner rather than steering an ATR or Bombardier regional turboprop through the air. After all, this is a matter of prestige and reputation, which are essential human driving factors. This aspect, which could prove to be a hinderance for the ATR production program, is not dealt with in their ‘Market Forecast 2018-2037’. It might cast a shadow on the optimistic forecast.