ATR faces a challenge persuading shareholder EADS to commit financially to the development of a new family of turboprops, even though some airlines say they want such an aircraft, particularly the new 90-seater that ATR is promising.

Rusdi Kirana, president director of Indonesia’s Lion Air group, ATR’s biggest customer, says his airline would be interested in ATR’s new 90-seater. He says fuel prices have become so high that jet operations on some routes are becoming unviable. One way to deal with rising fuel prices is to replace jets with more fuel-efficient turboprops, he tells Aviation Week.

ATR executives say Lion already has been using some 72-seat ATR 72-500s to replace MD-82s. Rusdi also has been developing new routes that feed into his main hubs.

ATR is promising that the New Generation Turboprop (NGTP), as it is known internally, will seat up to 98 passengers. The combination of higher capacity and newer engines will result in lower cost per available seat kilometer than the ATR 72-500/600.

The 90-seat ATR also is of interest to Malaysia Airlines’ turboprop operator, Firefly. CEO Ignatius Ong says he has been talking to ATR about the NGTP and would like to have it join the fleet in 2017 or 2018.

It is unclear, however, when ATR will be able to deliver the NGTP.

While 50% shareholder EADS has yet to commit to the NGTP, ATR’s other shareholder, Alenia Aeronautica, is more bullish. Last year, Alenia gave EADS a public ultimatum by saying if EADS fails to commit, then Alenia may build its own 90-seater.

In March, EADS’s then-CFO, Hans-Peter Ring, told Aviation Week it was unlikely EADS would approve the NGTP in 2012. The main reason is scarce engineering resources, he said.

ATR is a significant profit contributor to Alenia, but the joint venture holds less influence at EADS. The problem is that EADS’s other commercial passenger aircraft division, Airbus, captures more of the aerospace company’s attention, investment dollars and engineering resources. Much of its engineering resources currently are devoted to developing the Airbus A320NEO and A350.

To bolster their case, some ATR executives claim the 98-seat NGTP will help Airbus squeeze the Bombardier CSeries at the lower end. The CS100 seats 110 in a standard, single-class configuration. It has more seats than the 98-seat NGTP, but the turboprop aircraft promises lower fuel burn. Bombardier’s aircraft, however, has greater range and speed.