Brisk turboprop demand propels ATR into a new phase of growth
As if in reply to an unasked shareholder question—“What have you done for me lately?”— wants to follow a year of record order intake with one in which revenue is to jump more than 20%, record backlog levels are sustained and a new product may be launched.
It is a tall order, not without its challenges, and only some of its goals are fully under the company's control. For instance, while ATR managed to secure the lion's share of turboprop orders in 2011,is poised to compete more aggressively, with a new commercial aircraft leadership team, led by President Michele Arcamone, boosting its sales presence in the vital Asian market and plenty of production slots to offer. ATR is sold out for 2012 as well as much of 2013 and 2014.
The long-held ambition to launch a new product will not be easy to achieve, either. Both ATR shareholders,and , would have to sign off on such a move. But Finmeccanica is weighed down by internal restructuring and under pressure to reduce its debt level, and its unit has several new developments on the agenda, including work on the -9 and potentially the 120-seat .
ATR spent last year more closely defining specifications for the new product, which would be aimed at both the 90-seat turboprop market, in which it has no offering now and refreshing the 50-70-seat segment. Over the next 20 years, ATR sees a market for 500 50-seat turboprops and 1,600 70-seaters, so CEO Filippo Bagnato will not abandon those markets just because he is also trying to break into the 90-seat segment.
This year will be spent discussing the product with shareholders, Bagnato says, with a launch decision possibly by year-end. While he acknowledges the environment has its challenges, he also notes that development would cost $2 billion, hefty but not insurmountable even for Finmeccanica. Still to be decided is whether ATR would work on the program alone or with a partner. Shareholders will have to weigh in on the issue. If approved, the product would take four years to develop.
The main propulsion system contenders are. and , although has indicated interest in the market. ATR has not chosen an engine and is not ruling out discussions with Snecma, but apparently there have been no formal discussions.
Meanwhile, the company this year also expects to complete the transition to the/72-600 from the -500 series. The first 10 -600s were delivered last year, and the first 42-600 will be handed over in August. Certification by the is expected in the next few months.
Now that -600 development is complete, Bagnato says he is ready to shift the focus to boosting output. Having delivered 54 aircraft in 2011, the goal is to reach 72 in 2012 and then continue ramping up. That will also see revenue jump, with turnover expected to reach $1.6-1.65 billion this year, and $1.75 billion in 2013. Revenue topped $1.3 billion in 2011 and the company expects an earnings margin for 2011 of 8-8.5%, with cash flow of $150-160 million. The goal is to keep margins at similar levels, though a planned increase in output will challenge that.
The need to raise output is driven in part by the strong order intake. With orders for 157 aircraft last year, ATR almost doubled its firm order intake over 2010 levels, which were in turn double those in the crisis years of 2008 and 2009. Sales activity last year far outpaced company projections. The aircraft maker also booked options for 79 more turboprops.
The only cancellation in 2011 was of 38 aircraft for Kingfisher Airlines, because the struggling Indian carrier failed to meet contractual payment requirements.
With strong overall demand, list prices are increasing to $23.4 million for the 72-600 and $19.5 for the ATR 42-600.
However, a return to more normal figures is likely this year. “In the outlook, we have to be prudent,” Bagnato says. “Ideally, what I would like to achieve is to end the year with the same backlog as today,” effectively suggesting orders for around 70 aircraft.
Last year was an important one for turboprops, which secured 85% of orders in the 50-90-seat segment over regional jets, Bagnato says. ATR won 80% of the market for aircraft with 90 or fewer seats. Turboprop backlogs are also growing compared to those for regional jets, Bagnato notes. “There is a migration away from the jet,” he asserts. Turboprops hold 77% of the backlog in the segment, and 70% of that is ATR's.
The 72-600 dominated in 2011, with 128 firm orders, followed by 16 for the 72-500, 10 for the 42-600 and three 42-500s. The last -500 will be delivered this year.
Most deliveries last year were of 72-500s, with 38 units, followed by 10 72-600s and six 42-500s.
The aircraft maker also plans to open its new training center in Johannesburg at the end of this month, helping to support the 39 operators of 105 aircraft in Africa and the Middle East. In Brazil, ATR is working with airline partners but is considering establishing its own training center.