ATR parent companies EADS and Finmeccanica are interested in developing a new, larger turboprop for the European airframer and may introduce new partners into the project.

“We and EADS are closely examining the business case for such a new project,” Finmeccanica Chairman and CEO Giuseppe Orsi said during a ceremony observing the delivery of the 1,000th ATR, which will be operated by Spanish regional carrier Air Nostrum. “We want ATR to remain at the very top of the market, ahead of current and future competitors,” he added.

Similarly, EADS CEO Louis Gallois is interested in a new ATR program, but acknowledges that much work needs to be completed. He also notes that new partnership opportunities are being considered, although he would not specify potential candidates.

Gallois notes that an EADS decision to support the new aircraft will depend on financial and engineering resources, adding that the design effort would draw heavily on Airbus’s stretched design teams.

But interest in the product, notionally a 90-seater, is clear, with ATR CEO Filippo Bagnato saying discussions are ongoing with 20 airlines to define the product. That message was reinforced by Carlos Bertomeu, CEO of Air Nostrum, who expressed interest in such an aircraft, particularly with yields falling and fuel prices rising.

“We have to finish the technical definition and the business plan,” Bagnato says. Initial talks with shareholders about launching the program could start this year, although no decision is imminent. Bagnato also notes that there will be “iterations” of talks with the shareholders.

A new development program is expected to cost about $3 billion.

ATR already is in talks with Pratt & Whitney and General Electric about engine concepts, with P&W looking at a geared turbofan offshoot and GE focusing on adapting turboshaft technologies. Safran has indicated interest in pursuing the program, and Bagnato says he will talk to the French engine maker.

ATR took almost 27 years to delivery the first 1,000 aircraft, but with production rates increasing—and a backlog of more than 200 aircraft in hand—the 2,000-aircraft milestone should occur in the middle of the decade. The 1,000th aircraft (MSN999, because MSN1000 was delivered already) is the second of 10 ATR 72-600s Air Nostrum has on firm order. For the first five aircraft, the airline has agreed to a sale and leaseback deal with Nordic Aviation Capital.