SINGAPORE—Bombardier plans to boost its presence in Asia-Pacific, a move that comes after arch-rival ATR came perilously close to locking Bombardier out of the region's fast-growing turboprop market. At the same time, ATR plans to establish a global MRO network, similar to what Airbus, another EADS company, has done.

ATR in recent years has won the lion's share of new orders for turboprops.

Since 2005, half of ATR's sales have come from the Asia-Pacific region, says an ATR spokesman in Toulouse, adding that Asia-Pacific now accounts for 28% of all ATRs operating today. The only bright spots for Bombardier in Asia-Pacific are Australia and Japan, where the Canadian aircraft-maker is still dominant, but in all other countries ATR is the leader.

ATR's broad customer base in the region has created a situation where operators of the French-Italian aircraft now have more choices when it comes to selecting a local service provider for pilot training and maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) provider.

For Q400 airframe heavy maintenance, the Bombardier-authorized MRO facility is Hawker Pacific in Australia. But operators also can send their aircraft to Air New Zealand Engineering Services, Fokker Services Asia (Singapore), Qantas Airways (Australia) or All Nippon Airways (Japan). For spare parts support, Bombardier has its Smart program, as well as depots inBeijing, Tokyo Narita, Singapore and Sydney.

Bombardier Commercial Aircraft VP-customer services and support, Todd Young, says, ”We are growing our network and are dedicated to bringing more service and support to the Asia-Pacific region.”

Bombardier has regional support offices (RSO) in Mumbai, Shanghai, Sydney and Tokyo and plans to establish one more RSO in the region this year, likely in Singapore or Hong Kong. Singapore is home to Bombardier Commercial Aircraft's new Asia-Pacific sales office, but Hong Kong has the advantage of already being a customer service center for Bombardier Business Aircraft. A Bombardier spokeswoman says the company plans to decide this year which of its RSOs will be the main hub for customer support in the region.

The RSOs all have an office manager and a customer support account manager.

In some instances, the office also has in-service engineers and a liaison pilot. Bombardier says airlines new to the Q400 will often get a Bombardier engineer seconded to them for a set period of time, subject to negotiation. ”Our success is ultimately measured by that of our customers,” says Young. ”We place equal focus on both in-production aircraft and post-production models,” he adds, referring to Dash 8s and out-of-production Q200s and Q300s.

Industry executives in the MRO and aircraft leasing business tell O&M that some Asia-Pacific operators are worried about the level of product support for Bombardier's older turboprops, namely the Dash 8s. One of the executives says concerns over product support partly explains why Dash 8-300 operator Uni Air decided this year to switch to ATR 72-600s.

Bombardier, realizing that today's Dash 8 operator could be tomorrow's Q400 customer, has been trying to strengthen its support for these out-of-production aircraft. For example, in June 2010, it announced that Fokker Services would include Dash 8 and out-of-production Q-models in the Fokker Abacus program. This program guarantees availability of serviceable components and customized component repair and overhaul services.

Fokker Services has a strong on-the-ground presence in Asia-Pacific thanks to its MRO facility in Singapore and the fact that many airlines in Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea still operate Fokkers.

ATR is also interested in forging a relationship with Fokker, says Negre, adding that Fokker could help encourage some Fokker 50 operators to switch to ATR turboprops. In terms of maintenance support, ATR has its main spare parts pool in Singapore. Negre says it has a spare parts pool in Auckland serving primarily ATR's Australian, New Zealand and South Pacific customers; while a pool in Kuala Lumpur is ”supporting our global maintenance agreement customers for components exchanges and repairs services under PBH (power-by-the-hour programs).”

ATR Network

ATR, in a separate development, is establishing a global network of ATR-recognized MRO companies, the first of which will be from Asia-Pacific, with the manufacturer making that decision by year-end, says Negre. Currently, there are eight firms in Asia-Pacific providing heavy maintenance checks on ATR airframes, namely Air New Zealand Engineering Services, Air Works (India), Air Tahiti, Bangkok Airways, Fokker Services Asia (Singapore), Malaysia Airlines Engineering & Maintenance, Vietnam Airlines and TransAsia Airways (Taiwan).

MRO companies will be free to continue to do heavy checks on ATR aircraft without being a member of the ATR-recognized network, says Negre, adding that “we don't want to interfere with the market.” The purpose of having recognized ATR facilities is to assist smaller ATR operators that may lack the resources to do their own evaluation of MRO availability in the region, he says.

To qualify for the network, the MRO firm has to go through a full ATR quality assessment and audit, says Negre, adding that the ATR MRO network is modeled after a similar initiative run by Airbus. ATR is a separate and independent company from Airbus, with a different ownership structure, but because Airbus parent EADS owns 50% of ATR and the regional aircraft maker is headquartered, like Airbus, in Toulouse, it is sometimes influenced by its larger neighbor.

Negre says he anticipates ATR will recognize two or three MRO companies in Asia-Pacific. ”We need to be able to manage and audit the MRO firms in the network, so we probably can't have” too many on a worldwide basis, says Negre. He says that after Asia-Pacific, the network will be rolled out in Africa and Latin America, followed by Europe and North America.

In terms of special support for airlines new to ATR, Negre says the aircraft maker stations an ATR maintenance engineer in-country and has that person work exclusively with the customer, usually for one year. Negre qualifies that by saying, “Generally, that is the case, but it depends on the airline's requirements. We try to meet all their requests and expectations.”

Having an ATR maintenance engineer on site is useful because it helps ensure that once the airline's maintenance personnel complete their theoretical training, there is someone there from ATR to help with practical training, he adds.

Negre also says that in the case of Avation/Skywest, ATR has three maintenance engineers on site. ATR wanted to do that because Avation/Skywest is the first to have the ATR 72-500 on the Australian registry. The airframer wants to ensure everything goes smoothly with Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority.