As ATR finalizes its plans for a new large turboprop, the aircraft maker’s CEO, Filippo Bagnato, insists the product would also serve to refresh the 50-seat and 70-seat segments that are now the backbone of the company.

Bagnato does not expect an immediate decision, but with the technical configuration reasonably set he believes discussions with ATR shareholders EADS and Finmeccanica will begin this year on whether to move forward with the development. A program launch decision could come at year-end.

The development will cost around $2 billion. It’s not an insignificant number, he notes, but is not insurmountable, even for Finmeccanica which is under financial pressure. Bagnato notes the development bill will be shared with EADS.

Over the next 20 years, ATR sees a market for 500 50-seat turboprops and 1,600 70-seaters. That is underpinning its plans to work on a new aircraft, technology from which would serve not just the larger turboprop but also flow down to the 50- and 70-seaters, Bagnato said in Paris in announcing ATR’s 2011 results.

Still to be decided is whether ATR will work on the program alone or with a partner. Shareholders will have to weigh in on the issue.

It would take about four years to develop the product.

The main propulsion system contenders are United Technologies and General Electric, although Snecma has indicated it may be interested in the market. ATR has not made an engine system choice, yet, and is not ruling out discussions with Snecma, although no formal discussions appear to have taken place.