ATR’s shareholders have agreed to disagree on the timing and maturity of the 90-seater project, but the turboprop manufacturer’s new chief sees plenty of scope to develop ATR without adding, at least for now, the stretched version.

“There are ample ambitions to achieve,” asserts Patrick de Castelbajac, who was appointed CEO of ATR last month. “We have to keep our eyes on the ball. I’m very careful not to become complacent on the back of very strong sales and a strong market share [in the 50-90-seat segment],” he says.

He has set three key objectives for the Toulouse-based company: securing the production ramp-up to meet ATR’s record-high backlog of more than 300 aircraft, expanding the airliner’s support side and improving the current ATR platform. Enhancements to the Thales avionics suite and increasing the capacity of the ATR72-600 are just two examples of ongoing programs to improve the existing platform.

At present, 74 seats is the ATR72-600’s maximum certification, and most of the aircraft feature 72 seats in a standard configuration with a 31” seat pitch, “but we can do  better,” stresses de Castelbajac. The target is lifting the seat density to 80.

ATR is aiming to gain EASA certification at the end of this month for upgrades to the avionics suite (standard 2) of the -600 series, comprising a localizer performance with vertical guidance (LPV), vertical navigation (VNAV), ASDB-OUT and required navigation performance with authorization required (RNP 0.3/1 approach).  “It was necessary for ATR to introduce the glass cockpit. This time, we are anticipating the future needs of our customers,” says de Castelbajac, who readily admits that he “did not pay too much attention to ATR” while at Airbus.

Patrick de Castelbajac is the first ATR CEO to come from Airbus’s commercial aircraft unit since the program launched in 1982. All other ATR chief executives designated by Airbus Group were working for other group companies.

The selection of de Castelbajac is seen as a strategic move by Airbus CEO Fabrice Brégier, who opposes a quick launch of the 90-seat turboprop and wants a more efficient ATR structure.  

“There is no big mystery here. We are a 50%-50% joint venture [between Airbus Group and Finmeccanica Group’s subsidiary Alenia Aermacchi] and both investors need to be aligned. They are not,” de Castelbajac says. But, he adds, “maybe it is our job to make it a priority [for Airbus].”