ATR type-rated pilots from Europe may soon find themselves working in the Asia-Pacific market, which has become an ATR stronghold. ATR, meanwhile, may find itself under pressure to source manufacturing work from the region, in light of the fact that Asia-Pacific accounts for half of its sales.

“In the last five years, Asia-Pacific has accounted for 50% of sales; so it is quite an important market for us,” CEO Filippo Bagnato told Aviation Week on Dec. 14 at the opening of ATR's pilot training center at Singapore's Seletar Aerospace Park. It is one of only two centers in the world that has a full-flight simulator for the European airline manufacturer's newest series, the -600.

Bagnato says there are 249 ATR aircraft in the Asia-Pacific region and that within 30 months there will be more than 300.

In late December, Garuda Indonesia's low-cost carrier Citilink agreed to order 25 ATR 72-600s, with options for 25 more; Singapore-based lessor Avation ordered seven additional 72-600s; and Malaysia Airlines (MAS) agreed to order an additional 20, with options for 16 more. First deliveries to MAS will be in June and these will be for MAS's Firefly and MASwings, which already operate 12 and 10 72-500s, respectively. Having a -600 simulator center in Southeast Asia was important, because MAS had earlier ruled out the -600 series, on the grounds that there was no -600 simulator in the area. It was unwilling to send pilots to ATR's simulator center in Toulouse, as it would have been more costly.

Citilink will receive its first ATR in September, says CEO Arif Wibowo, adding that five will be delivered in 2013. The delivery schedule for the first 25 aircraft runs “up to 2015” and if the 25 options are converted into firm orders, the schedule goes “up to 2017.” ATR won the Citilink order after agreeing to help provide foreign pilots and maintenance technicians, says Wibowo. In many Asian countries, including in Indonesia, there is a shortage of pilots and maintenance engineers. Wibowo says Citilink is unable to source turboprop pilots from Garuda and will probably rely on foreign pilots for the first 2-3 years, until enough locals can complete ab initio training and be type-rated.

Bagnato says there are ATR-type-rated pilots in Europe who could come to Indonesia. Lufthansa's ATR operation Air Dolomiti, for example, will be downsizing, which will make ATR pilots available, he adds.

“ATR has also agreed to fully support Citilink on the maintenance side for the first two years and to co-operate with Garuda's maintenance, repair and overhaul company GMF AeroAsia,” says Wibowo, adding that ATR will be providing maintenance technicians for the first two years.

Wibowo says there were three key considerations when deciding on an aircraft type: economic, such as the purchase price; financing, and aircraft performance. Fuel-burn and runway performance were important elements of aircraft performance, he adds. Wibowo also says ATR has agreed to help Citilink to obtain European export credit agency-backed financing.

Early in the competition, some industry executives said Citilink was likely to choose the Bombardier Q400, so as to differentiate itself from Lion Air's Wings Air. An ATR spokesman says Wings operates 20 72-500s, the last of which was delivered on Dec. 14. This is the last -500 series aircraft produced by ATR. He also says Wings received its first 72-600 on Dec. 18. Wings ordered 40 72-600s.

Wings' order coupled with Citilink's, positions Indonesia as an enormous customer for ATR. When politicians realize that, they may lobby for investment from ATR. The government has already launched a public campaign to lobby Boeing to invest in Indonesia, as Lion and Garuda are big Boeing customers. One option could be for ATR and Boeing to give work to state-owned aircraft-maker Indonesian Aerospace (IAe). IAe helped develop the CN235 turboprop, and will be manufacturing NC212 and C295 turboprops with help from EADS's Airbus Military.

When Bagnato was asked if ATR may give work to Indonesia in the future, he side-stepped the issue by saying it is ATR's shareholders, Alenia Aeronautica and EADS, that are responsible for manufacturing the major sub-assemblies, so these two are the ones to decide such matters.

Alenia has China's Xian Aircraft manufacturing ATR parts. But China is a market in the region where ATR has secured no aircraft sales. China's government wants airlines there to buy Xian Aircraft MA60s.

Bagnato says it is hard for ATR to penetrate China, because the government has imposed taxes on imported regional aircraft. He says if China wants to sell MA60 overseas, then it should reciprocate by opening the Chinese market to foreign-made turboprop aircraft.