ATR swoops into Pacific markets

HIGH fuel costs and ageing aircraft fleets have opened up a growing Pacific market for a European aircraft manufacturer that has Papua New Guinea in its sights.
ATR swoops into Pacific markets ATR swoops into Pacific markets ATR swoops into Pacific markets ATR swoops into Pacific markets ATR swoops into Pacific markets

Published in the June-July 2012 PNG Report magazine

French-Italian turboprop specialist ATR says it accounted for 80% of all new turboprop aircraft sales in the world last year.

That result included 55 aircraft sales in the Asia Pacific market.

In Papua New Guinea, well-known charter services company Hevilift has acquired two ATR 42-300s in late 2010.

Airlines PNG is operating a 70-passenger capacity ATR 72-500 it acquired, also in 2010, for a contract with Lihir gold mine owner Newcrest Mining.

These planes were all brought in to keep up with the demand from the booming resources scene. ATR regional aircraft sales director Jean Pierre Clercin said his company's aircraft were well suited to operations in PNG.

"ATR aircraft perform particularly well in adverse environments," he told PNG Report.

"For instance, they can operate to and from very short and unpaved runways, which are common in PNG.

"The ATR72 is the only aircraft of its category to be able to operate to such restrictive airports, such as in Lihir."

With turboprop aircraft becoming increasingly popular due to their efficient fuel consumption, Clercin outlined why he believed the ATR range stood out.

"ATR is the only manufacturer to offer a family of new 50 and 70 seater turboprop aircraft," he said.

"Fokker stopped producing its aircraft close to 15 years ago while Bombardier stopped production of its 35 and 50 seater turboprops over four years ago."

Clercin said ATR also kept investing in its range.

ATR's latest models are the 600 series. The first ATR 72-600 was delivered to an airline last year after its development was announced back in 2007.

"It features many state-of-the-art solutions such as a new glass cockpit for improved operational efficiencies, new cabin interiors for more comfort and new engines for additional improvements in performance," Clercin said.

"Later this year they will start flying in the Asia Pacific region with Skywest and Virgin Australia in Australia, as well as with Air New Zealand and the Indonesian regional operator Wings Air."

On the points of difference between the ATR 42s and 72s compared to competitor aircraft, Clercin said the ATR aircraft had excellent operating economics.

Active technical support from the manufacturer was another important benefit, he said.

"The ATR72, on top of the low maintenance cost, also offers a lower fuel burn compared with its direct competitor, which is a crucial point when fuel costs are skyrocketing," he said.

While it is undeniably dependent on aviation services, PNG also serves up challenging flying conditions, which thankfully attract exceptional pilots from all over the globe. Some of the less foreseeable risks stem from PNG's quickly changing tropical weather patterns, which are even worse when it means flying over cloud-ridden mountainous terrain.

PNG's fast-growing aviation market also features strong competition paired with limited infrastructure.

"In order to support the growth in the resource industry in particular, it is key that we back the operators with aircraft induction," Clercin said.

"In PNG, many airfields, particularly in remote mining and exploration sites, cannot accommodate jet aircraft, and so rely upon large turboprops to carry passengers and freight to and from these regions.

"PNG is also affected by so-called ‘hot and high' conditions, in which altitude and temperatures in some destinations impact upon the performance and therefore the payload or the operating range of the aircraft.

"The ATR family of turboprops is equipped to deal with such climates, with a view to minimising the impact on operating efficiencies and costs."

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