Turboprops remain key to Asia-Pacific connectivity

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Air traffic in the Asia-Pacific region has recovered more slowly from Covid-19 than in most other parts of the world, but ATR and De Havilland Aircraft of Canada remain optimistic about their position in the region, where some 500 ATR 42/72 — 37% of the world’s ATR fleet in service — and nearly 250 Dash 8s in service, respectively.

“I’m quite optimistic,” Jean-Pierre Clercin, ATR’s sales manager for the Asia-Pacific region, told AIN in an interview ahead of the Singapore airshow. “The past two years have been challenging for the industry but overall our market has proven to be resilient due to its home and community service nature,” he said. The post-Covid-19 aviation recovery has followed a different trajectory for domestic and international capacity, particularly in Asia-Pacific, where domestic capacity has recovered more quickly.

“Our customers have not had to deal with restrictions on cross-border travel,” noted Clercin. Up to 85% of ATR operations serve domestic routes and 40% of ATR operators provide essential services, such as the transport of food, medical personnel and medicines, including Covid-19 vaccines, to remote locations or isolated and between islands.

Additionally, Clercin said he believes the Covid-19 crisis has created new opportunities for the Franco-Italian turboprop maker. For example, in Nepal, ATR observed a shift from land mobility to air mobility, with people preferring to sit for one hour in a controlled environment on an airplane rather than seven hours on a bus. In New Zealand, which has effectively closed its borders, passengers have spent their disposable income traveling within the country. In both countries, the utilization rate of ATR fleets has exceeded pre-Covid levels, according to Clercin. New behavioral trends, such as working from home and the rise of e-commerce, have emerged from the pandemic and will drive up demand for regional passenger and cargo aircraft, he added. Due to its versatility and operational frugality, the European OEM’s twin-engine turboprops are perfectly suited to the changing landscape of regional mobility, he said. “And we continue to improve the platform to bring even more operational resilience and further reduce operating costs for airlines,” Clercin pointed out, citing the aircraft’s engine upgrade as the latest illustration of the company’s strategy of ensuring the continued development of the aircraft, “which had a very smart design from the start.”

At the Dubai Airshow in November, ATR announced that it would re-engine the 42 and 72-600 families with a new update to the PW127 engine from Pratt & Whitney Canada. The new PW127XT engines, which will be available this summer, will reduce maintenance costs by 20% compared to the PW127M and consume 3% less fuel than the M series, according to ATR and P&WC.

ATR customers in Asia-Pacific have shown “strong interest” in the engine upgrade, Clercin said, confirming that he is also seeing strong interest in the region for the ATR 42-600S take-off and short landings (STOL). “The STOL variant will make it possible to use [of the ATR 42 aircraft] on even shorter tracks,” he remarked. Air Tahiti, the domestic airline of French Polynesia, became the first airline to sign for the ATR 42-600S, at the Paris-Le Bourget airshow in June 2019. PNG Air of Papua New Guinea has followed a year later with an order for three units, and in November last year ATR signed a letter of intent with Toki Air, a new regional commercial airline in Japan that plans to launch operations this year.

The 42-600S, currently under development, will offer take-off and landing capabilities on runways as short as 800 meters (2,624 ft) – compared to 1,050 meters (3,445 ft) for a conventional version – with 40 passengers on board under standard flight conditions. Nearly 500 airports have runways that extend between 800 and 1,000 meters and could accommodate the ATR 42-600S; almost a third of these leads are in the Asia-Pacific region. The Covid crisis disrupted the initial schedule by a few months and the latest plans are for the first flight of the ATR 42-600S to take place in 2023 rather than this year. ATR expects first deliveries in early 2025. The manufacturer has won orders for around 20 ATR 42-600S, including 10 from Dublin-based turboprop lessor Elix Aviation Capital.

Until last November, ATR had recorded orders for 29 aircraft and delivered 16 aircraft, marking a marked improvement from 2020, when it ended the year with net orders for three aircraft and delivered only 10 aircraft. The Toulouse joint venture between Airbus and Leonardo delivered its 1,600th aircraft, a 68-seat ATR 72-600, to Air New Zealand in December. The national airline has participated in the development of RNP AR 0.3/0.3 approach technology on ATR aircraft.

In January, ATR signed its first order of the new year with the Maldivian flag carrier, Maldivian. It plans to deliver two ATR 72-600s and one ATR 42-600 fitted with PW127XT engines to the South Asian airline later this year.

ATRs operate in almost every country in Asia-Pacific, with the notable exception of mainland China. The European aircraft manufacturer sees a lot of growth potential in the country, mainly for 30-seat turboprops to serve the country’s general aviation segment and 50-seat turboprops to connect regional airports. ATR expected the validation of the ATR 42-600 type certification in China in the fall of 2020, but is still waiting for the Civil Aviation Administration of China to sign the permits. “Discussions are ongoing,” Clercin noted.

Over the past decade (2011-2020), ATR accounted for 76% of firm orders in the 50-90 seat turboprop market, while the DHC Q400 held a 24% share.

De Havilland Aircraft of Canada delivered the first of three new Biman Bangladesh Dash 8-400s in November 2020. This aircraft joined two others of the same model acquired before Bombardier sold the De Havilland line to Longview Capital in November 2018 (Photo: De Havilland of Canada)

DHC aims to diversify the mission of the Dash 8

The new owner of the Q400, De Havilland Aircraft of Canada (DHC), intends to defend its position in the market, even if production of new Dash 8-400s remains on pause as the company continues its search for a new location to build the turboprops after the mid-2021 closure of its assembly line in Downsview, Ontario. DHC’s parent company, Longview Aviation Capital, acquired the rights to the entire Dash 8 program, including the 100, 200 and 300 series and the 70- to 90-seat Q400 program from Bombardier in 2019.

DHC’s global support device remains active and particularly in the Asia-Pacific market, where the Dash 8 family already projects a strong presence overall, DHC’s vice president of sales and marketing told AIN. Philippe Poutissou. Over time, DHC intends to expand this presence with “new, used, retrofitted and modified” solutions for the varying operational requirements of civil, military and government operators.

“Despite the pandemic, we have seen the Dash 8 fleet grow in several Asia-Pacific countries over the past 12 months, in Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Papua New Guinea and Australia,” Poutissou said. “We have also worked with operators in several other Asia-Pacific markets looking to introduce Dash 8 aircraft.”

While the current generation Dash 8-400 “has been used primarily as an airliner”, the Dash 8-400 and earlier Dash 8 models have become the preferred platforms for special mission operations, as evidenced by the many Dash 8-300s and Dash 8-200s operating around the world in many non-aircraft roles, Poutissou said. “The Dash 8-400 is also an extremely capable platform for these roles and we are actively developing this market opportunity,” he added.

For example, DHC specifically targets Asia-Pacific military operators with the Dash 8-400 P4 variant under development with PAL Aerospace. The Dash 8 P4 “would provide better performance and payloads for ISR and maritime patrol missions and is perfectly suited to many existing and emerging requirements in the Asia-Pacific market,” Poutissou said.

DHC also sees potential markets in Asia-Pacific for other mission versions of the Dash 8-400, such as used aircraft converted to aerial firefighting tankers for Conair, and the Dash 8-400 MRE, which offers several interior configurations for emergency response, such as as a combi, medical evacuation and full cargo interiors.

“The Dash 8 [family] has also been commissioned for very specialized multi-role missions including specialized transport; seek and rescue; coastal surveillance; fisheries monitoring; environmental assessments; mapping of oil spills; acknowledgement; and operations training,” Poutissou said.

The Dash 8-400 has already achieved certification to the new ICAO Chapter 14 and FAA Phase 5 noise standards, giving DHC the confidence to exploit the Dash 8’s new opportunities in noise-sensitive airports. Beyond that, DHC sees new Asia-Pacific sales opportunities arising for all Dash 8 models as alternative propulsion technologies mature.

“We expect the market to begin converting to new propulsion technologies towards the end of the decade, such as the hydrogen-electric and hybrid-electric architectures we are developing with our partners ZeroAvia and Pratt & Whitney Canada respectively,” said Poutissou. “Some Dash 8 operators will be able to be – and are eager to become – early adopters and we would like to be able to provide them with online retrofit and retrofit solutions,” he said.

Develop customer support

Strong support agreements are key to DHC’s future success in the Asia-Pacific region. Following its spin-off from Bombardier, DHC established a dedicated De Havilland Canada parts distribution network with depots in Singapore and Sydney to support the existing Dash 8 Asia-Pacific fleet and expanded its De Havilland Component Solutions program with new ANA and Link PNG customers.

The company has hired additional field service representatives, customer support managers and sales managers for the region. DHC has also partnered with experienced suppliers to operate authorized service facilities for Dash 8 MRO in India, China and Australia, and five training centers with Dash 8 simulators in Hyderabad, Tokyo, Melbourne, Sydney and Auckland. .

ATR has also extended its customer and after-sales support in the Asia-Pacific region. In May last year, it strengthened its partnership with the Malaysian subsidiary of Skyways Technics, based in Kuala Lumpur, with a new agreement to facilitate the management of repairs of sensitive structural components such as repairs to leading edges, flight controls and flaps. ATR has established regional spare parts distribution centers in Auckland and Singapore, where it also operates a training center with an ATR -600 FFS.

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