Toulouse - ATR, the leading manufacturer in commercial aircraft segment with turbo-propeller engines, is planning to develop a new aircraft to complement the ATR 42 and ATR 72 models.

We are launching a new airplane program. But I still cannot say what it is,
said Christian Scherer, chief executive of the Franco-Italian company, to Flight Global.

Scherer stated that ATR and its shareholders Airbus and Leonardo had begun a strategic planning process for the future development of a new aircraft.

It is unclear whether the project would be a larger plane, such as an advanced version of the current ATR 42/72 family, or the introduction of a whole new model with more radical technologies. As Scherer pointed out, choosing the second option could involve hybrid-electric propulsion systems, new materials and construction techniques, and cabin configurations with only one or no pilot.

Leonardo, which owns 50% of ATR shares (Airbus owns the other half), has expressed on several occasions its interest in expanding the ATR 42/72 family with a larger aircraft with at least 90 seats. In 2017, the Italian group suggested that it could move forward on such a project on its own or with other partners.

Asked about this issue, Scherer pointed out that ongoing studies in this area are focused on the current partnership.

Scherer says there is no urgency in deciding on the development of a new aircraft, despite Embraer's recent assessments of a potential return to turbo propeller category.

Last year, Embraer said it was exploring the possibility of returning to the turbo-propeller aircraft market with a new product. In September, the Brazilian manufacturer held a meeting with more than 20 airlines to hear their opinions on the segment. The last Embraer turbo-propeller, the EMB-120 Brasilia had been produced between 1983 and 2001.

Another clue about the future of the French-Italian company comes from Pratt & Whitney Canada, the sole supplier of ATR aircraft engines. The Canadian manufacturer has already revealed that it is developing a new generation engine that could boost an aircraft designed for 90 passengers. The new engine is scheduled to hit the market between 2023, and 2025.

The ATR chief executive acknowledged that the development of a new aircraft usually takes about five years, which coincides with the commissioning of the new Pratt & Whitney engine.

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