ATR Eyes Asia-Pacific STOL Opportunities

As a leader in the turboprop market, France-based ATR, a joint venture between Airbus and Leonardo, is always looking for new opportunities in growth markets. Asia-Pacific is one of those markets where the combination of aging aircraft, challenging hot and high environments, and the need to connect remote communities suits what ATR aircraft can offer.

One of the aircraft types ATR believes has a bright future in the region is the under-development ATR 42-600S. This is the short take-off and landing (STOL) turboprop that ATR says will enter service in 2025. In May, the first flight of a partially configured ATR 42-600S took off on a 2 hour and 15-minute flight from Toulouse-Francazal Airport (LFBF) in France. Since then, the STOL variant has undergone a range of ground and flight testing to enable it to move into the certification phase in 2023. Various older STOL-type aircraft in Asia-Pacific need replacing, which is an opportunity for ATR sales director Mavis Toh.

STOL Flight testing is well underway

In an interview with The Edge Malaysia, Toh said that ATR’s focus is on helping operators regain their operations back to pre-pandemic levels and that she sees plenty of opportunities for the STOL aircraft.

“Our market research shows that close to 500 airports worldwide have a runway whose length extends between 800 meters and 1000 meters [2,600 – 3,280 feet]. We see an opportunity to enter into this segment with our ATR 42-600S.”

The ATR 42-600S can land on runways as short as 800 meters, whereas existing ATRs need a runway length of 1,050 meters. The larger capacity of 40 to 50 seats makes it a much more viable alternative to aircraft like the 19-seat DHC6 400 Twin-Otter, favored by airlines in the region. Toh said that in Malaysia, the 42-600S would allow airlines to serve rural air routes to Sabah and Sarawak and the country’s outlying islands, such as Tioman.

“Right now, it’s only served by a 19-seater turboprop, and in Sabah and Sarawak, there are quite a sizeable number of routes that are operated by that aircraft. So by having a 30 to 50-seat aircraft like the 42-600S, we can help these markets grow.”

The largest operator of ATRs in the region is the Malaysia Aviation Group subsidiaries, Firefly, MASwings, and Batik Air. According to, Firefly has nine ATR 72-500s, MASwings has ten 72-500s, and Batik Air operates ten 42-600s. The 72-500s are between 12 to 14 years old, which Toh says makes them ripe for replacement with new generation ATRs fitted with the Pratt & Whitney 127XT engines. The new P&W engine gives a 20% reduction in maintenance costs and a 3% improvement in fuel efficiency and will be standard on all ATRs by the end of this year.

Asia-Pacific (excluding China) is ATRs largest global market, with around 500 of its aircraft delivered there. Toh said that about 40% of the ATR fleet operates essential services routes, which kept working throughout the pandemic.

“Globally, we have recovered to about 80% of pre-pandemic levels. In Asia-Pacific, we are seeing recovery coming out of the Philippines quite quickly, but New Zealand and India are leading the way.”

In its 2022-2041 market forecast, ATR says that Asia-Pacific will need 975 new turboprops by 2041 and that China will need 280. Globally it predicts demand for 2,450 turboprops, meaning that just over half of all deliveries will be for Asia-Pacific and China. It’s no wonder ATR see plenty of opportunities in this part of the world.

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