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ATR updates ‘vision’ for a big new turbo-prop

While the age of propeller airliners crossing oceans and continents is so very 20th century the ‘big’ short range fuel saving turbo-prop concept lurks on the side lines of this century, as Euro regional aircraft maker ATR showed this week.

The notion of ‘big’ shorter range regional turboprops returning to the skies has been gaining moment in recent years, and ATR raised the chances of this happening sooner rather than later at a conference in Toulouse this week.

The relevance of something with more passenger capacity than a late 50s-mid 60s  88 seat Lockheed Electra (Mark II) but with only two engines for Australia is radically lowered fuel burn over shorter distances, something Qantas and Virgin Australia take very seriously.

Qantaslink has been expanding the numbers and unit sizes of its Bombardier turbo-props, Q200s with 36 seats and Q300s with 50 seats by adding and ordering substantial numbers of 74 seat Q400s for growth as well as replacement of the smaller and aging variants.

Virgin Australian, through Skywest, has countered with 68 seat ATR 72s, which are slightly slower than Q400s, but with even greater fuel savings.

These turbo-props may not be every travellers delight, with tiny and usually non-reclining seats, and an unerring capacity to find any turbulence that might be about and fly directly through rather than over it because of their reduced optimum cruise altitudes compared to jets. But they are a fact of life.

ATR has been coy about distributing updated images of its concept, but the graphic below, dated 2011, did escape into the public domain.

There remain unanswered questions about the ATR design. Will it continue to have two by two seating, like its current turbo-props? Will the fuselage be composite or alloy? Will it have lithium ion batteries? We can probably answer the last question in the negative, not just because of the Dreamliner problems, but because this isn’t an airliner that needs a huge internal power distribution system like the 787s.

Whatever the answers, there is a good chance 90 plus seating in turbo-props will find a market in this country before the end of the decade, both for resource industry FI-FO support, and shorter regional flights.

If we’re lucky, designs like the ATR proposal will also retain two by two seating, and make it as wide and comfortable as it is in the Embraer E-jets, which have already been driven out of very short haul routes for Virgin Australia by the ATR 72s.

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  • 1
    ltfisher
    Posted January 26, 2013 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    As a regular user of the Q400 I appreciate its potential, and that of a bit bigger ATR version. They are just as quick on short puddle jumping, can be ‘steered’ out of the way of bumps if the crew really try, offer that 2 x 2 seating, and best of all can offer frequency. However, it has to be said that the ones I catch never really operate as they should ie as shuttles. Most annoying is the way in which ground handling seems totally wedded to the procedures and facilities used in jet operations eg passengers sitting in the aircraft for an average of 10 minutes waiting push back while the paper work makes its way from somewhere in the terminal to the cockpit. Equally inconvenient, dare I say stressful, is the inability, certainly in Sydney, for passengers to disembark and walk directly into the terminal instead of having to climb a quite steep set of stairs into an unused aerobridge which links via a series of uneven steps/passages through a makeshift terminal area [actually the oldest remaining part of the original terminal buildings],to the main terminal. So great potential but not being realised at present, mainly I suspect because of poor management.

  • 2
    keesje
    Posted January 27, 2013 at 2:04 am | Permalink

    I think we have to realize the bulk of air traffic is short haul, less the an hour.

    http://i191.photobucket.com/albums/z160/keesje_pics/RobertNuttallRRNButilization.jpg

    A prop has undeniable advantages there. Expect a stretch down the road.

  • 3
    comet
    Posted January 27, 2013 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    The ATR concept image looks superficially very similar in shape to the ATR72, apart from the winglets.

    I understand that Bombardier has switched to “previous generation” batteries for the C-Series. It’s too late for them to switch from plastic to aluminium for the structure (like Mitsubishi was able to do with the MRJ aircraft).

  • 4
    Aidan Stanger
    Posted January 27, 2013 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    keesje, even the graph you linked to (which specifically excludes widebody flights) does not support your assertion. Though quite a lot would take less than an hour, it would not be the bulk.

  • 5
    keesje
    Posted January 27, 2013 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

    Aidan, many are much shorter then an hour. Just take a look at the 500 millions europeans, chinese east coast, California , north east US and Florida. Yes there are many long narrowbody flights, but it isn’t the bulk.

    http://i191.photobucket.com/albums/z160/keesje_pics/Europecitypairs.jpg

    (I looked at a similar, TP400 powered, bigger concept yrs ago)
    http://i191.photobucket.com/albums/z160/keesje_pics/turbolinermai17.jpg

    Henry Lam, graphics magician drew up an even bigger 7 abreast M .7 short haul machine, with CROR a few yrs later.
    http://www.pprune.org/tech-log/445308-ecr-20-200-seater-optimized-flights-700-nm.html

    It’s interesting ATR starting with a blank paper reached the same conclusion putting the engines under a high wing isn’t such a bad idea aferall ;)

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