The ATR 72 is a twin-engine turboprop, short-haul regional airliner developed and produced in France and Italy by aircraft manufacturer ATR (Aerei da Trasporto Regionale or Avions de transport régional), a joint venture formed by French aerospace company Aérospatiale (now Airbus) and Italian aviation conglomerate Aeritalia (now Leonardo S.p.A.). The number “72” in its name is derived from the aircraft’s standard seating configuration in a passenger-carrying configuration, which could seat 72-78 passengers in a single-class arrangement.
During the 1980s, French aerospace company Aérospatiale and Italian aviation conglomerate Aeritalia merged their separate work upon a new generation of regional aircraft together. For this purpose, a new jointly-owned company was established, ATR, for the purpose of developing, manufacturing, and marketing their first airliner, which was later designated as the ATR 42. On 16 August 1984, the first model of the series, designated as the ATR 42–300, performed the type’s maiden flight. During the mid-1980s, the ATR 72 was developed as a stretched variant of the ATR 42, the manufacturer’s first regional airliner. On 27 October 1989, Finnish airline Finnair became the first airliner to operate the type in revenue service. The ATR 72 has been typically employed as a regional airliner, although other roles have been performed by the type, including corporate transport, cargo aircraft and maritime patrol aircraft.
To date, all of the ATR series have been completed at the company’s final assembly line in Toulouse, France; ATR benefits from its sharing of resources and technology with Airbus SE, which has continued to hold a 50 per cent in the company. Successive models of the ATR 72 have been developed and introduced. Typical improvements have included the incorporation of new avionics, such as a glass cockpit, and the adoption of newer engine versions to deliver enhanced performance, such as increased efficiency and reliability along with reductions in operational costs. The aircraft continues to share a high degree of commonality with its smaller ATR 42 sibling. Both the ATR 42 and ATR 72 have been produced side-by-side for decades.
On 15 January 1986, the launch of the stretched ATR 72 programme was announced. On 27 October 1988, the first prototype performed its maiden flight; one year later, on 25 September 1989, the ATR 72 received airworthiness certification from the French Directorate General for Civil Aviation (DGAC). During the following month, on 27 October 1989, Finnish airline Finnair became the first airline to introduce the aircraft into service. Since the ATR 72 is assembled on the same production line as the smaller ATR 42, along with the sharing of the majority of subsystems, components, and manufacturing techniques, the two types support each other to remain in production. This factor may have been crucial as, by 2015, the ATR 42 was the only 50-seat regional aircraft that was still being manufactured.
During 2000, the combined global ATR fleet attained its 10,000,000th flight, during which a cumulative distance of approximately 4 billion kilometres (2.5 billion statute miles) had been traversed and around 450 million passengers had flown onboard ATR-built aircraft. 2007 set a new record for the programme’s sales, a total of 113 new ATR aircraft having been ordered during a single year. By the end of 2014, ATR had received 1,000 orders for the type and delivered a total of 754, leaving a backlog of 246 aircraft.
Within the ATR company itself, various organisational changes were implemented. On 10 July 1998, ATR launched its new Asset Management Department. On June 2001, EADS and Alenia Aeronautica, ATR’s parent companies, decided to reinforce their partnership, regrouping all industrial activities related to regional airliners underneath the ATR consortium. On 3 October 2003, ATR became one of the first aircraft manufacturers to be certified under ISO 9001-2000 and EN/AS/JISQ 9100, the worldwide quality standard for the aeronautics industry. During July 2004, ATR and Brazillian aircraft manufacturer Embraer announced a cooperation agreement on the AEROChain Portal for the purpose of delivering improved customer service. During April 2009, ATR announces the launch of its ‘Door-2-Door’ service as a new option in its comprehensive customer services range.
Since 2008, ATR has been a participant in the European Clean Sky Joint Technology Initiative. On 8 July 2015, a ATR 72-600 green technology demonstrator performed its first flight; the demonstrator was used for trialling new composite materials for insulation, air conditioning systems, electrical distribution systems and energy dispersal modifications to evaluate their effect on the aircraft’s overall efficiency as a contribution to the Clean Sky initiative. ATR’s senior vice-president for engineering Alessandro Amendola indicated that the elimination of all uses of bleed air was a key aim in the designing of an all-electric architecture as well as improving engine efficiency; the minimising of peak electrical loads was also a stated priority. During March 2016, a second round of flight trials dedicated the testing of all-electric systems architecture using the demonstrator was completed; analysis is set to continue.
As a consequence of strong demand for the -600 series, ATR decided to invest in the establishment of a second, more modern final assembly line and acquisition of more hangar space at their Toulouse site, along with a new large completion and delivery area; overall, the manufacturing operation expanded to four times the footprint that it had in 2005. Speaking in October 2015, ATR CEO Patrick de Castelbajac stated that the firm was set to produce in excess of 90 aircraft that year, and that the new manufacturing facilities could support a production rate of up to 120 per year. At the time, the company had a backlog of orders for 300 aircraft, sufficient for three years’ of production. During 2017, a new in-house financing and leasing division was established by ATR in order to offer customers a greater degree of support and expand the company’s range of services.
Considerable emphasis has been placed upon the continuous development of ATR’s aircraft models. Speaking at the Farnborough Airshow in July 2016, the CEO of ATR Patrick de Castelbajac stated that the company was currently examining the possibility of replacing the current Pratt & Whitney Canada PW127 engine with either a new offer from P&WC, or a GE38 derivative from GE Aviation. Although expressing satisfaction with the PW127 engine and its supplier, Castelbajac noted the design’s age and the need to remain competitive with the latest regional jets. To be a worthwhile exercise, any re-engine exercise would require a 15 per cent improvement in fuel-burn and 20-25 per cent reduction of direct maintenance costs. Additionally, Castelbajac sees the potential re-engine as a “bridge” to the eventual development of a larger 100-seat aircraft.
During the mid-2010s, reports emerged that the development of a further stretched 90-seat ATR model was under consideration as well; allegedly, shareholder Airbus was relatively unenthusiastic on proceeding with such a development, while ATR CEO Fabrice Brégier favoured a focus on resolving manufacturing issues.
The ATR 72 is a turboprop-powered regional airliner, capable of accommodating a maximum of 78 passengers. It is powered by a pair of Pratt & Whitney Canada PW100 turboprop engines, which drive an arrangement of four or six-bladed propellers supplied by Hamilton Standard. Earlier models of the ATR 72 are equipped with the older PW124B engine, rated at 2,400 shp, whilst later-built aircraft are powered by the newer PW127 engine, rated at a maximum of 2,750 shp to achieve improved “hot and high” takeoff performance. It employs a carbon-fibre tip wingbox for 30% of the wing weight and a 20% weight reduction.
In the majority of configurations, passengers board the ATR 72 using the rear door, a relatively unusual configuration for a passenger aircraft, while the front door is typically used for the loading and unloading of cargo; early customer Finnair intentionally ordered their ATR 72s with a front passenger door so that they could utilize the jet bridges at Helsinki Airport, while operator Air New Zealand’s standard rear door aircraft can use jet bridges at airports with this equipment. While passengers are boarding or disembarking the aircraft, a tail stand is set into place as standard procedure to guard against the aircraft nose lifting off the ground.
For 2013, ATR claimed a 48 per cent global market share for regional aircraft deliveries between 50 and 90 seats (comprising both turboprops and jets), making it the dominant manufacturer within this sector of the market. That same year, during which firm orders for 10 ATR 42-600s and 79 ATR 72-600s were recorded, leasing companies were responsible for 70 per cent of these; according to ATR’s CEO Filippo Bagnato: “Years ago, we were not even considered by the lessors; now they see ATRs as a good investment”. Several major leasing companies operate their own ATR fleets, such as Dubai Aerospace Enterprise (DAE), who placed an order for 20 ATR 72s along with options for another 20 in February 2014, and Nordic Aviation Capital (NAC), who ordered a fleet of 30 ATR 72s during June 2013, along with options for up to 55 further airliners. Placing their first order during 2011, by December 2012, Singaporean leasor Avation had a combined total of 20 ATR 72s on order; by February 2016, the number on order for Avation had risen to 35 aircraft. 2011 was a record-breaking year for sales at ATR. According to ATR’s CEO Filippo Bagnato, sales had continued to grow during the Great Recession despite the downturn experienced by most aviation companies as “fuel consumption that can be half that of the alternatives and [with] lower maintenance costs”. Bagnato noted the strength of Africa as a market for the type, as well at the firm’s aircraft being capable of serve destinations that would otherwise be inaccessible with other aircraft due to the austere conditions of many airstrips and runways in the region, as well as the ability to operate autonomously without any reliance upon ground support equipment.
During May 1997, ATR had achieved its first breakthrough sale in China, placed by operator China Xinjiang Airlines and the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC). By 2013, while the Asia Pacific region had comprised the majority of ATR’s sales when geographically ranked; however, orders from Chinese airlines remained elusive; Bagnato ascribed this anomaly to local market conditions dictating the typical use of larger aircraft, as well as a Chinese government policy of imposing high tariffs on the import of foreign-built fixed-wing aircraft. During late 2014, ATR set up a new office in Beijing and hired several former Airbus sales personnel with the aim of launching the type on the Chinese market. ATR believed that many of the already-flown routes did not suit larger 150-seat aircraft; however, of the roughly 2,600 commercial aircraft flying in China at that time, only 68 had a capacity of less than 90 seats and of these, fewer than 20 aircraft were powered by turboprop engines.
In response to airlines often wanting to phase out their early production ATR models to replace them with the latest generation ATR series, as well as to answer demand from cargo operators for the type, ATR has operated two separate dedicated freighter conversion programmes, known as the Bulk Freighter (tube version) and the ULD Freighter. Both conversions involve complete stripping of furnishings along with the addition of floor strengthening, new window plugs and 9g restraining nets, six additional longitudinal tracks for added flexibility, and an E-Class cabin; the ULD model can accommodate standard ULD-packaged cargo, such as LD3 containers or 88x108in (2.2×2.7m) pallets, which were loaded via a large cargo door located on the port forward side. Undertaken by a range of companies, such as Alenia subsidiary Aeronavali, Texas-based M7 Aerospace; French firms Indraéro Siren and Aeroconseil, Canadian Infinion Certification Engineering, and Spanish company Arrodisa, by October 2012, in excess of one-fifth of all first-generation ATR 42 and ATR 72 aircraft had already been converted to freighters.
During February 2016, ATR signed a deal with national flag carrier Iran Air for a batch of 20 ATR 72-600s, along with options for 20 more aircraft and post-purchase services, such as engine maintenance. Made possible by a negotiated relaxation of international sanctions against Iran, during June 2017, a €1 billion Iranian contract was finalised for the 20 airliners; the delivery of the first four aircraft occurred within weeks of the deal being completed. During May 2017, Indian low-cost airline IndiGo has tentatively signed for 50 ATR 72-600, intended for its UDAN regional connectivity scheme; these are to be delivered from the year end for up to 20 by the end of 2018.
While primarily used as a civil aircraft, some models of the ATR 72 has been adapted to perform in various military functions, such as utility aircraft and maritime patrol aircraft (MPA). The Turkish Navy, which initially decided to purchase ten ATR 72–500 MPA, later expanded its order to eight aircraft: Two ATR 72–600 TMUA (utility) versions, and six ATR 72–600 TMPA (ASW/ASuW) versions. The armed ATR 72 TMPA variant was developed in cooperation with Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), and incorporated additional sensors and mission systems to perform its intended combat role. During 2013, the two ATR 72–600 TMUA aircraft were delivered to the Turkish Navy.
The Italian Air Force also selected the ATR 72–500 MP, designated as the P-72A, to serve as a multirole maritime patrol, electronic surveillance and C4 platform. The original Italian requirement for a Breguet Atlantic replacement had also called for ASW and anti-surface warfare (ASuW) capabilities, however, during 2014, the contract was renegotiated to a configuration that excluded these capabilities. An anticipated P-72B variant for ASW and ASuW operations may later be pursued; accordingly, provisions were made to allow for the four P-72As on order to be adapted to the P-72B configuration. By October 2016, the test and evaluation phase for the P-72A was approaching completion; reportedly, the aircraft’s communication and navigation equipment and the defensive aids system had been fully tested, while trials of the mission systems were still ongoing. During December 2016, the first pair of P-72A aircraft were delivered to the Italian Air Force.
Two sub-types were marketed as the 100 series (−100).
- ATR 72–101
- Initial production variant with front and rear passenger doors, powered by two PW124B engines and certified in September 1989.
- ATR 72–102
- Initial production variant with a front cargo door and a rear passenger door, powered by two PW124B engines and certified in December 1989.
Two sub-types were marketed as the 200 series (−200). The −200 was the original production version, powered by Pratt & Whitney Canada PW124B engines rated at 2,400 shp (1,800 kW).
- ATR 72–201
- Higher maximum take-off weight variant of the −101, a PW124B-powered variant certified in September 1989.
- ATR 72–202
- Higher maximum take-off weight variant of the −102, a PW124B-powered variant certified in December 1989.
Two sub-types were marketed as the 210 series (−210), the −211, (and with an enlarged cargo door, called the −212), is a −200 with PW127 engines producing 2,750 shp (2,050 kW) each for improved performance in hot and high-altitude conditions. The sub-types differ in the type of doors and emergency exits
- ATR 72–211
- PW127-powered variant certified in December 1992.
- ATR 72–212
- PW127-powered variant certified in December 1992.
Certified in January 1997 and fitted with either PW127F or PW127M engines, the −212A is an upgraded version of the −210 using six-bladed propellers on otherwise identical PW127F engines. Other improvements include higher maximum weights and superior performance, as well as greater automation of power management to ease pilot workload.
- ATR 72–500
- Initial marketing name for the ATR 72-212A.
- ATR 72–600
- Marketing name for ATR 72-212A with different equipment fit. The −600 series aircraft was announced in October 2007; the first deliveries were planned for the second half of 2010. The prototype ATR 72–600 first flew on 24 July 2009; it had been converted from an ATR 72–500.
- The ATR 72–600 features several improvements. It is powered by the new PW127M engines, which enable a 5% increase in takeoff power via a “boost function” used only when called for by takeoff conditions. The flight deck features five wide LCD screens (improving on the EFIS of earlier versions). A multi-purpose computer (MPC) aims at increasing flight safety and operational capabilities, and new Thales-made avionics provide Required Navigation Performance (RNP) capabilities. It also features lighter seats and larger overhead baggage bins. In December 2015, the EASA approved a new high-density seating layout, raising the maximum capacity from 74 to 78 seats.
Bulk Freighter (tube versions) and ULD Freighter (Large Cargo Door). ATR unveiled a large cargo door modification for all ATR 72 at Farnborough 2002, coupled with a dedicated cargo conversion. FedEx, DHL, and UPS all operate the type.
- ATR 72 ASW
The ATR 72 ASW integrates the ATR 42 MP (Maritime Patrol) mission system with identical on-board equipment, but with additional anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities. An variant of the −500 (itself a version of the maritime patrol model of the ATR 42–500) is also in production. For the ASW and ASuW missions, it is armed with a pod-mounted machine gun, lightweight aerial torpedoes, anti-surface missiles, and depth charges. They are equipped with the Thales AMASCOS (Airborne Maritime Situation and Control System) surveillance system as well as electronic warfare and reconnaissance systems, enabling the type to perform maritime search and rescueduties.
A VIP version of the −500 is available with a luxury interior for executive or corporate transport.
- ATR 82
During the mid-1980s, the company investigated a 78-seat derivative of the ATR 72. This would have been powered by two Allison AE2100 turboprops (turbofans were also studied for a time) and would have had a cruising speed as high as 330kt. The ATR-82 project (as it was dubbed) was suspended when AI(R) was formed in early 1996.
- ATR Quick Change
This proposed version targeted the increasing demand of worldwide cargo and express mail markets, where the aim is to allow operators to supplement their passengers flights with freighter flights. In Quick Change configuration, the smoke detector is equipped alongside other modifications required in order to meet the certification for full freight operations. The aircraft was equipped with a larger cargo door (1.27 m [50 in] wide and 1.52 m [60 in] high) and low door-sill height of an average 1.2 m (4 ft), facilitating containerized freight loading. It takes 30 minutes to convert the aircraft on ATR 42, while for ATR 72, it takes 45 minutes. Each optimized container has 2.8 m3 (99 cu ft) of usable volume and maximum payload is 435 kg (960 lb).