January 23, 2017 / 5:05 AM / 3 years ago

ATR chief says in no hurry to develop larger aircraft

TOULOUSE, France, Jan 23 (Reuters) - Franco-Italian turboprop maker ATR is likely to develop a larger version of its aircraft family in the future, but is in no hurry to act, its chief executive said.

ATR is jointly owned by aerospace groups Airbus and Leonardo, which are seen as split over whether to focus on the existing family of two models seating 42 to 78 people, or build a new model with 100 seats to keep up with demand for more capacity.

“My personal view is that a larger ATR is a question of when rather than if,” CEO Christian Scherer told Reuters, adding that any decision would be a matter for joint shareholders.

“If you want to take a more conservative stance, and I can imagine myself in the shoes of both shareholders, there is nothing wrong with ATR today. It is a very nice franchise and profitable contribution and we don’t see any chess moves that should fundamentally modify the game. So we can go on; there is no urgency,” he said.

“Do I as ATR have the ambition to continue to introduce new features, new airplanes, new products to grow? Absolutely. I am happy to see that we have one shareholder who is of the same opinion. The other one is exercising a perfectly rational business judgment and saying ATR is doing very well, keep on going.”

Scherer, a former Airbus commercial strategy and defence executive, was appointed to run ATR in November.

His predecessor, Patrick de Castelbajac, told Flightglobal last July that Airbus wanted to revamp the existing ATR 42/72 series with new engines, while Italy’s Leonardo was keen on expanding the family with an all-new 100-seat model.

Both projects could happen at different times, he said.

Airbus and Leonardo each owns half of ATR.

Leonardo has indicated it would like to take greater control of ATR, while Airbus is said to be interested in Leonardo’s stake in MBDA, the European missile maker in which Airbus already has a share. Officials on both sides say they have held informal talks but that discussions are not advanced.

Analysts say 35-year-old ATR is profitable, partly because the cost of developing its main models was absorbed long ago.

But figures published on Monday show that while deliveries have trebled in the past decade, the number of years of production in its backlog has fallen from over five years to fewer than three, spurring a debate about how it should secure its growth. (Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Paul Simao)

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