UPDATE 1-ATR turboprop deliveries plunge as regional carriers struggle -sources

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PARIS, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Deliveries of Franco-Italian ATR turboprop planes tumbled into single figures in 2020 as regional airlines bore the brunt of the coronavirus crisis, industry sources said.

Deliveries of the short-haul city-hopper planes dropped below 10 from 68 in 2019, they said. Orders for new planes also slid to mid-single-digits, down from 79 a year earlier.

A spokesman for ATR, co-owned by France-based Airbus and Italy’s Leonardo, said it would issue commercial results at the appropriate time.

The global pandemic has slowed airplane factories worldwide as airlines chop expansion plans to survive the industry’s worst downturn.

But regional carriers that typically fly turboprops to connect secondary cities have been hit hardest, making it tougher to attract the financing needed to complete deliveries.

“The regional carriers don’t have the financial muscle of the larger airlines,” an industry source said.

ATR dominates the market for 50-70-seat turboprops which save fuel on short flights, but is exposed to the relatively weak credit profiles of many regional airlines.

An aviation business boom had already peaked before the health crisis, including the volatile market for turboprops.

ATR deliveries fell in 2019 to 68 aircraft from 76 in 2018.

Still, in a respite from the worldwide drop in passenger numbers, ATR was able to cash in on a rebound in cargo demand by completing a planned move into the freighter segment.

ATR’s deliveries in 2020 included the first dedicated turboprop regional freighter to FedEx in December.

FedEx ordered 30 of the purpose-built planes in 2017 in a move that analysts had predicted would underpin second-hand resale values for all ATR’s and appeal to bankers looking at financing new aircraft.

Demand for turboprop aircraft typically tracks regional economic development by opening access to small communities.

But while governments worldwide have rescued mainline carriers, help for regional carriers has been less visible. (Reporting by Tim Hepher; editing by David Evans)