ATR has grabbed 80% of the regional turboprop market share, with record 144 orders for its ATR72-600, in stark contrast to a pale sales book for Bombardier’s Q400. Here is the why and how of it.
The Q400 to any passenger appears sleeker, faster, and better. Bombardier boasts off an amazing plane that can perform much like a jet, flying faster and higher than the ATR 72-500 or -600, while carrying more passengers. What Bombardier doesn’t acknowledge is that the fuel consumption of the Q400 is around 30% higher than the ATR72’s, for the same leg. Despite the fact that the Q400 can pack in 6 passengers more than its competition at a comfortable 30″ seat pitch, and theoretically fly an extra 300Nm flight in a day, the economics still work in favour of the ATR72. The ATR72-600 even costs much lesser than a Q400, by at least US$7Million. In the airline business, it all comes down to the dollar.
The only real market that has embraced the Q400 is North America. Longer routes that the Q400 replaces with jets makes sense. But in the rest of the world, regional routes are truly regional, and the job is well done by the ATR72, be it the -500 or the -600. This has led to a larger number of ATR72 aircraft in operation, which has an important effect: a higher resale value. A used ATR72 can fetch much more than a similarly used Q400, all because the demand-supply economics work in its favour.
ATR is stretching its production limits on the ATR72, while Bombardier is going the other way with the Q400. The problem with Bombardier is more with the manufacturer than the aircraft itself. Bombardier’s focus is divided amongst its various aircraft, some competing with each other. For example, Bombardier’s turbofan CRJ700 is in the same league as the Q400, except for the engines. And the Q400 is marketed as a jet replacement, effectively killing the CRJ700. This internal product conflict can be very detrimental to sales and marketing efforts.
To a passenger, a turboprop is simply a prop. The noise levels in the ATR72 aren’t any much higher than the Q400 with its ANVS system. A short hop on a noisy plane is more bearable than a longer, so deploying a turboprop on a sector longer than 500NM is plain torture. For a typical regional sector flying distance of about 300NM, the ATR72 picks up a maximum of 13 minutes over the Q400, which hardly makes a difference. To the well informed passenger, the Q400’s safety comes under question, after the spate of landing gear incidents that the aircraft suffered.
To an airline, 5 ATR72s can be bought in the price of 4 Q400s, and still a good amount can be saved. This gives 360 seats for the ATR operator as compared to 312 seats for the Q400 operator. On top of this, the ATR72 consumes much lesser fuel, which can translate to savings. Typical operations on the 300NM sector reveal the ATR having only a 7 minute disadvantage in exchange for about 300kgs of fuel savings. Three ATR72s will save 900kgs of fuel over three Q400 flights, sufficient to fuel another ATR72 over 300NM. The ATR72 breaks even at around 35% load factor, while for the Q400 it is a much higher 60%. The ATR72 makes absolute and undisputed economic sense.
To a manufacturer, the ability to focus on one single product makes all the difference in winning a customer. You can’t expect to sell a jet and then introduce a product that kills the very jet you sold.
ATR’s focus on its turboprop-only product line, its offering of the most economical 70-80 seat airplane, its large geographical footprint, and its proven safety record have all contributed to the success of the now world’s best selling regional turboprop.