ATR CEO Christian Scherer is continuing his push to change the ATR company’s structure, which he believes could enable it to launch a larger turboprop.

“I would love to bring in new investors,” he said at the Dubai Air Show. But before that, the ATR’s current legal status as a French joint venture between Airbus and Leonardo should be changed to a limited liability company (LLC), he argued. The joint venture was “ideal” for the startup phase of a complex program, but has become “a bit cumbersome over time.”

“I want to run a normal company,” Scherer said.

Moving ATR under a new structure would be a long and complex process, but Scherer stressed it is worth doing. “You cannot receive new partners into a private club,” he said. Also, ATR “would benefit from constructing its own management.”

Scherer himself is being considered as successor for Airbus sales chief John Leahy, who is expected to retire in the coming months. The ATR CEO did not want to comment on that process, saying it is a matter for Airbus to decide. “If Airbus makes the decision to recall me, they can do that,” he added.

Leonardo has been keen for ATR to build a larger, all-new turboprop based on current technology, whereas Airbus has slowed down the process to investigate the future technologies that could emerge in the medium term. Disruptive technologies could include hybrid-electric propulsion, new materials and new manufacturing techniques, Scherer said.

Changing ATR to a LLC would enable new partners to share the development costs of a new program.

One of the issues ATR faces in discussions is its current success; Airbus sees no urgency for change. Earlier this month, FedEx Express placed a firm order for 30 ATR 72-600 freighters, and 20 options. “FedEx gave us the challenge to demonstrate that a new aircraft can make sense for a package carrier that typically operates aircraft at lower levels of utilization,” Scherer said. One of the key aspects to making this business case work is the cargo-loading system for pallets and containers provided by FedEx. “That gives it the productivity that swings the business case in favor of new aircraft,” Scherer explained.

No changes will be made to the structure of the fuselage, wings, landing gear and engines in the new freighter design. All windows will be removed, along with all doors on the right side of the aircraft. A large cargo door will be installed on the left front side. The rear door hinge will be moved upward, and the passenger door will drop down.

Scherer believes the bulk of the freighter market will still be for used aircraft, and launch of the all-new cargo aircraft also will provide a “big boost” for the secondhand market. He anticipates a “strong consolidation of the asset values of used aircraft.” A factory-built freighter version of the ATR 42 “is conceivable, but not planned yet,” Scherer said.

ATR expects to keep total production at about 80 aircraft per year for the foreseeable future, even though it may reach a book-to-bill ratio of 1.5 in 2017. “We have made a conscious decision that around 80 is the right flight level for us,” he added. “We are still not happy with an overhang of used aircraft in the market. We do our bit to provide a stable and sound market.”

Separately, Scherer warned that ATR is seeing a shortage of pilots in some regions—particularly in India, but also in Europe. “It is the price we pay for having such a modern cockpit,” he said. Also, there is “a lot of pilot transition through the regional fleets into mainline operations.” Therefore, ATR is looking at opening more training facilities in new locations, likely “in association with some of our customers.”

Jens Flottau/Aviation Week jens.flottau@aviationweek.co.uk