The first new-build ATR 72-600F took to the skies over Toulouse (TLS) today and completed a two-hour flight test.
Unlike the existing ATR freighter fleet, which is comprised of freighter-converted passenger units, this is the first program from the Airbus and Leonardo joint venture to deliver aircraft in cargo configuration, with a large cargo door and a cargo loading system pre-installed.
Flight tests utilizing the single conformity aircraft (1653) are expected to last one month, a spokesperson for ATR confirmed to Cargo Facts.
Once the aircraft is type-certified and approved by regulators, deliveries to the program’s launch customer FedEx will commence. According to FedEx’s latest Stat Book, it currently expects to take delivery of four ATR 72-600Fs by June 30, 2021.
The 279 feeder aircraft operated on behalf of FedEx by other carriers are a defining feature of FedEx’s network, and are thought to be a key component to its competitive advantage against Amazon Air’s expanding fleet. Apart from the ATR freighters, the express company is also expecting deliveries of smaller Cessna SkyCourier 408s that are being developed by Textron Aviation. With a gross max structural payload of 2.7 tonnes, the SkyCourier 408 has approximately one-third the payload capacity of the 7.2-tonne ATR 72-600F.
New-build turboprops are a recent development in FedEx’s regional fleet-modernization strategy. Unlike the current fleet, which relies on labor-intensive bulk loading, both the ATR 72-600F and Cessna SkyCourier 408 are capable of carrying containerized freight and could reshape those operations. To do so on a networkwide scale would likely require additional orders of production freighters or ATR conversions, which are also capable of carrying containerized freight. For now, just eighty new-build turboprop freighters are on firm order, including fifty SkyCourier 408s in addition to the ATR 72-600Fs.
In November 2017, FedEx firm-ordered thirty ATR 72-600Fs, and secured options for up to twenty more.
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