ATR signed an agreement with FedEx for the purchase of thirty ATR 72-600Fs, with options for twenty more.
This will be ATR’s first production freighter. Until now, any carrier or lessor that wanted a turboprop freighter had to first acquire a used passenger unit, and then have it converted to freighter configuration. Most such conversions were to bulk-load configuration – that is, modification of the interior of the aircraft to carry cargo, but no installation of a large cargo door.
You can read our three-part analysis of the worldwide turboprop freighter fleet here, but the short version is that there are currently about 200 turboprop freighters in service, most operated for the big express companies, and most in bulk-load configuration. The most popular types are the ATR 42 and 72, the ATP, and the Saab 340, but, in recent years, the only type added to the fleet in any significant numbers has been the ATR 72. Its popularity is partly a result of the ready availability of feedstock, and partly of the launch of a new conversion program by Switzerland-based IPR Conversions.
The full impact on the conversion business of ATR’s launch of a 72-600F production freighter remains to be seen, but, given that most turboprop freighters are operated for the integrators, it does mean that FedEx is out of the conversion game for the foreseeable future. Howver, it does not mean that IPR will suffer, because, as part of the new program, ATR signed a technology-licensing agreement, granting ATR the license to install IPR Large Cargo Door (LCD) and Structural Tube modifications on the new 72-600F freighters.
And what about the ATR 72-600F itself? According to ATR, the new freighter will have a windowless fuselage (i.e. no plugs), a forward large cargo door, and a rear upper-hinged cargo door. Changes on the inside include a class E main cabin with reinforced floor panels. The freighter will carry both bulk cargo and palletized/containerized cargo. ATR says the main-deck volume will be 74.6 cubic meters, with the ability to accommodate up to seven LD3 containers, or five 88” x 108”, or nine 88” x 62” pallets. ATR did not offer data on the new freighter’s range or maximum payload, but the passenger ATR 72-600 has a range with max payload of 1,528 km (825 nm), and the currently-available converted 72Fs offer a payload of about 8.5 tonnes.
FedEx does not currently operate turboprop freighters itself, but it has twenty-one ATR 72Fs and twenty-six of the smaller ATR 42Fs in its fleet, and leases them to other carriers who operate them in feeder service for FedEx.
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