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Back to the future

As ATR revealed this year at the Paris Air Show, sometimes things from the past come back into fashion, and regional airlines are moving back to turboprop aircraft in a big way – but with modern, updated cabin designs

It is a little known fact that the cabin interior for ATR’s -600 series was created by the designer of the DeLorean car, which found its fame in the 1985 movie Back to the Future. It’s a fit pairing. A decade ago, turboprops were on their way out, with ATR’s annual order numbers slumping into the low single digits. The future looked bleak. However, as we all know, if you keep anything long enough it comes back into fashion – and a turboprop is no exception. In the first six months of 2013 alone, ATR has racked up orders for 173 aircraft – an unthinkable achievement back in 2004.


ATR is playing on this resurgence, and displayed one of the seven original DeLorean’s used in the time-travel film at the Paris Air Show to highlight the turboprop revival and the somewhat obscure link between the car and the new cabin. “173 aircraft really is a sign that we have gone ‘back to the future’,” says ATR CEO, Fillippo Bagnato. The manufacturer’s backlog now stands at 270 aircraft valued at $6.5 billion, thanks to the sweet spot combination of turboprop operating economics and spiralling fuel prices.


“A major factor in the success of ATR has been the step forward we have made in cabin comfort, not only in terms of aesthetics, but also in cabin width, noise and vibration,” says ATR Vice President Design Development and Product Technology, Antonio Zizolfi.


The ATR 72-600 entered service in August 2011, followed by the ATR 42-600 in November 2012. While the airframe and cabin cross section is physically identical to the ATR 42-500 and ATR 72-500, the Armonia cabin gives the -600 a more futuristic feel than the Elegance cabin on its -600 series predecessors. Passengers are unlikely to notice the upgraded avionics, but they have reacted very favourably to the new interior.


“Passengers really look at the -600 as if it a completely new aircraft,” says ATR’s Head of Sales, John Moore. “We didn’t expect it to generate such a strong reaction, but all the effort that we put into the design has worked very effectively.”


Despite the popularity of the new design, Moore effectively rules out retrofitting the new cabin to ATR’s older variants. “Anything is possible, but it wouldn’t necessarily be cost effective. You can do LED lighting and a lot of the elements, but changing all [the] overhead bins and panels is unlikely to be [worthwhile].”


The Armonia features larger overhead bins, sculpted side panels, LED lighting and new seats, were the brainchild of the DeLorean’s designer, Giugiaro. “They played a massive role in the design,” says Zizolfi. “We involved them to specify the general design. Everything, including the bins and seats, has been harmonised. Based on these designs, we then developed the seats and the other parts of the cabin.”


One of the most important elements is the refreshed overhead bins. “Travellers are very sensitive to bin size,” says Zizolfi. “When they connect on flights from large to small aircraft, they want to keep their carry-on baggage. It [is] a basic requirement to get standard carry-on luggage in the bins, which are now 30% larger. The height is important because the previous bins were a couple of centimetres short and did not have the capacity for 25 centimetre standard-height bags.”


The Armonia cabin bins and side panels are supplied by EADS Sogerma and ATR’s old-style florescent lighting has been replaced with a lighter-weight, more affordable and more durable LED system supplied by Sirio. Other upgrades include a new cabin management system with variable lighting and sound options by Vision Systems and a Goodrich-manufactured passenger service unit with optional overhead cabin video screen integration.


With the transition to Armonia, ATR also switched seat suppliers, turning away from its previous partners, Avio and Sogerma, in favour of Geven. “We put out a request for proposals (RFP) and Geven came back with the best [one],” says Zizolfi. “They offer two types of seat – Classic and Prestige – as well as a business-class option.” >>

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