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During my last flight I observed the ATR-72 has a stick protruding from the bottom of the fuselage, near the back of the airplane.

See the bottom of the fuselage in this picture, slightly to the left of the rear door.

I assume it impedes take off and must be removed before flight.

What is it?

atr-72

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    $\begingroup$ Seriously, closed as duplicate?! A single answers mentions what it is, but it doesn't elaborate on it, nor is the question even remotely related (which aircraft has it, as opposed to what is it). You've effectively cut off the opportunity to explore the question deeper, and perhaps provide more elaborate - better - answers. $\endgroup$ – falstro Jan 1 '17 at 21:31
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    $\begingroup$ @mins The "older question" doesn't ask what it is. It appears the asker already knows that, wouldn't you agree? I mean come on, it's a completely different question. Why would you elaborate on the particulars of the ATR in a question (that frankly it would be more appropriate to close as too broad than to close this one as duplicate) that ask "which aircraft has a tripod". Note that the ATR doesn't have one, it's just mentioned as a reference for a different kind of support. $\endgroup$ – falstro Jan 1 '17 at 22:05
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It is a tail stand, also called as pogo stick and is used in the aircraft during loading/unloading. It is basically a stick, which is carried around in the aircraft and attached to the rear fuselage using a pin during loading/unloading operations, as can be seen in the image below.

ATR 72 Tail stand

Air Dolomiti ATR 72-212A (I-ADLS) - Removeable tail stand installed at the rear of the aircraft when it is parked on the ground. In case of weight imbalance, this prevents the aircraft from resting on its tail. By User:Mattes - Own work, Public Domain, Link

It is found in other aircraft like Saab-Scania SF340B etc.

You're right that it must be removed before takeoff to prevent potential structural damage. However, there have been instances where aircraft have taken off with them. There have been other issues too:

First of all, there have been previous incidents where the ground crew have just tossed the tail stand into the aft compartment and not replaced it into the storage bracket. As a result, the tail stand has gotten jammed into the control cables for the tail surfaces which run through that compartment. ... . The second reason is that being less visible, the built in tail stand would occasionally be left connected to the aircraft on departure creating the potential for structural damage.

Because of this, external metal stools are used in some cases. Of course, the aircraft can be loaded/unloaded without the tail stand by loading the aircraft in appropriate sequence.

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It appears to be a pogo stick (you'll find your picture used in the linked answer) and is a precautionary support for the tail to prevent it from tipping over when loading and unloading.

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