Dubai Air Show

Middle East dealer is betting on Cessna’s large cabin jet

 - November 11, 2007, 6:43 PM

Wallan Aviation, Cessna’s Middle East distributor, has become the first and only company to date to place advance orders for five of the U.S. manufacturer’s proposed new large cabin business jet. Cessna has yet to officially launch a new aircraft development based on its so-called Large Cabin Concept (LCC) but has made it clear that the program will go ahead.

“We have been crying out for the LCC for a long time because our customers are growing out of [the existing] Citations,” Wallan president Saad Wallan told AIN in a pre-show interview. “Dubai to London needs a 4,000-nautical-mile aircraft.”

Cessna has said that it will not announce the introduction of any new products here in Dubai this week. However, at the NBAA show in late September, company chairman, president and CEO Jack Pelton made it clear that it is already working on the LCC development as if it were launched. Although vendor selection for the development is already underway, Cessna won’t make a final decision to go forward with the program until the first quarter of 2008, in time for service entry in 2013.

The LCC would be larger than Cessna’s current Citation X flagship. In addition to a 4,000 nautical-mile range, other initial specifications include Mach 0.80 cruise speed.
Wallan Aviation has served as Cessna’s distributor in this part of the world since 1999, with Saad Wallan having himself bought his first Citation back in 1994.

“This market has changed a lot,” he said. “At the time Cessna was selling one or two aircraft a year.” Wallen added that 2005 was Cessna’s biggest year yet in the Middle East because the customer base increased significantly. So far this year the Saudi-based company has sold 11 of Cessna’s Citation family in a business worth $95 million.

Business aviation growth in the Middle East hasn’t happened effortlessly. “We started to lobby governments to ease regulations and also to educate the customer on why smaller aircraft can work,” said Wallan, who is from Saudi Arabia–still the region’s largest market but also a country noted for its restrictions on aircraft use. His company also helps customers to establish their own or managed operations and handle issues such as pilot recruitment and insurance. New aircraft owners can get free management services for the first six months.

According to Wallan, airport access and the bureaucracy associated with securing landing and overflight permits have become the main lobbying issues raised with regional authorities. He expects governments here to make life still easier for business aircraft operators in the next few years.

Wallan Aviation, which already has its own charter subsidiary called Business Wings, recently opened a new Cessna Citation service center in the Saudi capital Riyadh. It now plans to open another service center in Dubai, where it already operates a sales office. Previously all Middle East-based Citations have had to fly to Europe for maintenance, repair and overhaul work. Jet Aviation’s Dubai service center also works on Cessna aircraft but it is not yet approved to do warranty work.

“The growth in demand in the Gulf states is a relatively new development,” said Wallan. “Midsized airplanes are now taking a greater chunk of the market in the Middle East.” This could mean further sales of Citation models such as the Excel and Sovereign, with their relatively generous baggage compartments singled out as strong selling points by their maker.

In Wallan’s view, Cessna’s new Citation Mustang very light jet could also now find appeal in a marketplace traditionally deemed fixated on cabin size. He predicted demand from a new generation of Middle Eastern owner-pilots and also from training organizations, such as a new school set to open in Saudi Arabia in June 2008 with a fleet of 10 new Cessna 172 piston singles. “The culture here is changing,” he commented. “People are now looking at airplanes to fit the mission, where before they simply wanted a bigger airplane than their friend’s.”