It has been six years since Cessna last had a presence at a Farnborough air show. The company skipped the last two, reasoning that the aerospace and defense giants in residence were starting to crowd out business jet makers. Business aviation growth in Europe is strong and getting stronger, as evidenced by the fact that more than half of its sales for the new Mustang compact jet are to buyers outside the U.S., many of whom live in western Europe.
Cessna president and CEO Jack Pelton said the company’s primary mission now centers on the goal of improving its global sales and support presence. The U.S. manufacturer supports more than 600 Citation jets in Europe through its field service group, its company-owned service center at Paris Le Bourget Airport and its network of nine company-authorized service centers. Cessna’s fleet represents 41 percent of the total European business jet community of some 1,500 jets, the company claims. Over the past five years, 15 percent of all Cessna deliveries of new jets went to European customers. In 2004 to 2005, Cessna deliveries into Eastern Europe accounted for 58 percent of all business jet deliveries in the region.
With such brisk activity, it’s no wonder Cessna has returned to Farnborough. Cessna executives this week are camped out at the Textron chalet (Textron is Cessna’s parent company, as well as the parent of Bell Helicopter and engine maker Lycoming) and the company has brought a Caravan, Citation XLS and CJ3 here for display on the static line.
The Wichita, Kansas manufacturer has delivered 249 Citation business jets last year in addition to more than 900 single-engine airplanes. Total order backlog as of the last official tally stood at 788 jets and 1,198 singles, valued at an impressive $6.3 billion.
Pelton said certification of the Mustang remains on target for the fourth quarter and is meeting all its performance numbers. The three airplanes involved in the flight-test program have amassed more than 1,400 hours aloft. Somewhere between 40 and 50 Mustangs will be built in the first year of production at Cessna’s Independence, Kansas factory.
The company holds orders for more than 240 Mustangs, about 30 percent of them earmarked for customers in Western Europe. To meet the demand for pilot training, Cessna and FlightSafety will jointly open a Mustang training center here at the Farnborough Airport by the middle of next year.
Last week, Cessna received European certification for the CJ+, having just recently got the same approval for the CJ1 and CJ3 models. Cessna’s next possible project is a small single-engine airplane targeted at the new light sport aircraft market, created by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s amendment of rules for pilot medical certification. Pelton declined to provide details about the airplane, preferring to save his powder for the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture show later this month in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
He may have revealed slightly more than he wanted, however, when he let it slip that the airplane is fitted with a 100-hp Rotax engine. When pressed for further details, however, he said an engine selection has not been made, only that the Rotax powerplant is on the airplane now. Cessna plans to fly this prototype right after the Oshkosh show later this month and then get to work refining the concept, Pelton said.
Price for the airplane is targeted at less than $100,000 (or around $100,000 with equipment for flight training) and the design will include a “modern glass cockpit,” Pelton said. A decision about whether to go ahead with the project will be made early next year, after which flight testing and certification will take between 12 and 18 months.
Asked about the airplane’s configuration and whether it will have a high wing like Cessna’s current single-engine models, Pelton wouldn’t budge.
“We want to surprise everybody at Oshkosh,” he said.