NBAA Convention News

Cessna: development projects continue despite slow economy

 - October 5, 2008, 3:39 PM

Even with the current economic entropy, Cessna remains on track to deliver 470 new jets this year and is forging ahead full-speed with its new aircraft development programs.

“We are not backing off on any of our investments or development,” Cessna CEO Jack Pelton said at a press conference yesterday. He cited lessons Cessna learned during the economic downturn of 2001 to 2003 as the chief reason why.

During that period Cessna built two new factory service centers–in Orlando and Wichita–while continuing to develop four new airplanes: the Citation Mustang, the CJ3, the Sovereign and the XLS. “When we came out of that period, we were positioned with over 80 percent of our backlog being sold to those [four] new products,” Pelton said. “We’re going to continue with our existing development programs and be well-positioned to get through this unknown period of time.”

Last year Cessna’s revenues topped $5 billion and the company announced that its order backlog exceeded $16 billion. International orders represent 70 percent of that number. Orders and deliveries remain strong, Pelton said. The backlog puts Cessna in a “much stronger position to weather the storm in front of us,” he added, noting that Cessna’s 2008 sales would be the second-best in the history of the company.
Pelton made his remarks during a company progress report given by top Cessna executives.

Cessna celebrated numerous delivery milestones this year, including the delivery of the 1,000th Citation sold in Europe, the 300th Citation X, the 200th Citation Sovereign, the 100th CJ2+ and the 100th Mustang. It also gained FAA certification for the Citation XLS+. Orders for the Mustang now exceed 600 and Cessna is on track to deliver 150 next year. It also has more than 225 orders for the XLS+. That aircraft received FAA certification on May 30 and Cessna anticipates EASA certification early next year. It features a redesigned cockpit and cabin including new passenger seats, Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 avionics and FADEC-controlled Pratt & Whitney Canada PW545-C engines. The first XLS+ entered operational service last week.

The first production Citation CJ4 is currently flying with a complete interior and is on static display. Certification for that aircraft remains on track for the second quarter of next year. New interior mockups for both the Citation Columbus and the CJ4 are on display at the company’s booth. Pelton noted that the interiors for both new jets were developed entirely within the company. “From a style standpoint I don’t believe anyone can beat what we have done,” he said.

Orders for the large-cabin Columbus continue to roll in and more than 700 engineers are currently working on the aircraft, scheduled to enter service in 2014. Cessna will break ground on its new Columbus production facility in Wichita on October 29.

Cessna also announced new upgrades for the Citation CJ line, including new exterior and interior LED lighting, tail logo lights, a DBU-5000 database loader, Rockwell Collins maintenance diagnostic system and Pro Line 21 upgrades including WAAS-enabled FMS and IFIS v6.0 with display improvements and TFR and winds-aloft information. Additionally, CJ3 owners will be able to upgrade their aircraft with the following standard items on all new production CJ3s: TCAS II, Pulselite interfaced with the TCAS II and dual mode-S diversity transponders.

Cessna’s piston aircraft models continue to face numerous challenges. The 162 Skycatcher is in the midst of a design review after one crashed during spin-testing; plans to offer the 172 with a Thielert diesel engine were scrapped after the engine maker went bankrupt; and the company continues to “rationalize production” of the 350 and 400 models acquired when it bought Columbia Aircraft. Pelton said it is exploring the possibility of developing a turboprop-powered aircraft grown from the former Columbia line. It also is currently adding TKS anti-ice to the 350 and 400 models and is pursuing EASA certification for them, which it hopes to have in hand next year.

To support its growing international clientele, Cessna has significantly expanded its parts inventory at its Paris service center and named two new authorized service centers: Taneja Aerospace and Aviation at Hosur Airport near Bangalore, India, and Kinch Aviation at Retford Gamston Airport in Nottinghamshire, UK.

The OEM is also finishing work on its new factory service center at Williams Gateway Airport in Mesa, Ariz. That facility will open in early 2009 and Cessna will eventually establish it as its primary factory-owned service center on the West Coast when it closes Long Beach.

Cessna’s inventory of used aircraft is growing, said Roger Whyte, senior vice president of sales and marketing. But White said that many of those were anticipated trades from customers taking delivery on new aircraft and not necessarily the consequences of a softening used business jet market.