MEBA Convention News

Cessna hopes ME customers stay in family with Columbus

 - November 16, 2008, 3:09 AM

Jordanian operator Arab Wings yesterday ordered a new $17 million Cessna Citation Sovereign for delivery in the second half of 2009. Also announced yesterday was the delivery of a second Sovereign to Abu Dhabi-based Prestige Jet and the delivery of two more Citation Mustangs to Lebanese air taxi company Open Sky.

Cessna has come to the MEBA show bullish about the regional prospects for its new large-cabin business jet, the $27 million Citation Columbus. Approximately 10 percent of the 71 orders taken to date are from Middle East customers. Wallan Aviation, Cessna’s authorized sales representative in the region, has already resold its initial order of three aircraft and has placed a follow-on order for three more. This is for a customer that Cessna hopes to reveal before MEBA is over.

“Cessna had the needs of Middle Eastern customers very much in mind when designing the Citation Columbus,” said Cessna’s international sales vice president Trevor Esling. “It will offer nonstop range from Dubai to London, against the winds. We are very confident that it will continue to attract more orders across the region.”

Esling admitted that previously its Citation customers had traded up to long-range wide-cabin aircraft such as the Dassault Falcon. However, now they can choose the Columbus, although the earliest available production slot is 2018 due to its popularity.

In this part of the world, Cessna aircraft have traditionally appealed to private entrepreneurs. However, Esling hopes the Columbus can bring new types of customers such as “royal families…although we have not seen signs of that yet and it could take some time.” While a full-scale mockup of the Columbus can be seen in the MEBA static display, the aircraft itself is scheduled to be certificated in 2013 with entry into service in 2014.

Sovereign Territory

Esling told reporters at the show that the Sovereign had “proved to be a very good aircraft in the Middle East” due to its 2,900-mile range with eight passengers (making Geneva or Munich reachable), and the inclusion of an APU.

Arab Wings was founded in 1975, making it the longest established executive air charter operator in the Middle East. “With the addition of a midsize Citation Sovereign and CJ1+ light jet we are adding capacity at both ends of our fleet, and have chosen aircraft that are tried and tested in the Middle East’s demanding conditions,” said Arab Wings general manager Ahmad Abu Ghazaleh.  

Prestige Jet is a much younger company, launched in May 2007. It took delivery of its first Citation Sovereign in 2007 and is now evaluating the possibility of adding a third to its fleet. “This year we have seen continued strong demand for our services, with our average aircraft utilization running 40 percent above forecast,” said managing director Faris Deeb.

Lebanese charter operator Open Sky is even younger still in that it will be starting commercial operations from Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport in December, having taken delivery of its first aircraft–a Citation Mustang–in September. Open Sky CEO Haytham Azhari said, “For a pioneering business, we are delighted to have launched with a pioneering aircraft. Our strategy is to broaden the market for business aviation by offering a natural step up for travelers who presently fly scheduled airlines across the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean. With the Citation Mustang we are able to offer business jet performance and comfort at a price that is very attractive to many business and leisure travelers.”

According to Esling, there is still “substantial demand” for Mustangs although “not everyone has realized it yet.” He added that around 10 of the aircraft are due to be delivered over the next 15 months to Middle East customers, including four to the Egyptian Aviation Academy.

Esling said Cessna has not had any more delays and cancellations in any of its markets than it would normally experience, but added a note of caution: “I suspect new sales will become more difficult as the economic effects [of the banking crisis] begin to work through…Over the past three to four years we have enjoyed very strong growth but the industry is notoriously cyclical.”

His hope is that the current recession will be as short as that which followed the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In particular, he would like to see the Middle East business aviation growth curve extend beyond the core markets of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates into countries such as Bahrain, Jordan and Egypt.