NBAA Convention News

Cessna’s New Single-engine Turboprop: Will It Fly?

 - October 29, 2012, 2:00 PM
Cessna unveiled an interior mock-up of a fast, low-wing, single-engine turboprop at AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis. The company is contemplating an all-composite design with retractable gear, side-stick controls and seating for seven. The aircraft would bridge a space in Cessna’s lineup between the Corvalis and Mustang.

After years of rumors about development of a fast, low-wing, single-engine turboprop, Cessna unveiled an aircraft interior mock-up in July to solicit prospective customer interest and opinion, gathering more than 350 detailed surveys during EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis. While Cessna has not decided if it will move forward with the aircraft, spokesman Andy Woodward said the company was “very encouraged” by the positive feedback the concept has received to date.

Cessna’s current thinking on the aircraft is an all-composite design with retractable gear, side-stick controls, seating for seven in a cabin slightly larger than those of the Piper Meridian or TBM 850, and a maximum speed of 260 knots. The target price point is between $2.1 million and $2.5 million. Rough dimensions include a wingspan of 42 feet, a 26 cubic-foot baggage compartment and a cabin that measures 53 inches tall, 54 inches wide and 17 feet, eight inches long. The aircraft bridges a space in the Cessna’s product line between its piston single, all-composite Corvalis and the Citation Mustang.

Both TBM maker Daher-Socata and Piper appear to realize their vulnerability to competition. from an aircraft that offers more cabin space at or below their price point. Both companies have offered refreshed cabins within the last year, with modifications designed to create more passenger and cargo space.

Late last year Piper Aircraft announced major refinements for all its M-class aircraft including its $2.1 million turboprop single, the Meridian. They included a restyled and resculpted cockpit with better seats and more elbow and hip room, map pockets big enough for iPads, cockpit entry assist handle and fold-down-flat copilot and rear-facing passenger seats. The passenger seats also get a new foam treatment, bottom cushion and lumbar support for improved comfort. The backs of the folding seats are designed to serve as work areas and contain molded cup holders. Cabin and exterior lighting have been redone in LED. Bose A20 headsets are standard and include auxiliary audio input for Bluetooth phone connectivity. Two 110-volt outlets have been added, as has Astronics’ EmPower to support passenger carry-on electronics. New air ducting and vents improve airflow distribution in the cabin and cockpit.

In April, Daher-Socata unveiled the Elite quick-change interior for all new TBM 850s. The redesigned interior allows the two most aft passenger seats to be removed to expand the size and capacity of the baggage area. With rear seats out, the airplane can carry pilot, three passengers and up to 507 pounds of cargo/baggage. The passenger supplemental oxygen system was reconfigured and uses new middle row seats that have a narrower base and can be oriented to face forward.

According to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, annual sales of both the Meridian and the TBM850 have been stuck in the 30- to 40-aircraft range for several years, sufficient to justify continued production of an established design, but perhaps not enticing enough to launch a clean-sheet-of-paper program. And that market space is about to become more crowded as both Epic and Kestrel develop new aircraft for that niche.

Cessna is certainly better capitalized than any other player in the sector and could hold costs of a new turboprop down by making the composite airframe at its Chihuahua, Mexico plant, the same facility that builds the composite fuselage and wings for its anemic-selling, piston-powered Corvalis. Nevertheless, any new airplane program at Cessna faces stiff internal resource competition from the plethora of new programs already underway including the M2, Ten, Latitude and Longitude.

Cessna has not been shy about spending on new aircraft programs in the past, including the NGP piston aircraft and the large cabin jet Citation Columbus, only to euthanize them at the last minute as both market conditions and internal priorities shifted. In the case of the NGP, Cessna developed and campaigned a flying prototype beginning in 2006, before mothballing the program in 2009. The recession that year also helped kill the Columbus, a program that came with a $750 million development price.

For now, the prospects of a new Cessna turboprop remain the stuff of speculation, but perhaps not for long.