If Textron Aviation executives seem a bit distracted at this year’s LABACE show, they have a pretty good excuse—several, in fact. The company’s aviation businesses have multiple high-profile projects in progress, including a soon-to-be certified super-midsize business jet, a new single-engine turboprop, and a just-delivered light single helicopter.
“We continue to feel very good about the investments that we're making in the business to continue to grow the addressable markets for our products,” Textron CEO Scott Donnelly said at an investor conference earlier this year.
Several of those investments have moved into the spotlight in recent months.
Textron’s Bell Helicopter earned FAA certification for its 505 Jet Ranger X on June 8, adding to initial certification from Transport Canada late last year and from Australian regulators in early March. European certification was imminent at press time. Deliveries of the helicopters, which have attracted about 400 letters of intent (LOIs), began in March. “Order conversion remains strong,” Donnelly said in April during the company’s first-quarter earnings presentation.
The company in early July also resumed flight testing on the Bell 525. The first commercial fly-by-wire helicopter, the 525 includes the Garmin G5000H—the first fully integrated touchscreen avionics suite designed for helicopters. The program, which paused flight tests for a year following an accident, is on track to earn certification in 2018, with first deliveries planned for 2019.
Bell has more than 1,300 helicopters in Latin America, including nearly 300 supporting the military. The company has steadily continued to expand its market position, securing a number of key customer wins recently in Latin America. Among them: 15 Bell 407GXPs to the Mexican Air Force. Its market presence, expanded with a sales office in Mexico City in 2015, includes two customer service facilities, six more manufacturing and service facilites under parent Textron, and its cabin and subassembly manufacturing facllity in Chihuahua, Mexico.
Cessna, part of Textron Aviation, rolled out its first production Cessna Citation Longitude on June 12. The Longitude features the Garmin G5000 flight deck, Garmin’s GHD 2100 head-up display and enhanced vision capability, and is powered by Fadec-equipped Honeywell HTF7700L turbofan engines with fully integrated autothrottles. The aircraft is designed to feature “the longest maintenance intervals in its class” (800 hours or 18 months), making— it the most cost-effective super-midsize, the OEM says.
The first production Longitude will tour the globe, serving as a demonstration aircraft. Meanwhile, a fifth test aircraft was slated to be added to the flight-test program this summer. FAA approval is expected late this year, with first deliveries soon after.
Meanwhile, Textron Aviation has begun fabricating the first test articles for the Cessna Denali high-speed, single-engine turboprop. Among the parts that have been worked on is the 51-inch-wide by 53-inch-tall aft cargo door, which the manufacturer says will boost the aircraft’s versatility. Another article involved in early testing was the complete fuel system iron bird mock-up, which “yielded valuable feedback for the development team, allowing them to fine-tune the system early in the process,” the company said.
“The level of attention that goes into this phase of development results in a highly mature product in later stages of the development program, ultimately allowing us to deliver customers a best-in-class aircraft,” said Brad Thress, senior v-p, engineering.
Designed to cruise at 285 knots and carry a full-fuel payload of 1,100 pounds, the Denali will have a range of 1,600 nautical miles at high-speed cruise with one pilot and four passengers. This will put routes including Los Angeles-Chicago, New York-Miami and London-Moscow within its capabilities. Powered by GE’s new, Fadec-equipped advanced turboprop engine and outfitted with Garmin’s G3000 touchscreen flight deck, the Denali is slated to take to the air in the second half of 2018 and achieve certification in 2019.
Latin America Outlook
Overall, business-jet demand “still very North America-centric market,” Donnelly said in mid-July. “I haven't seen any particular dynamics changing over the course of the year, and that's how we would envision it playing out for the balance of 2017.”
But the company remains confident in longer-term prospects. The new products are expected to bolster an already strong presence in the Latin American market. Textron Aviation claims approximately 2,400 fixed-wing aircraft in the region (1,200 King Airs, 850 Citations and 350 Caravans). More than 12 percent of its 2016 delivery total of 284 business aircraft (178 jets and 106 King Airs) went into the region.
“In the new aircraft market, we see good movement on the Citation M2 and CJ3+ light jets, as well as the midsize Citation Latitude, a solid indication for us that our investments are paying off in terms of new product development,” the company said. Textron adds that demand for its turboprops is particularly robust in the region, as they help connect disparate communities that have airports with less-than-optimal runways.
Brazil, which is slowly emerging from a period of economic struggle, accounts for about 900 of these, including 450 King Airs, 300 Citations, and 150 Caravans. “Brazil remains a tough market, however we are seeing good activity with our new and preowned aircraft in the region,” Textron says.
Textron Aviation’s fleet is backed by more than 30 service centers in the region. The company also boasts a dedicated team of more than half a dozen in-region field service representatives offering maintenance, inspections, parts, repairs, refurbishments and other specialized services.
Earlier this year, the company bolstered its 1CALL unscheduled maintenance event support offering for Citation, King Air and Hawker customers operating in Central and South America. Working with regional partners TAM Aviação Executiva and Central Charter de Colombia, Textron provides expedited, tailored AOG service throughout the region.
The company is making changes beyond the region as well. Textron Aviation has been working to boost customer support for all operators. In May, it unveiled a new web-based customer portal that enables both individual owners and directors of maintenance to track an aircraft through its entire maintenance cycle.
The portal, accessible through myriad devices, can be used for a variety of tasks, including initiating service requests, tracking maintenance events, ordering parts, reviewing and approving maintenance tasks, viewing invoice history and paying invoices.
The service is expected to simplify communication between the aircraft owner and service providers. For instance, an issue during a maintenance event can be communicated via the portal, with the service provider inputting specifics about the issue, including possible options and costs, Textron Aviation v-p of product support Michael Vercio told AIN earlier this year. This helps reduce the back-and-forth of phone calls or emails and expedites the process. “The customer doesn’t have to talk to anyone else to get it done,” he said. The service is rolling out to all customers this year.
Textron Aviation’s 2016 revenues of $4.9 billion included $1.5 billion in aftermarket services sales, or 30 percent of its total.
The company plans to have its Latitude, Citation CJ3+, Citation M2 jets as well as its Grand Caravan EX and King Air 350 turboprops on display at LABACE. Bell will have the Bell 505.