Cessna’s Pelton is optimistic thaw has begun

 - October 20, 2009, 3:22 PM

Cessna Aircraft may have eschewed a presence on the floor of the convention hall, but it has its full line of production Citation business jets parked at the static display at Orlando Executive Airport.

Chairman, president and CEO Jack Pelton said at a press conference Monday the company decided to spend time with customers and came here with optimism that the business aviation market is thawing.

Lamenting that the industry faces a slow economic recovery, negative perception issues that still influence buying decisions, a damaged supply chain and loss of talent in the industry, he said the most devastating news for Cessna this year was the need to reduce its 16,000-employee workforce by about 50 percent.

While Cessna’s deliveries have dropped from 467 in 2008 to 275 this year and are expected to be somewhat less in 2010, the company is sensing the beginning of recovery in 2011.

In the “good news” category, Pelton said that average daily use of business aircraft has stabilized, inventories of used aircraft are beginning to decline, order cancellations are dropping, new orders are starting to come in, negative rhetoric is subsiding and airline service continues to contract.

“We’re going ‘back to basics’ this year at NBAA, concentrating on exhibiting our products at the static display and not having a booth in the convention hall,” Pelton said. “We do upward of 60 events a year, and NBAA is still one of just a handful of shows that truly brings people from throughout the world to one place for business aviation. This is increasingly important as the international markets seem less frozen than our domestic market right now, particularly Western Europe and South America.”

Roger Whyte, senior v-p of sales and marketing, said the third quarter U.S. economy is expected to show 3-percent growth, while the German and French economies have already started to grow. “There are patches of light on the horizon,” he said.

The Citation CJ4, which is undergoing the final stages of certification, will take time out from flight testing for an appearance here today.

And the first production Skycatcher light sport aircraft is arriving in Wichita imminently. Cessna has a backlog for the Skycatcher of more than 1,000 aircraft and is expecting to begin deliveries later this year.

Further, Pelton indicated that the large-cabin Cessna Columbus, which was canceled by Cessna owner Textron in July, will be revived when market conditions improve.

At the press conference, Mark Paolucci, senior v-p of customer service, announced that Cessna’s newest initiative is Service Direct, which is designed to provide a range of customer-service options for Citation operators outside of the company’s service centers. This includes on-site maintenance operations and long-term logistics support, including airframe and powerplant mechanic placement or contract support.

“We are not adding just new service options through a global network of service centers; we are adding new options that bring Cessna service to the customer, changing not only the types of service we provide but also how we provide it,” Paolucci said.