Cessna Still Bullish Despite Disappointing Results

 - October 21, 2013, 10:30 PM

Cessna Aircraft painted a picture of its mixed fortunes at its NBAA press conference yesterday, with CEO Scott Ernest saying the company was making good progress on its marquis development programs–the new Citation Latitude and Longitude–while acknowledging problems with single-engine piston products, and continuing quarterly financial losses.

Cessna (Booth No. CC8843) lost $23 million more in the third quarter of this year as deliveries of its jets for the period dropped to 25 from 41 in the same quarter last year. “The industry continues to be challenging. It is what it is,” Ernest said. “We are going to continue to invest and we feel like we have good products coming to the market. The market will come back, it is just a function of when.”

In a conference call with analysts October 18, Textron CEO Scott Donnelly indicated that he did not expect things to turn around at Cessna–which is a unit of Textron–anytime soon, but that he was confident that Cessna’s investment in new jet products, as well as refreshment of existing ones such as the Citation X, Sovereign and the new M2 (which is derived from the CJ1) would eventually pay dividends. “We believe we are doing the right things for the future success of the business,” Donnelly said of Cessna.

Ernest said the first flight of the midsize Latitude, scheduled for certification in early 2015, would occur at the beginning of next year and was actually “a little bit ahead of schedule.” He added that Cessna’s C162 Skycatcher single-engine light sport aircraft, directed at the primary training market, had “no future,” an indication that Cessna may be preparing to permanently shutter the troubled program.

Ernest also declined to elaborate on the circumstances surrounding an off-airport landing experienced by the under-development $515,000 JT-A, a variant of the single-engine Model 182 fitted with an SMA SR305-230E-C1 diesel engine that can burn jet-A aviation fuel, or what impact it would have on that aircraft’s development schedule. “We’re focused on getting it certified as fast as we can,” he said. Ernest also declined to provide additional details on a new low-wing, single-engine turboprop that Cessna started collecting market research for in 2012, beyond saying, “We have the ability to design a lot of products and when it is time, full speed ahead.”

Ernest said that the Garmin avionics issues that had delayed the revised Citation X and Sovereign programs, as well as the M2, were largely behind it. “We are on track and we feel good about certification [for these airplanes],” Ernest said. “We are learning together [with Garmin]. This is state of the art avionics.” Ernest said he did not anticipate any further delay in the three programs provided that the FAA “continues to stay at work.”

Cessna also has been building a new low-cost reconnaissance and attack twinjet called the Scorpion, with Textron Airland systems. The aircraft can loiter for five hours and has a top speed of 450 knots. It has hardpoints for weaponry, a 3- by 8-foot cargo hold for specialized electronics and other packages and twin ejection seats. Ernest said the Scorpion would make its first flight later this year.