Textron Aviation’s newest Citation jet, the super-midsize Longitude, is set for full U.S. FAA certification and entry into service (EIS) in the third quarter of 2019, with EASA validation due to follow next year. Ron Draper, who stepped in as the company's CEO in October, conceded that certification will follow a longer-than-anticipated certification process. “We may have gotten a little aggressive, to put it in perspective, with some of the dates we put out,” Draper said, to achieve FAA certification of its biggest Citation, which was originally expected in 2017.
“We did underestimate the amount of paperwork with the FAA’s new design assurance process. That process is very rigorous, and we may have underestimated the amount of time to get that done,” he said. “But we’re nearing the end of that.” Draper, however, added there are no major problems, saying it is just a matter of “working closely with the FAA to go through the certification process.”
Despite the certification delays, sales of the Longitude are “going well and [we] expect it to have a successful track record like the Latitude has had,” said Draper. The company has delivered more than 169 Citation Latitudes since the midsize jet’s entry-into-service in the third quarter of 2015.
Textron Aviation has continued to demonstrate the 3,500-nm Longitude around the world and “the response has been outstanding,” said senior v-p of sales and marketing Rob Scholl. The aircraft continues to prove performance: Scholl noted last year he was able to take a 3,600-nm flight in the Longitude from Columbus, Ohio, to Paris. While waiting for certification, customers can complete initial training on a full-motion simulator, he added, which will enable them to begin operations as they receive their aircraft.
One customer anxious to receive the Longitude is NetJets, which last fall placed options for up to 175 of the super-midsize jets, and has since converted the first seven into firm orders. It has been introducing the Longitude to prospective customers using a Textron Aviation demonstrator. At the same time, the fractional provider's Latitude fleet continues to grow and is anticipated to surpass 100 this year. “NetJets continues to tell us it is the fastest selling jet in their portfolio,” Draper said. Textron Aviation recently rolled out the 200th aircraft off its assembly line and that milestone airplane is set to be delivered to NetJets this summer.
The two other airplanes in the Cessna new product pipeline, the single-engine turboprop Denali and twin-turboprop SkyCourier, are still targeted to make their first flights this year. Scholl told AIN that he’s expecting the Denali to be the “new market leader in that class of aircraft.”
Plans for the large-cabin Hemisphere, on the other hand, remain idle at least until Safran completes its testing on fixes to the Snecma Silvercrest engine, which is supposed to wrap up this summer. “They’re redesigning parts of the engine and we’re really not going to talk about that until we understand that,” Draper said. “Once we understand that, then we will make some future decisions on that product.” He added that Textron Aviation anticipates having “a full understanding of the engine's performance and the future of that program in a few months.”
With three new airplanes in the works and a renewed emphasis on sustaining engineering, Textron Aviation completed its best year in a decade. Revenues, bookings, and deliveries were up last year, a trend that is continuing into the first three months of 2019, according to Draper, who added that the quarter was strong across the product line, including pistons, turboprops, and jets.
Textron Aviation is seeing growth in special missions capabilities, highlighted by the display at EBACE of the first medevac-configured Latitude air ambulance that is part of an 11-aircraft order by Babcock Scandinavian Air Ambulance. Draper also said the company is seeking to expand special missions options throughout its product line. Textron Aviation, in particular, is seeing interest in aerial survey, flight inspection, and air ambulance, Scholl added.