Led by a threesome of former Cessna executives including longtime CEO and current chairman emeritus Russ Meyer Jr., CitationPartners is breathing new life into one of the Wichita airframer’s most popular twinjets, the Citation Excel, in a new nose-to-tail refurbishment program called Citation Excel Eagle. Using the help of Textron Aviation’s Wichita service center and FBO/MRO Yingling Aviation, CitationPartners’ goal is to turn out one or more Excel Eagles a month.
The program, which was announced in late February, transforms previous NetJets airframes into a fully-inspected aircraft with new parts, interior, paint, and Garmin G5000 avionics. Introductory pricing on the first three Excel Eagles, as well as for orders taken by March 31, is $3.45 million. After that, the price increases to $3.59 million.
“Nobody has ever done a refurbishment program to the extent that we have when you look at what we’re doing at the service center, and then the interior, exterior, and the avionics,” Meyer told AIN. “It is really a special deal and we believe the market will recognize that value.”
With more than 1,000 Excel, XLS, and XLS+s in the active worldwide fleet, it made sense to select the popular midsize airframe for the program developed by CitationPartners, whose other principals include former Cessna CEO Gary Hay and former Citation Mustang and CJ3 program manager Russ Meyer III.
“At Cessna, we had more than 200 orders in our production backlog before we delivered the first airplane,” Hay told AIN of the Excel. “So that gives you some sense of the market acceptance for the airplane.”
Meyer added that not only did they select the Excel because of its popularity, but also because it remains in production as the XLS+.“When you’re buying a preowned airplane, it’s a great asset if it’s still in production because if you need a part for an airplane that’s no longer in production, you’d better be prepared to wait for it and pay a lot of money for it,” he said.
Under the program, CitationPartners will take in one of the more than 100 Excels fractional provider NetJets has traded to Textron Aviation. At the airframer’s service center, the Excel will undergo numerous inspections—such as a scheduled 15,000-hour fatigue inspection, a special corrosion inspection, and any of the other major inspections that need to be done in the next couple of years.
If those inspections turn up any issues, the necessary parts or systems—such as wheels, tires, brakes, windscreens, and starter-generators—will be replaced. “We felt that we needed Textron to be a partner because as the original manufacturer they are the only one that can do some of the inspections and can authorize the airplane for ProParts, among other things,” Meyer said.
Once that work is complete, the airplane will be moved across the runway at Wichita Eisenhower National Airport to Yingling, where the airframe will be stripped, the interior replaced, and the G5000 avionics installed. Yingling has had a relationship with Cessna going back several decades, Meyer noted, and with a new paint facility and jet maintenance hangar it has the capabilities to complete the airplane, including its interior.
Included in the interior refurbishment is replacing the single forward-cabin seat with a two-place, side-facing sofa. Also with the interior, clients who order an Excel Eagle enough in advance—four to five months—will have the opportunity to pick out seat styles, cabin colors, carpet, and cabinetry, as well as exterior paint. “Exactly like a new airplane customer,” Meyer noted.
Because of the extensive refurbishment and inspections, Excel Eagles will also be put on Textron Aviation’s ProParts airframe systems and avionics and PowerAdvantage engine maintenance programs with no need to write “a really big check” for enrollment, Meyer said.
Hay said for an individual Excel operator to do to his or her airplane what the Excel Eagle program does would cost them $200,000 to $300,000 more than what it would cost to buy an Excel Eagle. “Our airplane is absolutely turnkey,” Hay explained. “You buy it. You come in and fly it away. You don’t have to do anything except that.”
In all, Meyer hopes to eventually turn over one Excel a month. As it stands, the process on the first Excel Eagle has taken several months to complete and it probably won’t be until late April or early May before the first one is ready for delivery. “It’s a process that will take us the better part of three to four months certainly on the first two or three airplanes,” Meyer said.
Meyer acknowledged that some potential Excel Eagle clients could be deterred by the high time on the Excel airframes coming from NetJets, which he said on average are 12,000 to 13,000 hours. But he notes that those airplanes have been professionally maintained while serving NetJets owners, often at a Citation Service Center. What’s more, the Excel was structurally and fatigued tested to 75,000 flight hours—the same requirements that Airbus and Boeing aircraft are tested to within the Part 25 transport category. “So 13,000 hours is in fact meaningless in terms of fatigue and structure,” he said. “But it is a factor in having Textron involved to do the special inspections.”
Still, based on CitationPartners’ research and meetings with potential customers, Meyer thinks now is a good time to unveil the program because the demand for preowned Excels is strong and it looks to become stronger in part from Covid-19. “Among the very few positive aspects from our business of the pandemic is that we believe that the business aircraft industry will grow because a lot of people are not going to fly on the airlines,” he said.
Should the Excel Eagle program perform as expected, CitationPartners could do the same thing with the XLS and, later on, other Citation models such as the CitationJet and Sovereign. But first, Meyer added, "We want to get our feet on the ground and prove the process.”