’s plan to bring up to six new or improved aircraft to market in 2013 is part of an overall strategy to build a new pipeline of products that will arrive just as the market for light and midsized aircraft is expected to strengthen, executives say. But it is also designed to build consumer confidence in a market that has remained uncertain for the past several years, executives say.
“During the downturn, we worked very, very hard to continue new product development, says Brad Thress, senior vice president-business jets for Cessna. “It was important to demonstrate to the market our confidence [in its future]. It was important to reassure our customers.”
Cessna has a full plate of clean-sheet and follow-on aircraft projects, ranging from the diesel version of the Turbo Skylane single-engine aircraft to the super midsize business jet, the Citation Longitude.
Cessna parenthas boosted research and development (R&D) spending by as much as 30% throughout the corporation in recent years. That ramp-up has included Cessna, which Thress says is a “vote of confidence” for the Wichita airframer. While sales have gone down, R&D spending has increased – and is near an all-time high as a percentage of sales, Cessna executives say.
The spending is laying the foundation for the new slate of products. In 2013 alone, the company is planning to certify a new Sovereign and Citation X that will incorporate Garmin G5000 avionics, integrated automatic throttles and the Cessna Clarity cabin.
In addition, the Mustang step-up M2 is on target for certification in the first half of the year. Cessna further will begin shipment of the re-engined, more powerful Grand Caravan EX, reintroduce an improved Corvalis TTx to the market and bring online the diesel Turbo Skylane JT-A.
The Citation X was among the first of the new products introduced since the downturn began, unveiled during the 2010 National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) annual convention, in part as testimony that the company was investing in the future.
At the time, the company was holding off on introducing other new products, saying the timing was not right in a depressed market. “When you announce a new product, it usually generates a pretty strong order flow,” Scott Donnelly, chairman, president and CEO of Textron, had said at the time. “We don’t want to announce a new upgrade, block-point change or new aircraft if we don’t thing there’s going to be a reasonable level of commercial interest out the door.”
But a number of programs were already under way, Donnelly had assured analysts, and since that time, Cessna has lifted the floodgates, detailing at least nine other projects that span every one of its segments.
Work on a new Sovereign had already begun when the X was revealed, even though that effort wasn’t unveiled until the most recent NBAA in October.
As a result, Thress says, the Sovereign is on target to reach the market a few months sooner than the X next year. By this month, the Sovereign program had topped 900 flight hours with three flight test articles, and major milestones such as icing and wet runway testing had been accomplished.
Since so many systems and improvements are similar in the Sovereign and X, Thress says there’s a “tremendous amount of crossover” in the development of the two programs. The same avionics team is working on the G5000 suites for both aircraft, for instance.
That work has also translated into other programs, including the G5000-equipped Latitude and Longitude aircraft. This also has benefited the M2, which is equipped with the G3000 because of the commonality between the two suites, he says.
Detailed in September 2011, the M2 was the first of three “clean sheet” planes that Cessna announced over the past 15 months. The Latitude followed in October 2011 and the Longitude this past spring.
M2 development was the furthest along; the aircraft first flew in March, and the program encompasses two aircraft. Cessna is hoping the aircraft will win certification and reach the market by the second half of 2013, about the same time as the Sovereign.
The Latitude, which last summer received a 500-nm boost in range to 2,500 nm, is on track to reach the market in 2015, followed by the Longitude in 2017.
As for the X, Cessna plans to ship it in the latter part of 2013. Cessna is set to reclaim the fastest in-production business jet title once it hits the market with a Mach 0.935 speed.
While Cessna has been busy developing a new and improved product line, it has been making refinements along the way. The X was originally introduced as the Citation Ten to differentiate the original and follow-on model. But customers wanted the original name, and Cessna made the switch this fall.
“You can see customer input present throughout the entire process,” Roxanne Bernstein, senior vice president of marketing, said this fall. She added that the name is just one area where Cessna has implemented changes based on feedback.
The change in the Latitude’s range – also driven by customer input – was another example, and Thress notes that was a significant but important change. “We are listening to our customers more intently,” Thress says, adding that Cessna is trying to incorporate their feedback as much as possible.
In fact, Cessna is so focused on customer feedback that it is beginning to test market new concepts, rather than keep such projects under wraps until they are formally launched. During the most recent Experimental Aircraft Association convention in Oshkosh, Wis., Cessna began to solicit feedback on a small single-turboprop aircraft.
Then, during the most recent NBAA convention in Orlando, Fla., the company began soliciting input on an interior for a potential new family of light jets with a bigger cabin that would compete with.
Cessna President and CEO Scott Ernest said during NBAA that the company plans to actively seek public feedback on all of its new concepts in the future. “That’s the way we will go.”
The programs will help fill empty capacity at Cessna, which has shrunk its workforce by almost half since the downturn and watched as its jet sales fell from 467 in 2008 to 183 last year.
But executives are encouraged by the early returns for its new products. “We’re seeing significant commitments,” Thress says. Cessna has maintained that the light and midsized jet market has remained a “spot market” for sales – gone are the days of lengthy waits for models in those classes. Even so, Sovereign interest picked up with the announcement of the new aircraft, the first year of the new X is sold out and the M2 is sold into its third year.
The Latitude, meanwhile, secured its spot as a midsized offering for the new NetJets fleet. The fractional ownership provider has placed an order for up to 150 of the aircraft.
This comes as the market has stabilized, and the company sees some strengthening metrics, such as used inventory. Once the market picks up, Thress says, “We’ll be in a nice place with a new product pipeline.”