Nearly a year after receiving certification for the 400XT remanufactured Beechjet, Cleveland-based Nextant Aerospace is expanding facilities to ramp up production, working on the next series of product improvements for the 400XT and looking at adding a second airframe to its lineup.
Nextant, the sister company of fractional ownership provider Flight Options, is moving over the next couple of weeks into its recently acquired 125,000-sq.-ft. facility, where it hopes to begin production by the end of the month.
The facility, near the existing building that Nextant shares with Flight Options on Cuyahoga County Airport in Richmond Heights, Ohio, will more than double the company’s space and enable the manufacturer to increase production of the 400XT to up to 48 per year. Initial plans call for a gradual buildup of production to an eventual run rate of 36 per month.
While its builds up production on the 400XT, Nextant already has turned to the next addition to the product line, says Nextant CEO Kenn Ricci. The company has identified the airframe and the engines, and is negotiating with potential vendors on avionics. An announcement on that model could be made in the coming weeks, once its negotiations are completed.
One of the newest members of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Nextant announced it had receivedcertification for its first aircraft, the 400XT, in October 2011 and delivered the first of 40 it has on order from Flight Options later that same month.
Nextant, which began concentrating on marketing a year ago, claims orders for more than 70. With fleet orders, the company has production slots extending for five years – although there are a few openings next year, says Jay Heublein, who moved over from Flight Options in early 2011 to serve as Nextant’s vice president of sales and marketing.
Domestic sales have gone as expected, Heublein says, but “the single biggest surprise is how quickly the global sales picked up.” The company has taken orders from six different countries and delivered the first European-registered aircraft to a buyer in the Czech Republic in August. The company also obtained a 10-aircraft sale from Asia Pacific Jets last summer.
As production continues to grow, the company plans to increase its employee base – which now stands at 160 workers – by roughly 20% in the coming months.
About 10-15% of the workers are engineers, who have been working on upgrades, such as the addition of a winglet, which Nextant hopes to certify next year. Heublein says nearly all customers have opted for the winglet.
In addition, Nextant plans to roll out a brand new interior configuration at the National Business Aviation Association annual meeting and convention this month that will include a divan. The configuration opens the entryway and provides more legroom for the eight-passenger aircraft. LED light upgrades as well as future avionics options are also in the works.
Nextant’s 400XT is completely stripped down from the original Beechjet and remanufactured with Williams FJ44-3AP engines,Pro Line 21 integrated avionics and a new cabin with electronics that include high-speed Internet access. Nextant builds in significant aerodynamic improvements, such as newly designed nacelles, pylons and an improved engine mounting configuration.
Its primary competition would be’s 400XPR, but that aircraft may still be months away from certification, giving Nextant an advantage of reaching market first. Like Nextant, Hawker Beechcraft is replacing the Beechjet’s Pratt & Whitney JT15D-5R engines with a Williams powerplant, but is opting for the FJ44-4A-32. Hawker Beechcraft also selected Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 avionics for the 400XPR and a winglet.
While the programs have their similarities, Nextant executives would argue that Nextant views itself as being in the manufacturing business rather than as an upgrade program, Heublein says.
Nextant takes a holistic approach to manufacturing – from product support, warranty, financing and training – rather than conducting simple upgrades that it then sells to customers. Nextant worked with CAE SimuFlite in Dallas to develop a trainer that would enable pilots to obtain a 400XT type rating directly. This eliminates the need for pilots to obtain a Beechjet 400 type rating and then undergo different training for the Nextant 400 XT.
In addition, Nextant has built up a product support network, with seven facilities as authorized service providers. These include both in-house maintainers and third-party facilities.
“We provide a complete production solution,” Heublein says, adding this comes from learning lessons from past upgrade programs. “The model for modifications didn’t work,” he says, because owners often would end up with orphan aircraft that don’t have support.
And unlike most upgrade programs, which involve improving a customer’s own aircraft, Nextant is finding Beechjets on the market, remanufacturing them and then selling them to customers.
He says Nextant has sold a few customer upgrades, but, “Our focus is to buy the aircraft. The majority of sales are to concept buyers.”
Its affiliation with Flight Options – previously one of the largest Beechjet operators – has given it a stable of Beechjets to work on, but Heublein says Nextant has been able to find plenty on the market. He notes that some 600 of the aircraft were produced, providing enough opportunity for the program. In fact, older model aircraft have been available at much lower prices since Nextant’s 400XT has begun entering the market, he says.