Rising from the ashes of 's bankruptcy, the King Air 350i now serves as the real-life phoenix of the new Beechcraft Corp., a far leaner and financially stronger company since its February 2013 reorganization and relaunch. Exiting jet production and promoting its enduring King Air line were key strategic changes that restored the health of the iconic Wichita manufacturer. The back-to-basics King Air 350i is as Midwestern as sweet corn and soybeans, and just as consistently in demand in the marketplace. It now claims title as the firm's top-of-the-line model for several reasons. The duration of most business aircraft trips is less than 2 hr. In fact, most business aircraft missions are no longer than 300 to 600 nm.
While a 300-kt. King Air 350i lacks the panache of a 430-kt. turbofan that can cruise in the stratosphere, it's only about 20 to 30 min. slower than a jet on shorter trips and notably burns 20% less fuel, even assuming an ideal, near parabolic vertical profile for the jet.
The 350i provides cost-effective business transportation for eight to 10 passengers at a significantly lower direct operating cost than a corporate jet with as many seats. Estimated direct operating cost is less than $1,200 per hour, including engine reserves, scheduled maintenance and $6.00 per gallon fuel.
Those economic realities hit home during the Great Recession of 2008 when hundreds of jet owners chocked or chucked their airplanes because they didn't make economic sense. The used business jet market became as flooded as Mesopotamia 3,500 years ago. Some light and midsize jet owners were nearly swept away in the surge.
So, gone are the more glamorous jets that caused Hawker Beechcraft to hemorrhage more than $1.6 billion from 2009 to 2012. Going forward, everything Beechcraft builds will have propellers.
“We're not selling the tip of the pyramid in luxury and performance. We're selling very well executed regional transportation,” says CEO W. W. “Bill” Boisture.
The old Hawker Beechcraft, as the 80+ year-old company was known from 2007 to 2013, was spinning out of control with more than $2.6 billion in debt, mainly due to its money losing turbofan product line. However, its prop models, and especially the King Airs, held their own during the global meltdown.
In May 2012, the firm negotiated a pre-planned bankruptcy reorganization with debt holders, owners, creditors and suppliers. In the process, that Hawker Beechcraft debt was converted into equity in the new Beechcraft Corp. The firm also secured $400 million in debtor-in-possession financing to kick-start operations as it exited bankruptcy last February.
Since then, Beechcraft's turnaround has been nothing short of spectacular. Mid-year, it landed the largest ever order for general aviation turboprop aircraft when it inked a deal with Wheels Up, a new members-only air transportation venture started by the founders of Marquis Jet. (See sidebar.)
The King Air 350i has a lot going for it outside of attractive operating economics. It's an FAR Part 23 commuter category aircraft, thus it offers much the same one-engine-inoperative takeoff safety margins as an FAR Part 25 transport category jet.
Business aviation isn't the only market for the 350i. It's available in cargo/combi/freighter, air ambulance, intelligence/surveillance/reconnaissance and other special mission configurations. As a result, production rates of the 350i, along with the earlier 350, have averaged slightly more than 40 aircraft per year during the last decade.
What makes the 350i such an enduring design is the focus of this report.