Cessna has delivered nearly 350 Citation Sovereigns since we first flew the aircraft a decade ago. Operators say it's one of the most versatile performers in the business jet fleet. It is routinely able to operate from 4,000-ft. runways at low elevation airports, and has by far the best hot-and-high airport performance of any 3,000-nm class corporate aircraft. Typically equipped, it can carry six passengers with full fuel.

The main seating area, between the cockpit divider to aft lavatory bulkhead, is about 19 ft. long. Thus, the cabin has the most volume of any Citation yet certified. So, it has ample room for double club seating, plus one or two side-facing chairs next to the forward, right side galley. Operators praise Cessna for building an aircraft that offers passengers so much cabin comfort and yet is able to fly so far from such short runways.

“It was our owner's decision. Runway performance was all important and we fly five to six passengers on average, says Keith Winkelmann who flies s.n. 210 for Cockrell Resources. The Houston-based air charter firm also operates five Learjet 45s, a Bombardier Challenger 300 and a Dassault Falcon 2000. “Passenger and pilot comfort, takeoff performance and baggage capacity are some of my favorite features,” he says of the Citation.

“It has spectacular performance,” says Nick Eliopoulos who flies s.n. 008, the first Sovereign delivered to a U.S. customer. “We are based at Norwood, Mass. It has a 4,008-ft. runway. We previously operated a CJ2. Sovereign is the biggest airplane we can fly out of Norwood. So it's the only real player.” You would have to step up to a $27 million 2014 Falcon 2000S to have the same combination of range, payload and runway performance as a vintage 2004 Sovereign.

Citation Sovereign is a niche aircraft that offers more cabin volume and longer range than most midsize aircraft, but lacking the interior volume, speed and range of a super midsize jet, such as Challenger 300/350, Hawker 4000, Embraer Legacy 500 or Gulfstream G280. It shares its midsize fuselage cross section with the 1978 Citation III, VI, VII, Excel and X, each of which has its own special blend of performance, cabin comfort and operating economics.

All midsize Citations have a cabin cross section that is 5.5-ft. wide by 5.7 ft.-high with a 13-in. wide dropped aisle. The Sovereign's main cabin is slightly more than 24-ft. long from the cockpit divider to the aft pressure bulkhead, the longest of any current production Citation. The second generation Citation X, however, will have a slightly longer interior tube.

In the late 1990s, Cessna launched the Sovereign development program to have an aircraft that would compete against the then best-selling $13.2 million Hawker 800XP. The legacy Hawker afforded best-in-class midsize passenger comfort, excellent reliability and attractive operating economics. The Citation Excel didn't have the range, payload or cabin volume to compete directly against it.

Hawker 800XP's Achilles' heel, though, was its lackluster runway performance, especially when departing hot-and-high airports. It also had no external baggage compartment, so most luggage had to be toted up the air stair and stored in a closet in the vestibule.

Russ Meyer, then Cessna's chairman and CEO, saw an opportunity to best the Hawker in several areas. His engineering department fit the Sovereign with a huge, but modestly swept, mildly super-critical wing, along with under-stressed Pratt & Whitney Canada PW206C engines and classically simple Citation systems. The result was an aircraft offering more cabin volume, considerably better runway performance and 300 more nm range than the Hawker 800XP. It was equipped with a 100 cu. ft. aft, external baggage compartment offering twice the volume of the Hawker's vestibule closet. Sovereign also could accommodate another 35 cu. ft. of luggage inside the cabin. Meyer priced the Sovereign at $13.4 million.

“Versatility is this aircraft's strong suit,” Meyer told BCA in 2003. “Sovereign has respectable speed, Mach 0.74 to 0.75 at high altitude. It has transcontinental (U.S.) range and it can routinely operate out of 4,000- to 4,500-ft. strips.”

Operator Demographics

More than two-thirds of the fleet is U.S. registered, according to Amstat data. NetJets is the largest fleet operator with 44 aircraft in fractional ownership service or under management for third-party owners. CitationAir, Cessna's jet card and air charter subsidiary, remains the second largest operator with seven aircraft.

LJ Aviation in Latrobe, Pa., manages and/or charters four aircraft. Corporate fleet operators include Parker-Hannifin with three Sovereigns that replaced the firm's fleet of Learjet 45s, Henry Crown & Co. with four aircraft and Schweitzer Engineering and Performance Contractors, each with three aircraft. Northrop Grumman and Hubbard Broadcasting have mixed fleets that include Sovereigns.

Two each are operated by Principal Financial Group, Green Bay Packaging and Helix Electric, plus J. M. Smucker, Darden Restaurants and Regions Financial. Single corporate aircraft operators include Bass Pro, Belden, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of South Carolina and Silver Oak Cellars, along with Entergy, Whelen Engineering and Owens Corning. Notably, the Sovereign has found a home with several large American automobile dealers.

Outside the U.S., there are a dozen Sovereigns registered in Canada, operated by firms such as Canada Pacific Railway, Execaire, Cenovus Energy and Redhead Equipment. Eight are registered in Mexico, mostly flown by air charter operators.

Brazil is home to 20 aircraft, mainly based in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. They're operated by firms such as financial services companies, air taxi service providers and agricultural producers. The next largest block is in Germany with nine used for air charter and corporate transportation. Six are registered in the Isle of Man, mainly by operators based in U.K. Four are registered in U.K., but three of them were for sale.

Czech charter operator Travel Service has three Sovereigns based in Prague, Cartier Europe flies two that are registered in the Netherlands and three more are registered in Austria.

In the Middle East, there are eight aircraft based in Turkey and eight in Egypt, including five registered to air charter operator Smart Aviation and two with the Egyptian Air Force. One is operated by Arab Wings, a large air charter operator based in Amman, Jordan. Five aircraft are registered in China, including three operated as flight inspection aircraft. There also are three based in Australia, plus others in Malaysia. Four are based in South Africa and one is registered in Morocco. We could find none registered in India.

Operators say they carry four to five passengers, on average, and a typical mission is 500- to 600-nm long. They're comfortable flying the aircraft 2,600 to 2,800 nm, so they typically plan non-stop eastbound missions between the U.S. coasts and make one refueling stop westbound. While the aircraft has nearly 7 hr. of endurance, ATC climb and descent constraints and less than optimum routing can reduce range to 6 hr. or 2,400 nm equivalent still air distance.

Plan on burning 2,200 lb. the first hour, 1,800 lb. the second hour and 1,600 lb. during the third and subsequent hours and you'll land fat on fuel, they say.

Most corporate operators we contacted for this report say they fly the aircraft 350- to 400-hr. per year. Aircraft used by high net worth individuals and entrepreneurs typically have lower utilization. Fractional ownership and air charter aircraft may be used as much as 1,200 hr. per year.

Best Features

Runway and climb performance topped operators' list of favorite features. “It has ridiculously good takeoff performance,” says one pilot based in Southern California. “Spectacular runway per–formance,” says another. “It climbs like the space shuttle,” says Steve Driggers who flies s.n. 287 and 291.

On a typical 600-nm mission, for instance, operators can depart from a 3,100-ft. runway, climb directly to FL 430 and land in 1:27 while burning only 2,400 lb. of fuel, assuming standard day conditions and ideal ATC routing. Most people say they fly such missions at FL 400 to 410 and cruise at Mach 0.77 to 0.78, equivalent to 441 to 447 KTAS in ISA conditions.

Warm day performance is impressive. Sovereign can depart Toluca, Mexico (elev. 8,466 ft.) on a 32C day and fly six passengers to New York's Westchester County Airport, Winnipeg or San Francisco. On a 20C day, you can fly the same 1,200-lb. payload to Vancouver, B.C., Sydney, Nova Scotia or Lima, Peru.

Passenger comfort is another favorite feature, especially for operators upgrading from smaller Citations, Hawkers and Learjets. “Compared to our Learjet 45s, cabin volume is more realistic for the double club arrangement,” says another operator. Each club chair has 7-in. pitch, seat back rake, 3.6-in. track and swivel adjustments, plus aisle side arm rests that retract down to ease fore-aft cabin access. Each pair of facing chairs has a fold-out work table that extends from a pocket in the side wall.

Most aircraft also have a single, side-facing chair just aft of the forward, right-side galley. Some aircraft are fitted with a compact galley and a two-place divan. Others have no forward divan and a large galley that carries ample provisions for extended missions. And a few have a three-place, right-side divan in place of two of the facing chairs in the aft club section. The 9.3 psid pressurization system provides a maximum 7,250-ft. cabin at FL 470, the aircraft's certified maximum altitude. Most operators cruise at lower altitudes where cabin altitude is closer to 6,000 ft.

Sovereign's 100-cu.-ft. aft external baggage compartment ranks high with operators, particularly those moving up from light jets or Hawkers. The aircraft also has a storage compartment forward of the entry door and a coat closet aft of the lavatory that together offer 35 cu. ft. of interior luggage volume.

This is one of the few midsize aircraft that has windows in the lavatory that provide bright, daylight illumination. The ambient light makes the lavatory appear larger than it is. Both windows have pull-down shades for privacy.

Stopping performance and the aircraft's long-life carbon brakes are favorite features. The aircraft's low landing speeds, thrust reversers and large, dual main landing gear all contribute to good stopping performance and extended brake life. Some operators say they've amassed in excess of 700 landings with no need to replace the brake heat packs. Cessna designed the brakes to last 1,000-plus landings.

Operators like the Sovereign's simple Citation systems and its dispatch reliability. “It's a real workhorse, a transportation tool that's open to everybody in the company,” says Mark Wray of Schweitzer Engineering. The aircraft features a DC electrical system, manually operated flight controls, single point pressure refueling and a single air cycle machine pack that's supplied with bleed air by the Honeywell RE100 APU on the ground or the PW306C turbofans in flight.

Comparatively low direct operating cost scored well with management companies and charter operators. “It's an efficient airplane” says Ed Kilkeary, Jr. of Latrobe, Pa.-based LJ Aviation, a firm that operates four Sovereigns.

Worst Features

What don't operators like about the Sovereign? The Honeywell Primus Epic avionics suite came in for strong criticism (please see Avionics sidebar). Operators say it doesn't deliver on promises that Cessna and Honeywell made for it when they received their aircraft. It's an early version of Epic that didn't benefit from the highly focused development work Honeywell put into Gulfstream's PlaneView suite and Dassault's EASy/EASy II cockpits, they say. It's more on a plane with the kit installed in the now out-of-production Hawker 4000.

Operators also say the aircraft has heavy control forces, especially in roll. Three, hydraulically powered roll spoilers augment the roll control authority provided by the ailerons, but they don't alleviate the heavy control forces.

“It handles like a vintage Cadillac — without power steering,” says Keith Winkelmann who flies s.n. 210 based in Houston. Sovereign has a wingspan only 7 in. shorter than Citation X, but it lacks its hydraulically-powered flight controls.

Pilots aren't fond of the engines' electric starting system. They say it taxes the output of both the RE100 APU and the NiCad or lead-acid batteries, so engine starting is slow and sometimes difficult. Many say they prefer an air turbine starting system, such as that used on Fairchild Dornier 328JET, also equipped with PW306 turbofans.

Some high utilization operators also say they've experienced coking of some engine bearings, requiring partial tear down prior to the scheduled 3,000-hr. hot section inspections or 6,000-hr. overhauls.

Heating and air conditioning received criticism. Operators say weak air distribution may be the problem. Cessna, in response, developed SB680-21-02, a cabin cooling modification that improves circulation by removing choke points in air distribution ducts.

The aircraft's relatively low 58.2 lb./sq. ft. wing loading helps endow the aircraft with superb runway and climb performance. The downside is a relatively rough ride in turbulence, operators say. The wing structure also isn't as supple as that of Citation X, so it lacks the aero-elasticity to soak up the bumps.

On Balance . . .

Sovereign's class leading short field performance continues to make it the top choice for operators who use small general aviation airports, ones typically with 4,000 ft. or shorter runways. It also enjoys strong support from operators who need to fly eight passengers 2,700+ nm at the lowest possible direct operating cost.

“It's got great runway performance, it's cheap to run, it sips gas,” says Eliopoulos.

Some wish the airplane had a higher cruising speed and another 200 nm of range, making it better suited for non-stop east to west transcontinental U.S. missions. For them, the $18.2 million second-generation Sovereign, slated to enter service later this year, may be enough of an improvement to get them to trade up. Some, though, are eying other options, particularly the $20 million Embraer Legacy 500, an aircraft that offers a wider, taller cabin with a flat floor, 20-kt. faster cruising speed and eight-passenger, tanks-full payload.

Perhaps Cessna's biggest selling point for the Sovereign is the firm's top ranked product support in this class of aircraft. “It's absolutely the best ever,” says LJ Aviation's Kilkeary. “Parts availability is superb,” says another operator.

But some caution that Cessna's “right sizing” of its workforce may have a negative impact in the future.

On balance, though, Sovereign appears to be the ultimate simple Citation, an everyday workhorse that consistently does many things well. While the light and midsize jet markets currently remain flat in the wake of the great recession, the long term outlook for Sovereigns is encouraging in the view of those who operate them.

Tap Here to read Fred George's Pilot Report on the Citation Sovereign from the September 2003 issue of BCA.