Cessna Aircraft has introduced a virtually all-new jet, the Citation Latitude, at this week’s National Business Aviation Association convention, to the surprise of many in attendance. In doing so, the Wichita firm challenged competitors hoping to supplant its leadership in the less-than-heavy-iron market.

It’s the second new model to be announced by the firm in just two weeks. It unveiled the Citation M2, an evolutionary successor to the CJ1+, in late September.

Scott Ernest, the company’s new CEO and president, who has a solid track record in operations and supply-chain management, is quickly establishing a reputation for putting new models on the fast track. Rejuvenating the Citation model lineup is key to Cessna’s regaining market share lost to competitors, particularly Embraer.

The newest member of the Citation family will be the first jet designed by the company to have a larger fuselage cross section than the mid-1970s Citation III, not counting the Citation Columbus 850, which was canceled in 2009, a little more than a year after it was launched.

Priced at $14.9 million, the 2,000-nm.-range Latitude is being positioned between the $12.6 million Citation XLS+ and the $17.5 million Citation Sovereign in Cessna’s business jet lineup. Both those other aircraft have the Citation III’s 6.1-ft. fuselage cross section. The Latitude, in contrast, will have a nearly 7-ft.-wide fuselage tube that will enable it to compete head-to-head against the Embraer Legacy 450.

Current Citation operators told Cessna at customer advisory board meetings that for any new midsize model they wanted a considerably larger fuselage, one offering 6 ft. of headroom in the center aisle, a flat floor and much more cabin width. The Latitude will offer 3.6 in. more height and 11 in. more width than legacy midsize Citations. It also will offer the largest windows in the midsize class, Garmin G5000 avionics with touch-screen controllers and the best runway performance of any competitor, outside of the Citation XLS+ or Sovereign.

But the Brazilian “mid-light” jet is slated to enter service in the second half 2013, while the Latitude won’t arrive until the second half 2015. The Legacy 450’s two-year head start will undoubtedly take market share before the Latitude’s arrival. Cessna, though, is banking on the Latitude’s nearly million-dollar-lower price tag and the Citation line’s strong customer loyalty to attract and hold plenty of buyers.

Similar to the evolutionary Citation 560XL, which adapted the Citation III fuselage and Citation V wing, the Latitude grafts a new fuselage onto the basic Sovereign wing. It will share the CE 680 Citation Sovereign type certificate as the Model 680A, a derivative sharing most of the fundamental design and aerodynamic characteristics. But this airplane will have plenty of new technology as well.

Structure and Systems

The Latitude’s new fuselage will be made of aluminum, just like all other Citations for four decades. Overall length of the fuselage will be 1.2 ft. shorter than the Sovereign, but vertical tail height will be 20.9 ft., which is 7 in. higher.

The wing will share its basic aero contours with the Sovereign but will be modified with “eco-tip” outboard wing extensions having slightly up-curved tips. The wing extensions and wider fuselage increase span from 63.2 ft. on the Sovereign to 72.3 ft. on the Latitude.

The Latitude is to have a 9.6-psi pressurization system providing a 6,000-ft. cabin altitude at the aircraft’s maximum operating altitude of 45,000 ft.

Cabin Amenities and Baggage Capacity

With an interior volume of 656 cubic ft., cabin space will be the Latitude’s strong suit. The five windows on each side of the cabin will be 12.7 in. wide by 16.6 in. high, making them the largest area windows in the midsize class. Each window has a large cutout, or “reveal,” with halo-like LED illumination in the frame to make it appear even bigger.

The main seating section has six individual chairs, four in a center club section and two additional forward-facing chairs in the aft cabin. The standard configuration also features a right-side, two-place divan in the forward cabin, adjacent to a narrow storage closet. An optional ninth seat is available for the left side of lavatory, directly across from the right-side toilet and emergency exit. The toilet is externally serviced.

The six individual main cabin chairs are taken directly from the Citation Ten and provide 21 in. of seat cushion width. The chairs are pedestal-mounted, have seven inches of fore/aft track adjustment and swivel 180 deg., and their backs can be fully reclined to form lay-flat berths between pairs of facing chairs.

The mockup has a window in the lavatory to provide ambient light, but Cessna plans to scrub that feature to save 15-lb. weight and $20,000 manufacturing cost.

The cabin will feature Cessna’s new Clairity cabin management system. Developed in concert with Heads-Up Technologies (N4712), it features IP-based touch-screen controls and ultra-high-bandwidth fiber-optic communications links that are capable of carrying multiple channels of audio, video and air-to-ground communications, and a Wi-Fi router. Aboard the Latitude, Clairity will also control cabin temperature, lighting and entertainment functions.

Cessna says the Latitude will have a 100-cubic-ft./1,000-lb. capacity aft external baggage compartment, but production aircraft are likely to have larger baggage bays, according to company engineers.

Facing Tough Competition in Four Years

Cessna, one of parent Textron’s most cherished cash cows in boom times of the past decade, now faces tough challenges. Its evolutionary design philosophy no longer suffices to keep its Citations competitive in the light- and medium-jet segments.

Three years ago, though, the economy imploded. Sales of light and midsize jets – particularly Citations – went into a tailspin. Now Cessna must play catch-up.

Embraer, meanwhile, forged ahead with a new generation of light and midsize business jets that siphoned off many sales prospects for Citations. While the Latitude is the firm’s boldest move since the Columbus, it’s clearly an evolutionary design that’s aimed at countering the Legacy 450, a mid-light jet offering similar cabin dimensions.

The Latitude will be able to carry five passengers 2,000 nm. while cruising at Mach 0.72 to 0.75, assuming its cruise performance will essentially mirror that of the Sovereign. The Legacy 450, in contrast, will be able to carry eight passengers 2,200 nm. while cruising at Mach 0.78.

But the Latitude is priced nearly $1 million less than the Legacy 450. It has a plush interior that should be one of the quietest in the midsize class. Cessna’s Clairity cabin management system should be virtually unsurpassed for its capabilities and growth potential.

Perhaps Cessna’s greatest advantage with this new aircraft is its historical market success. The firm has built more than 6,000 Citations. People want to stick with a winner, and, despite the market downturn, Cessna remains the world’s leading business jet manufacturer. That’s a lot of clout with potential Latitude purchasers, including current operators of smaller Citation jets.

Will that be enough to make the Latitude a winner? As with any new product, the market ultimately will judge the merits of the newest Citation in the context of its competition.