Operators’ Feedback on Midsize Citation Excel

On March 31, Textron Aviation delivered a Cessna Citation XLS+ to Custom Jet Charters. That jet was the 1,000th delivery since the hugely popular Excel series entered service in 1996.

The 560XL series--originally the Citation Excel--targeted two markets according to Russ Meyer, chairman emeritus of Textron Aviation, who ran the company when the aircraft was developed and certified.

“We saw demand from light jet operators who wanted to upgrade to a midsize model, and first-time jet buyers who wanted to go directly into one--at an attractive price,” he reports. “We created an aircraft that was less costly to acquire and operate than the Hawker 800, Learjet 45 and Learjet 60, which were the Excel’s main competitors at the time.”

The Citation Excel used the same straight wing as the Citation V combined with the stand-up, 8- to 9-passenger cabin of the Citation VII, with power from two Pratt & Whitney Canada PW545A engines--each rated at 3,804 lb. of thrust. According to Textron Aviation, 339 of the 370 Citation Excels produced between 1996 and 2004 were in service as of year-end 2020.

In 2004, Textron Aviation introduced the Citation XLS as the Excel’s successor. The XLS came with a new Honeywell Primus 1000 avionics suite and two PW545B engines--each generating 3,991 lb. of thrust. This added another 150 nm of range and a 200-lb. gross takeoff weight (GTOW) increase. Of the 330 XLS aircraft delivered over its 2004-08 production run, 324 were still active at the end of fourth quarter 2020.

The XLS was supplanted by Citation XLS+, which has been in continuous production since 2008. For the XLS+, Textron included FADEC (full authority digital engine controls), a Collins Pro Line 21 avionics suite with a four-screen EFIS display, and twin PW545C engines, each with 4,119 lb. of thrust. This provided an additional 110 nm of range and about a 4% increase in normal cruise speed--to 430 kt. All 292 of the XLS+ aircraft delivered as of year-end 2020 are still in service.

Citation Excel flightdeck
The Collins Pro Line 21 flight deck is the avionics suite for the Citation XLS+. Photo credit: Textron Aviation

Lannie O’Bannion, senior vice president of global sales and flight operations at Textron Aviation, reports that the typical Citation XLS+ operator is a corporate flight department or charter service that needs the amenities of a midsize cabin, coupled with the economics of a light jet.

“Most Citation XLS+ customers come from corporate flight departments where a reliable, low-maintenance-cost aircraft incorporating a wider cabin cross-section, along with an APU and thrust reversers, is preferred,” he explains.

Tim White, CEO of jetAVIVA, a global turbine business aircraft broker and reseller, calls the Excel family a “highly versatile and operationally flexible platform” offering the cabin size, range and speed of a traditional midsize jet, and the short-field performance (3,560 ft.) of a light jet. “Additionally, it has a low operating cost relative to its competitive space in the marketplace,” he notes. “There isn’t another business jet with this size of cabin that does what the Excel does, which is why its level of popularity is increasing in the preowned market.”

According to Don Dwyer, managing partner for Guardian Jet, a consulting firm and broker of new and used aircraft, the Excel bridges a gap between light and medium-cabin jets. “It’s a lot of aircraft for the money,” he says, noting the $9.7 million asking price for a just-listed, low time XLS+, and 10 XLS models with asking prices between $2.6 million and $4.7 million. “It’s not a coast-to-coast nonstop jet but a super airplane for regional travel [in the 1,700- to 1,800-nm range], such as Dallas to Los Angeles. However, you get a cabin with a midsize cross section, with light jet economics.”

Citation Excel cabin
The stand-up cabin of the Citation XLS+ offers the comfort of a mid-size business jet, at light jet economics. Photo credit: Textron Aviation

Doug Kelley, chief pilot for an Arkansas-based transportation and logistics company, notes that the entity has operated five Excel series aircraft since 2003. Its current fleet comprises two XLS+ models--each with a nine-passenger cabin.

“It’s a good, steady airplane with dispatch reliability in excess of 99%,” says Kelley, who reports that the company’s two aircraft average 400-500 nm per leg on a typical trip. Pre-COVID-19, with 2019 included, the jets averaged 35-40 hr. per month or about 800-900 total hr. annually. This dropped to 325 hr. in 2020, as the pandemic impacted travel.

Kelley says that OEM maintenance support has been “pretty good,” although impacted somewhat by the pandemic. “While parts have been available, there have been shipping delays from time to time,” he notes. “But I think that has to do with the fact that more people are working from home. Once people get back to a normal working situation, parts availability and shipping will get better.”

Asked if the company had ever considered an aircraft outside the Excel family, Kelley says there were two candidates--the Embraer Phenom 300 and the Citation Latitude.

The Phenom 300, he reports, had a smaller cabin and less space for baggage stowage, and while the Citation Latitude’s cabin was larger, its flying time on a typical 2-hr. trip was comparable to the XLS+. “There was no advantage with speed, and we also saw that the XLS+ was more economical to operate for that trip length, burning 2,800 lb. of fuel compared to 3,700 lb. for the Latitude,” Kelley remarks.

Barry Lambert, vice president-charter operations for business aircraft charter and management firm Southern Sky Aviation in Birmingham, Alabama, has been managing five Excel series jets for over six years--three Excels and two XLSs. Currently, they have one XLS under management.

“We [flew] those aircraft over 40 hr. a month, continuously, with some reaching 700 hr. in a given year,” says Lambert. “As a charter operator, they have met all of our expectations, and in our experience, Cessna’s customer support has been consistently good. We have not encountered any major maintenance issues.”

Jet Linx, an Omaha, Nebraska-based business aircraft management, charter and jet card plan provider, has 22 Citation Excel family models under contract, including the Excel, XLS and XLS+. As Jay Vidlak, the company’s senior vice president, points out, each aircraft flies about 400-450 hr. per year, with a monthly average of 40 flight hours, and 22-25 legs. Typical missions average 1.5-2.5 hr.

“Dispatch reliability is fantastic--well into the upper 90%,” says Vidlak, who cites three important features--the aircraft’s 461-cu.-ft. stand-up cabin, which can “very comfortably accommodate eight passengers;” 80 cu. ft. of baggage stowage space; and operational cost efficiency.

“At Jet Linx, that runs about $1,900-$2,000 per flight hour, figured on the basis of maintenance costs--parts and labor,” says Vidlak. He notes that 90% of the Excel fleet under Jet Linx management is covered by Textron Aviation’s ProAdvantage power-by-the-hour maintenance plans--specifically ProParts on the airframe and PowerAdvantage on the Pratt & Whitney Canada engines. “We highly recommend ProAdvantage when we bring a Citation under management,” he says.

For Vidlak, the Excel has exceeded the company’s expectations. “If we could add more to the fleet, we would, but the market is very tight right now because so few are for sale,” he remarks. “People are holding onto them longer, which is among the reasons why their value remains so strong.”