Cessna Aircraft Co. will kick off the National Business Aviation Association’s 65th annual conference in Orlando next week with a product announcement and other news.
“We have a lot going on,” said Michael Thacker, senior vice president of engineering at Cessna, where he’s spent the past 20 years. “There’s always more to come.”
The product will be on display in Orlando with other Cessna aircraft. It also will be one of Cessna’s long list of development projects.
Investing in product development is key to success, Thacker said. If one waits until the economy is going well and the overall market for business jets improves to innovate, “you’re already too late,” Thacker said.
“You have to be ahead of the market,” he said.
Today’s market remains spotty for business jet sales.
“There’s still a bit of uncertainty in the marketplace,” and in the economy, Thacker said.
Still, order cancellations continue to decline, and the company is confident that trend will continue, Scott Donnelly, chairman and CEO of Textron, Cessna’s parent company, told analysts in a conference call last week.
While the past three months were tough for sales, Donnelly expects more normal order activity in the fourth quarter.
He said about two-thirds of deliveries for the quarter were in the U.S., and one-third were international.
That’s different from the 60 percent/40 percent trend of the past few quarters, he said.
When it comes to deliveries, Donnelly expects 2013 to be “very much a repeat of the 2012 market.”
Cessna is aggressively working for sales and finding customers, Thacker said.
Customers are enthusiastic about new products and about upgrading the airplanes they fly, Thacker said, although that is tempered by uncertainty.
Cessna has more products in development than ever before, he said.
For example, the company is working on product upgrades in its Citation M2, a variant of its out-of-production CJ1, and the Citation Ten. It also has new products in production, including the Citation Latitude and the Citation Longitude, its longest-range airplane to date.
It also is offering a Cessna 182 powered by jet fuel instead of 100 low-lead aviation gas.
And production of the Cessna Corvalis, which had stopped, is under way again, with deliveries scheduled to resume in early 2013.
In addition, “there are a number of things in the pipeline that have not yet been announced,” Thacker said.
The biggest challenge is managing all the work.
“It’s a balancing act across all these projects,” Thacker said. “We have a lot on our plate.”
For Thacker, the most fun part of his job is watching a customer take delivery of an airplane and “seeing them fly away happy.”