Cessna has seen signs of business aviation resurgence through its aftermarket sales and support operations. Phil Nasskau speaks to Brad Thress, Senior Vice President of Jet Products
Business for Thress is good. He says that so far he expects revenues to be increase by about 10% over 2010. “We are feeling the recovery in the aftermarket [segment], which has been split pretty equally between servicing and parts sales. Both are up significantly in equal proportions.
“We see a solid recovery,” he says. He adds that average utilisation of the fleet is “sneaking up in a sustained way” compared with 2009, where the average utilisation was 0.66 hours per day per aircraft and that this figure is now at 0.71 hours per day per aircraft.
Part of Cessna’s place in the industry resurgence is bolstered by its efforts in modernisation. With around 6,000 Citations in the fleet, Thress says that the company is trying to bolster the flying fleet by keeping “aircraft up to speed and getting models into regulatory compliance such as RVSM and WAAS. We have already done a lot of work in that area,” he explains.
Other modernisation packages include glass cockpit retrofits for the legacy Citation 500 and Citation 650 series where Cessna has partnered with ISS&F for what it calls ADVIZ. Elsewhere it has patterned with Garmin to offer the G1000 STC and retrofit for original CJs which Thress estimates at around 400 aircraft, and adds WAAS certification.
Elsewhere it has certified the Primus Elite upgrade for the Citation X, which equips the X with Quartz Screens, allows video capability for ground link weather, charts and maps. While smaller retrofits include WAAS kits and Wi-Fi connectivity in the cabins, ADS-B for all Citation models, Controller Pilot Data Link Communications for all models and further autothrottle options.
Presently Cessna has certified WAAS solutions for the Sovereign, XL/XLS which offers a choice between single and dual Universal UNS-1EspW systems – the single unit features LPV monitoring, the Encore/Ultra with a Universal system, and choices between single and dual Collins FMS for the CJ1+, CJ2+ and CJ3.
And it is now working on obtaining WAAS certification for the CJ1 and CJ2 that the company says is projected to be available in early 2012. Meanwhile, it says that certification is pending for the Model 560 Citation V, Model 650 Citation III, VI and VII with various Universal systems.
On the Wi-Fi side it has certified systems for the X, Sovereign and XL/XLS/XLS+ aircraft with either Aircell ATG 4000 or with an Aircell ATG 5000 standalone HSD/Wi-Fi system that is only available for US aircraft. It is working on certifications for the CJ3 and Model 650 Citation III, VI and VII.
Thress sees modernisation and performance increases as a potential for growth. “We are investing in the future with systems like autothrottle for the Citation X. We are trying to give the legacy aircraft operators the opportunity to upgrade their aircraft,” he says.
And while, for Thress, it is difficult to “separate the why, what we know is that the more we offer the more we can sell. People are buying into our used fleet, and the Cessna used fleet is declining, which is positive for us as a lot of these aircraft may come in for pre-inspection and then have extra work done,” he says.
But it is not just maintenance and mods that have been the focus, with a decline in new aircraft deliveries Cessna has had extra capacity in its paint shop, and in the last six months Thress says approximately 20 customer aircraft have been in for a factory re-spray. “Of course we can offer interior refurbishments as well,” he says. “We will continue to offer avionics upgrades on legacy models, and we are looking to certify the IS&S system on other models – there are some models that still don’t have a WAAS solution.”
Away from the aftermarket options there has been a focus on improving its service offerings. Thress describes the company’s approach as two-fold. “Firstly taking the service to the customer and secondly globalisation, and what we are looking for in terms of a global footprint,” he says. He adds that the brand new service centre in Valencia is due to be operational some time during September 2012 with an initial capacity of 80,000 man hours per year and expects this to grow steadily to 150,000 man hours and covers around 80,000ft2.
Thress says the Valencia facility will be a significant step in helping to service the European fleet and will bolster its services at the only factory owned centre in Le Bourget. In fact, he says that technicians have already been hired from all over Europe, with B1 and B2 licenses, and have spent around six months in ground school learning the aircraft. They will now spend a year at facilities in the US actively working on the aircraft so that they already have experience when the new centre opens next year.
He reasons that when Valencia was chosen as the site the Iberian peninsula was seeing tremendous growth. “We do have a set of criteria that we use for selecting locations for service facilities. We like to choose a destination that customers want to go to, for example Orlando, Florida. It’s a busy service centre, even though there aren’t many Citations based there, it’s a desirable destination. Naturally we try and stay away from airports that are dominated by commercial carriers, but we also look for locations along busy corridors. Here, in the US, we benefit from the New York to Florida corridor, which is why our Greensboro facility stays busy with a drop in traffic on the East Coast.
“Valencia is near Mallorca and close to France’s south coast and these factors certainly helped. But we always make sure to look for a place where our technicians and management can afford to live,” he says.
Elsewhere in Europe Thress has plans to offer more service options out of Textron sister company Bell Helicopter’s Prague FBO. “We’ve been offering line maintenance from the FBO since last year, and now we want to grow this to a full service centre to be a piece of our European service network,” he says. Cessna is also sharing a parts facility in Amsterdam with Bell and, while Thress admits there was some work to be done to make sure it all came together, there are no real difficulties in sharing with Bell.
The focus of the facility in Amsterdam is for parts availability to its European customers, says Thress. “Currently, we have 3,000 part numbers in stock, originally designed for AOG situations. However we are growing this to a fully stocked store that will have in excess of 10,000 part numbers.
“We are working on a process to get the parts pre-cleared into the EU so that we can ship them faster. At the moment it can take us six hours. We’re not happy with this and we are working on fixing this.”
Expanding its global footprint is key for the future of the company. Thress says: “We are looking around the planet as to where we need to be in the future. In the past we would wait until we had a significant population [of aircraft] or a critical mass before establishing a service facility because we wanted it to be profitable.
“Now we’re taking a different approach. We are putting in service centres early in locations where we think the growth will happen. We’re also looking at mitigating some of the risk by setting up JVs with Bell. We know that initially there won’t be a great deal of customers but it will grow. We’ve already broken ground on the first Bell/Cessna service centre at Singapore’s Seletar airport.”
China is, of course, on Thress’ radar and he says that there may be further news on this at NBAA. However he did say that the company is looking at several cities in South Eastern China somewhere between Hong Kong and Shanghai. Thereafter he expects some activity in India, probably not until 2013. “But we are starting the ball rolling on the Indian base. It will be small compared to the US, but it will act as a toehold and grow as the fleet in India grows,” he explains.
In the Middle East, Thress is keen to point out the excellent relationship with Saudi Arabia’s Wallan Aviation and an extensive network of ASFs. However, he says: “We continue to rely on our partners in the Middle East to offer maintenance, but it is likely that we will build a facility with Bell somewhere in the more northern parts of the Middle East.”
Thress believes that opening up joint venture facilities with Bell makes perfect sense for emerging markets. “It makes sense capital wise and we can share a general manager as well as parts cribs, tool cribs and the overheads. This makes it particularly efficient in new markets. Of course we are just learning the ropes, but we would consider this as a strategy for moving forward,” he explains. At present Cessna has eight factory owned facilities in the US, two in Europe with the third under construction. Europe is also bolstered by a network of 13 ASFs.
A key point for Thress is Cessna’s Service Direct, which is essentially modified trucks that allow mobile maintenance outside the maintenance hangar. “We can do scheduled maintenance as well as AOG situations. We also have more trucks, and feel we make better use of them than our competitors,” he says. Presently there are 14 Mobile Service Units (MSU) in the US (based away from service centres) and two in Europe. There is one in France and one in Germany, however a third MSU is expected to come online sometime in September this year. Thress says that the company is considering basing the third European truck in Italy as it recently lost an ASF, due to the effects of the recession, and “we need to offer the Italian Citation fleet some service,” he says.
He hails the MSUs as being very successful and plans to add to the US fleet with another five trucks this year. He explains: “Those 14 trucks do about half of the business of a service centre. We charge normal rates, just adding a mileage rate for the truck. But the other advantage of these trucks is that it has helped us reconnect with people who had stopped coming to the factory service centres. It’s the same as happens with cars, as it gets older people stop coming to the factory for maintenance.
“Of course once our guy shows up at the hangar you get to know him, trust and of course you’re gonna call Bob and his truck from Cessna!” he says.
In addition to the MSUs, Thress says there are 16 service vehicles based at service centres that do the same thing as the bigger MSUs but on a much smaller scale. “An MSU has hydraulic mules, DC power, nitrogen, and almost everything you could want or need. The service vehicles are more for Line Replacement Units or limited inspection work. So between the two of them we about 30 road vehicles taking service to our customers,” he says.
Of course the ground network is supported with an aircraft that the company calls its ART (Air Response Team), and while it mostly flies domestically in the US, it sometimes heads over to Canada or Mexico. “We do two things with the aircraft. We take parts and/or technicians to an AOG aircraft, and if need be we can take the passengers onwards in the CJ3 too,” he says.
For truly remote areas Thress highlights the company’s Homeservice. A standard shipping container that features parts and tooling that is then loaded with everything needed to support an aircraft. Something the company has done to support a Sovereign in Egypt is to place the container beside the hangar for it to hold consumables. “We took some technicians to help them keep the Sovereign up and running,” he says.
Taking the service to the customer is something that Thress believes is becoming increasingly popular. “We need to grow the MSUs some more. At a guess I’d expect about eight more a year. If we are finishing this year with 20 trucks we would certainly be aiming at 25-30 for 2012. It’s almost like the windshield business: we come to you. We have to keep our eye on this because traditionally aviation runs behind the curve,” he concludes.