Cessna is the world’s most prolific aircraft manufacturer and in Paris with an array of products on show. Jack Pelton, president and chief executive talks to Jeffrey Decker about the company’s plans.
Q You've said Cessna is working harder to grow in Europe, India and China. What's the plan?
We've put an individual salesman office in Dubai. Along with that individual we have a field service rep to support sales in that region, along with a Cessna Finance Company representative.
We're also looking at how we support it with service. We're starting to foster some alliances with companies to provide authorised Cessna service in those geographical regions.
That's kind of phase two, and then phase three would be to put our own company-owned footprint in those areas (service centres).
I wouldn't see that happening for probably another five to 10 years. It's going to take some critical mass of owners to warrant that kind of investment.
Q Are you as committed to dominating the light jet market as you've said you're committed to being on top of the single piston market?
I don't think I'd say “dominate.' I could get in trouble with the SEC for saying “dominate”. But we have, historically, in the light and light mid-size jets, held a 52% market share, and we are continuing to make the investments to maintain or exceed that market share.
We are not diluting our resources on other projects and giving away any ground in that light size.
Q Are you certain you'll go forward with the Next Generation Piston?
It's going to evolve as we continue to do the design, but we will do something new in the single-engine market.
That's very important. It'll be a family of airplanes.
Q Customer demand is clearly there for your LSA proof of concept, yet the first quarter 2007 deadline you set to either enter the light sport market or not has passed without a decision. Why?
We're feeling more and more comfortable that we're getting the design solidified. Now we're focusing on how to get it manufactured to be as cost-efficient as we can, and we hope to have that answer soon. As a company, we aren't going to say “yes” until we're able to offer actual orders guaranteeing a certain price and a certain delivery.
Q You've been releasing a new model every year. Is there a time to relax?
From a philosophical standpoint, what our corporation would like to do, we'd like to announce an airplane every year. That would be ideal. But so much of it depends on market demand and if there's enough new technology to be able to offer something compelling on an annual basis.
Q Do you ever pressure engine manufacturers to offer innovative new sorts of engines?
We work with them constantly, trying to help define for them where we think they should be going with their engine technology. Both from an environmental perspective – we think that's critically important in terms of emissions and noise – and fuel specifics.
The engine is also a giant accessory pad for running pumps and hydraulics and electrical units, and we're trying to work with them to be able to have engines that can run more electrical power for us. So we have a huge influence on their designs and where they are taking their technology.
Q Are you satisfied with the R&D programmes of engine manufacturers?
I would say that the R&D at the lower thrust levels has been very, very good. The PW600 has come online recently. Williams continues to be very innovative with what they're doing with their engines.
Q Is Cessna going to develop a jet between the Caravan and the Mustang?
We've looked at that for a long time. There needs to be a technology breakthrough. Today, from an engine standpoint, there's only a [Pratt & Whitney Canada] PT6.
Unless somebody can come up with a lower-cost, more-efficient engine in that category, it's tough to get the price point of that product where it needs to be. We're struggling in being able to find the right technologies to hit a price point that's somewhere less than $2 million.
Q Would Citation X customers want the large-cabin concept or is it meant for others?
We believe that the XLS customers, the Sovereign customers and the X buyers, a certain percentage of them will want to migrate to the larger cabin airplane, and that's based on them telling us that they're interested. It would be our current largest jet that we produce and I think it would remain there for the foreseeable future, as far as cabin diameter.
Q Are customers asking for more cubic volume and more seats?
If they want longer range or a wider cabin, they have to leave our family to get that airplane... A percentage of our customers, as their business grows, their needs grow or their travel demands grow, they just would like something that's a little bit bigger.
Q Are these development decisions up to you or the Textron board?
Internally, I make the decisions. They go to the Textron board for funding, and for the funding decision you have to have a complete business case. It's a very amiable situation. They would be the first ones to tell you “I'd like to do an airplane every year”. It's a great situation.
Q Generally, how much autonomy do you have?
I feel I have complete autonomy. The check and balance in the system is that I do need approval to spend.
Q Showing the LSA and NGP proof-of-concepts early is a new move for Cessna. Would you say you've brought more openness to the company?
I'd like to think so. The reasons for doing that, also, were to kind of stoke the innovation fires internally. If we're going to show a concept, let's get committed to it and find a way to make it work. I think that helps promote the ability to innovate – take some risks. If they don't work out, that's okay.
The future for us in our customers' eyes is going to be even brighter because we're getting more focused on making sure we're ultra-responsive to what their needs are with their current products, and developing and designing the new products they're asking for.