The Next Generation Piston (NGP) under development by Cessna will not be scuppered if the purchase of Columbia Aircraft, manufacturer of the 350 and 400 high-performance piston singles, is sealed, says Cessna chief executive Jack Pelton.

He says the Columbia aircraft family will become "a natural addition to our product line, positioned above our current line of single-engine piston aircraft and the NGP".

Cessna signed a letter of intent in September to acquire bankrupt Columbia following months of discussions, Pelton says, which began in April 2006. Columbia has submitted a motion with the bankruptcy court seeking approval of the sale to Cessna and establishing procedures that enable other potential buyers to submit offers and bid at an auction to be held next month.

The sale to Cessna is contingent upon the approval of the bankruptcy court. If granted, Pelton plans to boost production to 250 aircraft a year at Columbia's Bend, Oregon facility, where "the intent right now is to keep the workforce busy, keep them engaged so we can hit the ground running".

NGP development has been kept largely under wraps since the aircraft made its first appearance in July 2006. The proof of concept (POC) aircraft has chalked up more than 180 flying hours in 15 months, Cessna says, adding: "We are in the process of working the configuration so we would have the potential of multiple powerplants, and we continue to study features and materials."

The POC incorporates a higher percentage of composite materials than Cessna's traditional aircraft and Cessna says no performance data or specifications will be released until a launch decision is made.

However, Pelton says: "The company is investing about 6% of its revenue in research and development, so I can assure you that there will be a whole portfolio of new aircraft we will introduce in the coming years when it's appropriate."

Cessna has launched a diesel engine version of its 172S Skyhawk light single powered by Thielert Aircraft Engines 160hp (120kW) Centurion 2.0. "The Skyhawk is already the best-selling, most-flown aircraft ever with more than 43,000 delivered," says Cessna. "This option further expands the market due to the worldwide availability of Jet-A fuel."

Deliveries are set to begin in the middle of next year, while the engine is already available as a retrofit. The Skyhawk TD will be targeted at owner-flyers and special mission operations including flight training, forestry patrol, and law enforcement.