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Cessna bullish on Latitude market prospects

Cessna's two-year-old vision for the mid-size business jet sector is now beginning to take physical shape. The first structures for the mid-size Latitude test aircraft are now in production. Wind tunnel testing is complete on the super mid-size Longitude. And new ideas for the XLS+ and Sovereign are now on the table.

Terry Shriner, Cessna's business leader for the Latitude, Longitude and XLS+, does not seem concerned about the slow pace of market recovery in one of the hardest hit segments of the business jet market. Instead, Cessna is focused on delivering the Latitude on time in 2015.

"If I had this airplane today I could sell a bunch of them," Shriner says. "I think the market's receptive today. I think it will be that much more improved as we get into 2014."

Helping the Latitude's reception in the current market is the demise of one key competitor. Beechcraft has closed production of the Hawker business jet line, including the venerable 900XP. Both companies and private owners of the 900XP have inquired about replacing their jets in 2 to 2.5 years, he says.

For the Latitude programme, Cessna is building two ground test articles and three flight test aircraft. The Latitude shares the wing, tail and engine structure with the proven Sovereign, so static and fatigue testing will be focused on the larger fuselage, Shriner says.

The first flight test prototype for the Latitude is scheduled to reach the power-on milestone in the fourth quarter and begin a roughly one-year flight certification campaign in the first quarter of 2014.

Meanwhile, Cessna is continuing to refine the design and configuration of the larger Longitude, and the details will be "locked down" in mid-year, he says. The $26 million Longitude offers 4,000nm range and introduces several new technologies, including fly-by-wire flight controls in the rudder and spoilers.

The entrance of the Latitude and Longitude crowd a market segment that Cessna already occupies with the Citation XLS+, Sovereign and X. But the company sees the new products as complimentary to the old. Asked, in particular, if Cessna would consider a Garmin 5000 avionics suite for the XLS+, Shriner did not rule out the possibility.

"I am looking at all sorts of things," Shriner says. "We're looking a things we can do. I think that segment certainly has much longer life in it."

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