What are the three ‘success drivers’ that manufacturers must embrace and prioritise when developing the design and performance attributes of a corporate jet family?
First, and most importantly, corporate jets must be, as Mary Poppins said, “practically perfect in every way.” The people who own, fly and travel in them, be it for business, politics, or pleasure, demand no less.
Secondly, timing is everything. Suppliers must be first and best in market with a perfectly positioned aircraft, niche wise. This is not an industry for resting on laurels. Manufacturers must continually prove themselves in technology, comfort and lifetime operating costs – or in the words of Scott Ernest, President and CEO of Textron Aviation, they must “optimise the value proposition.”
Thirdly, it’s about safety and reliability. It’s hard-nosed bean counters who sign those cheques with multiple zeros on the end. They’re paying for machines that reward travellers with the world’s scarcest and most valuable commodity – time. They want to be sure their VIP cargo will be 100% safe, 100% of the time. They demand reliability and never want to be the one to “tie the bell around the cat’s neck” and say “the aircraft is U/S” [unserviceable] or take calls from VIPs stuck in Erehwon.
Contrary to what Hollywood projects, private jet travel is not about looking cool, although that doesn’t hurt. It is all about being cool. In business terms that means beating the competition to be number one. For pleasure travellers, setting one’s own pace, and discreetly avoiding the masses is to the fore.
These three critical factors are where Cessna shines. It has a range of jets, all clearly part of the same family. There are ten Citations on offer from the entry 340kt, 1,200nm range Mustang, through to the recently announced Hemisphere, with its 550kt plus cruise speed and 4,500nm range.
Textron Aviation, the owner of Cessna is also home to the Beechcraft and Hawker brands. Together they account for more than half of all general aviation aircraft flying. More than 6,750 Citations have been delivered since 1972. As the largest fleet of business jets, they have more than 31 million flight hours of experience. Textron is also home to Bell Helicopter.
The Latitude was announced in October 2011. The prototype first flew in February 2014. FAA certification was in June 2015, and 32 were delivered in the first year. There must be something about this model as NetJets in the US was reported on 26 June 2016 to have ordered or optioned as many as 200.
The Latitude is positioned at six in Cessna’s ten jet range. The table attached illustrates this by comparing key data with the popular M2 at place two, and X+ at place eight.
A focus on the performance figures gives a clue as to why the Latitude should be successful. It can fly high – above the airliners, and fast, carrying up to nine passengers, yet requires a take-off field length of just over a thousand metres. With an approach speed as low as 96kts, the Latitude requires just 756 metres to land. This is XSTOL for a mid-sized jet and will engender delight from Australian pilots looking to get their passengers quickly to destinations away from larger airports. It will surely turn competitors’ slide rule carrying engineers green with envy.
This short field capability really does matter in Australia where many business people, politicians and other travellers must regularly travel to remote places. And the range will get them anywhere in Australia, in one hop, and then off to New Zealand or South East Asia without having to worry about head winds.
Hawker Pacific and Textron Aviation, gave Aviation Trader the opportunity to fly in the brand-new Latitude demonstrator. Its ICAO Code is C68A and registration N613CL. The flight was from Ross Air at Adelaide’s main airport to Executive Airlines at Essendon.
Question: Did the real-world experience match the advertising hype?
Answer: Anyone flying in the Latitude is in for a superlative emitting surprise. The aircraft not only matches the advertising hype; it delights and wonders in a manner that way exceeds anything in the brochures or press releases.
The Latitude is no more a “normal” corporate jet than Mary Poppins was a normal nanny. At just US$16.5m this wide-body offering may be the best value for money, and best backed by service and support programs jet money can buy right now.
The question to and answer from the US based demonstration pilots sums up what it’s like to fly the Latitude. “Do you know you are in heaven and that for most pilots yours is the ultimate dream job?” The answer was a quick and without hesitation: “Yes indeed!” The G5000 equipped cockpit has great front and side views, plus all those essentials and extras that make pilots want to go to the “office” every day. The significance of the cockpit is not just the two-pilot delight but the situation awareness, performance, efficiency and redundancy (read safety) that come together in the package to meet those bean counter assurance tests referred to above.
Performance of the Latitude, given its size and load carrying capacity is stunning. Our IFR take-off clearance included a climb to 8,000 feet – the airplane took it literally. With just three passengers on board – perhaps not untypical of real world loads, and after an incredibly short take off run – which seemed similar in distance to a Cessna single engine piston, the airport looked like a postage stamp before the end of the runway. The pilots reported that the tower said something like “We think you just set the record for a climb out of Adelaide by a civilian aircraft.” The initial 6,000 fpm climb rate was soon reduced but we quickly hit our smooth and sunny cruise altitude, far above the clouds, at 41,000 feet.
At the other end of the journey the descent into Essendon above the harbour, multi-coloured high rise CBD glow, and ships unloading at the port, of the world’s most liveable city, seemed so slow and stable. It was as if passengers could get out and walk. The pilots must have been told to demonstrate the slow handling and approach speeds, and this they did well such that the max weight 756m landing distance was bettered easily on Essendon’s runway 35.
Peter Lang, who represents Cessna Citation Jets at Hawker Pacific, wisely points out that to make a sale multiple players at each customer must say yes. This includes the CEO, CFO, aviation department (or advisers), possibly the bankers, and most likely, the people who are going to travel regularly in the jet. This will often include family members.
All manufacturers use statistics to claim their aircraft’s performance figures, are the best, one way or another. With roughly similar overall performance – due to the laws of physics, what is the differentiator at this level, is the cabin. The Latitude’s cabin is summed up by the following observation during the flight from an experienced pilot and air traveller: “This is the first aircraft I have ever travelled in that I did not know I was in an aeroplane! It is so smooth, quiet, comfortable, luxurious and spacious it was like I was at home in my lounge, and oh, did I mention quiet?”
It was clear from this flight that “user experience” considerations and testing have crossed over from technology companies like Apple to the aviation sector. No longer are planes just performance wonders in an engineering sense. They must be totally oriented towards the passengers. Here are some of the elements that contributed to the “in my lounge” comment:
The stand-up cabin is tall and wide. There is a feeling of huge space, strangely way more than in airline business class. This is first class or better. The seats are huge, swivel every which way, have lots of room between them – there is no banging feet in this one. They even lie down to make large comfortable beds. The windows are many, giving great views. The external rear restroom is large with toilet, mirrored vanity and a door that makes putting on your make up, or dressing for arrival, a purely private affair. The near ground level like atmosphere at up to 45,000 feet and multiple air outlets completely scare away oxygen depleted jet lag. There are storage and refreshment faculties plus fold out tables and USB ports everywhere and passengers can download a Cessna entertainment app to their own devices giving them access to digital media, Wi-Fi, moving maps, radio, movies, mood lighting and more.
There is one more thing about the cabin, and its outside. The Latitude has a massive baggage locker – no need for a cabin cluttered by bags. That is not all that is on the left-hand side. Very cleverly, everything to do with passengers is on the left – like the automatic stairs. Everything service related is on the right, like the fuel outlet and access to aircraft systems. This makes for a “clean” getaway as passengers and their easily accessed baggage are ushered into the terminal or waiting car while refuelling and other servicing takes place out of sight, on the other side.
There are many reasons to say yes to the Latitude and no apparent ones to say no, not even the price. The Latitude is indeed “practically perfect in every way.” Owners, pilots and passengers will be as delighted and surprised with it as Mr Banks and the children were with Mary Poppins. It will, for sure, give everyone a “cheery disposition.”
About the author
Paul M Southwick is Melbourne based journalist, communications consultant, and pilot.