Cessna Aircraft is going forward with plans to develop its largest business jet to date, a move that positions its product line for the long term, the company said Thursday.
Over the next decade, the planemaker expects to take hundreds of orders for the large-cabin, intercontinental aircraft.
The project is a huge undertaking -- Cessna said it will invest $780 million to develop the plane -- and many details must still be decided, including where the aluminum plane will be assembled.
Cessna´s Wichita plants are already working at capacity to keep up with record orders and deliveries. The new jet will require the company to add space and equipment, Cessna chief executive Jack Pelton said.
"We´re right now working to look at what´s the best way to solve that," he said.
Cessna plans to make a decision in the next 60 to 90 days, Pelton said.
Meanwhile, the company is talking with Wichita, Sedgwick County and state officials about incentives, Pelton said.
"We have an obligation to make sure we´re prudent with our investment," he said.
Allen Bell, Wichita´s economic development director, said the city isn´t taking anything for granted.
"We believe that Wichita will be the best place to build this new aircraft and that we can find a way to make that happen," he said.
The work is vitally important to Wichita, said J.V. Lentell, chairman of the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition.
Lentell said he expects a proposal will be made to Cessna within the next couple of weeks.
"Hopefully we´ll come up with a proposal that gets the job done," he said. "We understand Cessna´s position of needing to maximize their own benefits."
Keeping and growing aviation jobs in Wichita must be a priority for the region and the state, Mayor Carl Brewer said in his State of the City address this month.
But other cities across the country and around the globe are trying to lure Wichita´s aviation firms.
"We´re certainly solicited by a lot of other states," Pelton said.
One place Pelton said the plane won´t be built is China. That´s where Cessna´s new light sport aircraft, the SkyCatcher, will be manufactured.
"That´s not going to be the case," Pelton said. "The strategy we have for this airplane is really to leverage our own strengths and capabilities and minimize the risk."
New jet is ´strategic step´
Thursday´s announcement of the program -- for now called the Large Cabin Citation for its stand-up cabin -- came the day after board members of Textron Inc., Cessna´s parent company, voted to move forward with the project.
The company lauded the large business jet as a strategic step in the long-term positioning of its product line.
"It´s a significant point in our history where we´re moving up the market and making our largest investment in the history of Cessna," Pelton said.
The larger jet will give Cessna an opportunity to retain customers who want a plane with more range or a larger cabin, something it hasn´t been able offer in the past.
"When their needs changed, we´d lose them," Pelton said.
Cessna unveiled a mock-up of the plane in 2006 during the National Business Aviation Association´s annual convention.
Since then, the company has been gathering feedback from potential customers on the plane´s performance and features and put together a business case.
It has taken requests for jets from customers who have put down refundable $100,000 deposits, Textron said.
Cessna now will work to convert those requests into binding contracts with nonrefundable $ 1 million deposits. It expects to have 70 firm orders by the end of 2008.
More details about the plane, including pricing and projected performance, will be released Feb. 6 at a news conference in Washington, D.C.
The announcement also will include the names of at least two suppliers, Pelton said.
"We are going to be buying more of the work outside than what we have traditionally done," Lewis Campbell, Textron´s chairman, said Thursday in a conference call.
Cessna has been in talks with Spirit AeroSystems about taking on work on the plane´s fuselage. Neither company is commenting on whether Spirit has been chosen for the work.