Innovation really does count

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 Textron VP of Sales and Marketing Kriya Shortt on how the company’s forging ahead on multiple fronts

Competing with a boatload of testosterone driven salesmen in one of the world’s most intense, high powered markets, has never been much of a problem for Textron’s VP of sales and marketing, Kriya Shortt. Her 20 years with Cessna and, for the last five years, with Textron Aviation, have been a textbook “onwards-and-upwards” story.

Shortt modestly puts her success down to “great mentoring, a great team and a great company” but hey, loads of folk get mentoring and never get beyond middle management, where they lurk as potential cannon fodder the next time their organisation slims down in the face of a dip in the business cycle.

When EVA spoke to Shortt the Textron jet that is ferrying her and her team about Europe had just touched down in Paris, which is about as good a place as any to be at lunch time. After a number of meetings in recent days with a variety of European and UK operators Shortt was well placed to form an opinion on how Brexit is being viewed by Textron’s operator and customer base.

“Generally speaking, there was wide agreement that while there might be some changes, the fundamental fact is that trade between the UK and Europe will go on. Moreover, the predominant view seems to be that right now, Brexit is not having a discernible impact on aircraft movements or the demand for charter in Europe,” Shortt says.

Of itself, that has to be positive news. Moreover, Textron’s own sales for the first 6 months of 2016 are buoyant. This is despite the fact that GAMA has reported a year-on-year drop of some 10% in the sale of new aircraft for the first half of 2016.

Shortt points out that having sold 16 Citation Latitudes during the period from the aircraft achieving certification on 5 June, to the end of December 2015, Textron’s sales team has racked up another 16 Latitude sales through the end of Q2 2016 – a tremendous feat in a market that is looking fairly bleak for the competition.

“The way I see it, 2008 was very tough for the industry, but if you look at Textron Aviation, for us we are on a very solid path, as is reflected by our year-over-year and quarter-over-quarter results. We have reported continual incremental sales and revenue growth,” she notes.

The driving factor behind this success, she says, is Textron’s discipline around product innovation. “New and better” sells product in this and most other markets. “We are very proud of our track record in bringing new, very high quality models to market faster than any of our competitors. With the Latitude, it took us just three and a half years from the initial announcement at NBAA 2011, to certification in June 2015,” Shortt remarks.

Not only have retail buyers reacted well to the Latitude, Netjets has given the Latitude a resounding thumbs up. It took delivery of its first Latitude on 28 June this year and promptly added a further 50 options to the record order for 150 Latitudes it had placed with Textron in 2012. Shortt points out that the delivery of aircraft against this huge order will be paced in such a way as to allow Textron to continue to fulfil orders for retail customers and operators at the same time, so everyone will get a fair crack at getting their delivery met in a reasonable time frame.

At the time of writing Textron Aviation was scheduled to announce its third quarter results on 21st October, at which point the company’s sales performance to date will be even clearer. However, Shortt reckons that so far there is much for the company to be delighted about as far as the market’s reception of the new jet is concerned. The momentum gained so far should be continued when the Longitude achieves certification around the end of 2017.

The one slight hiccup concerning the Latitude’s success to date is probably the fact that competition from Embraer, which appears to have deliberately targeted the Latitude with its Legacy 450 and Legacy 500 jets, has forced Textron to lower its anticipated launch price.

Textron CEO Scott Donnelly conceded during his Q2 results briefing with analysts that “a competitor’s” pricing manoeuvres had forced the price drop. The Latitude has a superior price performance to the Legacy 450, which is a “fair” competitor to the Latitude, but is a tad outgunned in range and some features by the Legacy 500, which is a larger jet and thus should be at a significantly different price point. Donnelly pointed out that the arrival of the Longitude will be more than enough to restore the balance, since it will significantly outgun the Legacy 500 – though, once again, he did not actually mention Embraer by name. However, the market will not mind in the slightest that competitive pressures are presenting potential Latitude buyers with a slightly lower price tag. That, after all, is what competition is supposed to achieve – superior quality at a cheaper price. Short adds that during the third quarter of 2015 and onwards Textron was able to firm up the Latitude pricing and is now able to hold its price, which helps to protect customer residuals.

“We think we are putting the Latitude into a space that needs new technology. It is a highly efficient model with very desirable features, with technology that customers want and need. It is expanding the envelope in terms of the total package that customers are getting, and a price point that is very attractive both in terms of the cost of acquisition and life cycle running costs,” Shortt added.

Beyond the Longitude, of course, there is the large-cabin Hemisphere, announced at NBAA 2015. This is a 4,500 nautical mile, multi-zone cabin and takes Textron into the large-cabin space for the first time. First flight should take place in 2019, with delivery into service the following year. The anticipated price tag is around $35 million.

Textron is also doing extremely well in the light jet segment. Shortt says that the company is very excited by the continued push by EASA to allow single-engine turboprop aircraft to be used for charter flights. “We have the Caravan available right now, of course, with a very attractive profile for the light aircraft charter market. But we also have our new single-engine turboprop, the Denali coming to market and we expect that to be very well received since it will compete very well against the PC12,” Shortt notes.

The Denali is scheduled for its first flight in 2018. A cabin mock-up of the new turboprop went on display at EAA AirVenture, on 25 July. It comes with a standard six-seat configuration but can seat nine, with a belt seat in the aft-situated lav (not a popular seat with most charter buyers, but available at a push, if the operator chooses that particular configuration and you absolutely do want to take a plane-full of buddies with you).

The latest spec on the Denali is that it will have a cruise speed of 285 knots with a full fuel load of 1,100 pounds, and will fly 1,600 nautical miles at its cruise setting. Looked at in the context of Europe, that range will join an awful lot of city pairs, so assuming the air taxi business really does get going in Europe, the Denali looks like being a very popular addition to any light aircraft charter company’s fleet.

“We’re anticipating first deliveries in 2019 and the cabin will be best-in-class. It will have a true flat floor and will be wider than the PC-12. It will be an ideal charter aircraft, given EASA’s rule change, since there will be plenty of space for passengers to take on luggage like diving equipment and bicycles. From the pilot’s standpoint it will be the first single-engine turboprop with full FADEC, and it will have a cargo door, which is a huge plus for operators,” Shortt comments.

Textron makes a point of doing its own interiors and Shortt points out that the display mock-up for the Hemisphere, which will be at NBAA this year, will be a clear demonstration of the company’s commitment to providing the highest quality cabin experience. “On top of great interior designs, we will have the lowest cabin altitude in the class. The Hemisphere will be a true travelling office or an extension of the owner’s home,” she notes.”