The Cessna Aircraft Company is an airplane manufacturing corporation headquartered in Wichita, Kansas, USA. Their main products are general aviation aircraft. Although they are the most well-known for their small, piston-powered aircraft, they also produce business jets. The company is a subsidiary of the U.S. conglomerate Textron.
The company traces its history to June 1911, when Clyde Cessna, a farmer in Rago, Kansas, built a wood-and-fabric plane and became the first person to build and fly an aircraft between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains.
Clyde Cessna started his aircraft ventures in Enid, Oklahoma, testing many of his early planes on the salt flats. When bankers in Enid refused to lend him more money to build his planes, he moved to Wichita.
In 1924, Cessna partnered with Lloyd C. Stearman and Walter H. Beech to form the Travel Air, Inc., a biplane manufacturing firm. This company was based in Wichita. In 1927, Clyde Cessna left Travel Air and formed his own company, the Cessna Aircraft Company. Instead of producing biplanes, he instead decided to focus on building monoplanes. The first flew on August 13, 1927.
Cessna Aircraft Company closed its doors from 1932 until 1934 due to the state of the economy. In 1934, Dwane Wallace, with the help of his brother Dwight, took control of the company and began the process of building it into what would become a global success.
After World War II, Cessna created the 170, which, along with later models (notably the 172), became the most widely produced light aircraft in history. Cessna's advertising boasts that it has delivered more aircraft than any other company, over 190,000 by the end of 2008.
In 1972 Cessna became the first aircraft manufacturer in the world to build 100,000 aircraft. The 100,000th aircraft was one of 24 Cessnas of various models displayed at Transpo 72.
In 1985 Cessna was bought by General Dynamics Corporation and in 1986 production of piston-engine aircraft was suspended. General Dynamics cited product liability as the cause. The then-CEO Russ Meyer said that production would resume if a more favorable product liability environment developed. In 1992, Textron Inc. bought Cessna and, after passage of the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994, resumed production of the piston-engine 172, 182, and 206 designs.
On 27 November, 2007, Textron announced that Cessna had purchased the bankrupt Columbia Aircraft company for US$26.4M and would continue production of the Columbia 350 and 400 as the Cessna 350 and Cessna 400 at the Columbia factory in Bend, Oregon. There had been speculation that the acquisition of the Columbia line would spell the end of the Cessna NGP project, but on September 26, 2007, Cessna Vice President for Sales, Roger Whyte, confirmed that development of the NGP project will continue, unaffected by the purchase of Columbia.
Since November 2007, the company has been involved in a public controversy regarding the contracting of production of the Cessna 162 SkyCatcher to the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation of the People's Republic of China.
Currently, Cessna produces 2-, 4- and 6-place single-engine airplanes, utility turboprops, and business jets.
Chinese production controversy
On 27 November 2007, Cessna announced the new Cessna 162 would be made in the People's Republic of China by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation, which is a subsidiary of China Aviation Industry Corporation I (AVIC I), a Chinese government-owned consortium of aircraft manufacturers. By manufacturing the aircraft in China, Cessna reports it saved USD$71,000 in production costs per aircraft, or about 40% of the cost. A second reason cited for moving production to Shenyang Aircraft Corporation was Cessna has no plant capacity available in the USA.
Cessna received a high degree of negative feedback from 162 customers and potential customers regarding this decision. Complaints centered around the recent problems with Chinese production of other consumer products, China's human rights record, exporting of jobs, and China's less than friendly political relationship with the USA. The backlash surprised Cessna and resulted in a company public relations campaign to try to explain the decision from a business perspective and assure customers that quality of the aircraft will not be compromised. The reaction to the explanations and assurances has been overwhelmingly negative, although a small number of customers have applauded the production in China.
In early 2009 the company attracted further criticism for continuing plans to build the 162 in China while laying off large numbers of workers in the USA.
2008 economic crisis
On 4 November, 2008, Cessna's parent company, Textron, indicated that Citation production would be reduced from the original 2009 target of 535 "due to continued softening in the global economic environment" and that this would result in an undetermined number of lay-offs at Cessna.
On 8 November 2008, at the AOPA Expo, CEO Jack Pelton indicated that while Cessna sales of aircraft to individual buyers have fallen that piston and turboprop sales to business have not. "While the economic slowdown has created a difficult business environment, we are encouraged by brisk activity from new and existing propeller fleet operators placing almost 200 orders for 2009 production aircraft," Pelton stated.
On 13 November 2008, Cessna announced that a total of 665 jobs would be cut at its Wichita and Bend, Oregon plants starting in January 2009. The Cessna factory at Independence, Kansas which builds the Cessna piston-engined aircraft and the Cessna Mustang, was not forcast to see any lay-offs, but one third of the workforce at the former Columbia Aircraft facility in Bend was laid off. This included 165 of the 460 employees who built the Cessna 350 and 400. The remaining 500 jobs were eliminated at the main Cessna Wichita plant.
In January 2009 the company announced 2,000 additional layoffs, bringing the total to 4,600. The job cuts included 120 at the Bend, Oregon facility reducing the plant that builds the Cessna 350 and 400 to fewer than half the number of workers that it had when Cessna bought it. Other cuts included 200 at the Independence, Kansas plant that builds the single engined Cessnas and the Mustang, reducing that facility to 1,300 workers.
On 29 April 2009 the company announced that it was suspending the Citation Columbus program and closing the Bend, Oregon facility where the Cessna 350 and 400 are built. The Columbus program may be restarted once economic conditions improve. The 350 and 400 production line will be moved to Kansas. The company indicated that it will lay off 1,600 more workers, including the remaining 150 employees at the Bend plant and up to 700 workers from the Columbus program.
In early June 2009 Cessna announced that it would lay-off an additional 700 salaried employees, bringing the total number of lay-offs to 7600 or more than half the employees.
Cessna has always had an active marketing department. This was especially notable during the 1950s and 1960s. During this period, the marketing department followed the lead of Detroit automobile manufacturers and came up with many marketing slogans and buzzwords to describe Cessna’s product line in an attempt to place their products ahead of the competition.
Other manufacturers and the aviation press widely ridiculed and spoofed many of these marketing terms but between Cessna’s designers producing a product the flying public wanted and the work of the marketing department, Cessna built and sold more aircraft than any other manufacturer during the boom years of the 1960s and 1970s.
Cessna marketing buzzwords included:
Published - July 2009
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