On the face of it, the assertion that introducing a nearly $3 million twin-jet aircraft shortly before the start of the nation’s worst recession in 80 years would be a brilliant marketing move is absurd. But it was.
Of course, executives at Cessna didn’t know a crash was coming five or six years ago when they launched the R&D program that would result in the Citation Mustang 510 ’s (aka Mustang) 2007 deployment. Likewise, they probably couldn’t tell you what decisions they might have made differently if they had known that a global economic wind shear was waiting just beyond the end of the aircraft’s development schedule.
Perhaps fortunately, the brass at Cessna who green-lighted the Mustang project didn’t — couldn’t — foresee the unfriendly economic skies looming four or five years in the future. Not being crystal-ball gazers, they pushed full-speed ahead in an attempt to win first “street-legal-VLJ” bragging rights over the Eclipse 500. Such is the microdot-sized synopsis of the Mustang, certified for unlimited operation in 60 countries, and already in service in many of them.
By the time this appears on AirTaxiFlights.com more than 250 Mustangs will have been delivered — a very impressive number indeed. Impressive because we interviewed Cessna program manager David Dell (Cessna Mustang Covers The Globe) right around the aircraft’s first birthday and he told us Cessna had already delivered 55 — an average of just a bit more than one per week in the 12 pre-recession months after its launch.
Doing the really tough math (250 minus 55, duh), we find that Cessna has delivered 195 Mustangs between April 2008 and November 2009 … let’s see … that’s roughly 2.3 per week in the teeth of what many economists believe has been much more of a depression than a recession.
To make a way-over-the-top understatement, that ain’t too shabby a record. Particularly in a general aviation market that saw aircraft sales through the first three quarters of 2009 plummet almost 50 percent ( 48.9% to be exact, according to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association) below those of the same period in 2008. (Which, with new aircraft deliveries down more than 7 percent from 2007, was hardly a banner year itself.)
How well has the world’s first (lest we forget it, Cessna did win those aforementioned bragging rights) VLJ really been doing? Well enough for Forbes Magazine to headline a September article Cessna’s Mustang Refutes The Decline Of Capitalism.
“New Mustangs go out the door for $2.8 million,” Forbes’ Rich Karlgaard wrote. “In a terrible year for new jet sales, the entry-level Mustang has been an outlier.”
While there are numerous definitions, ranging from the very obscure to the even more obscure, for the word “outlier,” we conjecture Forbes is using it to infer “an extreme deviation from the mean.” In other words, surmising that our speculation is correct, Forbes is rather tortuously saying that the Mustang’s reasonably robust sales make it a standout in the general aviation field at a time when most other recreational and business aircraft, including Cessna’s non-Mustang models, are selling poorly.
So what makes the Mustang such an outlier? To start with, down at the baseline, it’s a great airplane to fly and a stellar performer at the gas pump.
“The Mustang feels like a small business jet, whereas the Eclipse felt like a small twin piston airplane,” Karlgaard reported after taking one for a spin around the block. “It is a very easy plane to fly, yet it is as stable as a larger jet … if the Mustang flies with a full cabin [six people including pilot(s) and passengers], its fuel efficiency at 41,000 feet rivals a Honda Accord with a solo driver at 70mph.”
There’s also the matter of genetics. For more than 80 years, Cessna has bringing military, pleasure and corporate aircraft to market with a minimal amount of fuss, bother and “redos” and a maximum amount of commercial success. Rooted in this environment the Mustang, pardon the pun, flew through its research, development, conforming prototype and certification stages on time and within budget and arrived in its new owners’ hangers fully equipped with all the avionics, communications, comfort and convenience goodies Cessna had promised them.
One final factor. Good times or bad, boom or bust, bull market or bear, inflation, deflation or stagnation, America and its sadly diminished industrial base of core manufacturers now lives, for better or worse, in a global economy.
Figuratively speaking, the Mustang’s designers didn’t start with the legendary clean sheet of paper. What they started with was a sheet of paper with the words “world aircraft” written on it in huge, underlined letters. Given this mandate, it’s no surprise that the first Mustangs to go into air taxi service were based in London. Or that CEO Haytham Azhari of Open Sky Aviation, which operates Mustangs between Beruit, Lebanon’s Rafic Hariri Airport and fields in Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, called the aircraft “excellently suited to the Middle East.”
As “excellently suited” for operations in London and Lebanon as it is for those in L.A. and Louisville, it’s no surprise that the Mustang is the only business aircraft in the Cessna line with a roughly 50-50 ratio of domestic to off-shore sales. Cessna’s other models don’t have nearly as high a percentage of foreign sales in their order books, which is undoubtedly a major reason why those books are relatively lean while the Mustang’s order book is quite well nourished considering today’s economic climate.
Which all goes to prove at least one old adage, “build a better three-million-dollar mousetrap and the whole wide world will beat a path to your door.”