Cessna flight ops—huge, diverse and tasked with many different missions

Company pilots flew more than 21,000 hrs in 2010 to accomplish flight test ops, demos and exec transportation.

By Mike Potts
Contributing Writer

Gathered in Cessna's flight department hangar are just some of the 156 people who make up the company's flight department.

Like most successful major corporations in the US, Cessna operates a flight department to provide business transportation for its senior executives. Because its primary business activity lies in designing, testing, building and selling airplanes, the Cessna flight department is much larger and more complex than a typical corporate flight operation.

By any typical standard, the Cessna department is huge—with 156 employees generating operations totaling 21,100 flight hours last year. Because the industry is in a slump right now, operations and employment are both off considerably from 2 years ago when the department had 250 employees and logged 40,000 flight hours.

Will Dirks is VP flight ops with responsibility for overall flight operations as well as customer delivery and customer training for single-engine products. Dirks started at Cessna in aircraft sales in 1979 and became a Citation demonstration pilot in 1989. He served as chief pilot and dir of flight ops before being promoted to his current position. He has more than 6000 flight hours, holds an ATP, and is type rated in 6 models of the Citation.

The department performs 4 primary functions—transportation, marketing demonstration, production flight test and engineering flight test.

Transportation and marketing demonstration functions are combined into a single group, headed by Dir Dave Nolte. Because about 33% of the group's operations are international, there is a chief pilot for operations in North and South America—Chris Provencio—and another for operations in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Pacific Basin—John Esping.

Senior VP of Product Engineering David Brant has overall responsibility for the Cessna flight department.

The group has 28 line pilots and 5 management pilots. They are supported by 2 ops managers—Ross Schoneboom with responsibility for flight scheduling, maintenance and facilities, and Steve Workman who covers training and logistics.

In addition, the department has 4 scheduler/dispatchers, a maintenance supervisor and a line service attendant. As necessary, flight­crews can be augmented by the department's senior leaders, or pilots drawn from the company's pilot development program, the Cessna approved pilot roster or other departments in the flight operation.

Primary missions for the group include executive and pilot demonstrations—they are different—for the Citation series, Caravan demos, company air transportation requirements and customer support. Support activities include transporting technicians, parts and equipment to support AOG situations, and could involve providing transportation.

VP Flight Operations Will Dirks has day-to-day responsibility for flight department operations.

Secondary missions include providing marketing support in the form of static displays and air shows, and conducting photo shoots, as well as product support through engineering and maintenance flights and conducting in­house training.

The demo/transportation fleet typically consists of 15–25 aircraft, depending on market conditions and demand. Demo flying tends to be seasonal, with most activity in the spring and fall. Aircraft include 1 or 2 examples of each of the 7 Citation models currently in production, plus 3 Citation Mustang demonstrators, including 1 based in Europe, and 3–5 Caravans, including 1 based in Europe.

In the department's transportation role, Caravans are used typically for short-range shuttle operations and as platforms for photo flights. Citation Encore+ or XLS models are used for medium-range flights in the 500 to 700-nm range, and a Citation X for senior executive transportation or long-range flights.

Since 1927 Cessna has built nearly 200,000 airplanes

(L) During the early severe years of the Great Depression, Clyde Cessna and his engineer son Eldon built a race plane called the CR3. (C) Clyde Cessna. (R) Cessna 172 assembly line.

It was 1927 when Clyde Cessna decided to start his own aircraft company in Wichita KS. His idea for a cantilever high-wing monoplane was a good one, but his timing wasn't. The Great Depression scuttled the market for light aircraft just as Cessna was getting under way, and by 1932 the Cessna Aircraft Company was closed.

In 1934, with the economy starting to pick up again, Cessna's nephew Dwane Wallace restarted the company. Its first product was the C165 Airmaster. The onset of WWII created an enormous de­mand for aircraft and secured the future of Cessna Aircraft as well as numerous other US aircraft manufacturers.

After the war, Cessna launched a series of light single and twin-engine airplanes, and soon established itself as the consistent market leader in piston-powered personal and business aircraft. By 1972 the company had built 100,000 aircraft—more than any other manufacturer in the world.

In 1969 Cessna entered the newly developing business jet market with its Citation series, which would soon come to be the world's best-selling business jets. In the early 1980s, even as the Citation was growing in popularity, the piston aircraft market was collapsing. In 1986 Cessna ceased building piston-powered products to concentrate on turbine sales. A year earlier Cessna had been acquired by General Dynamics, which would sell it to Textron in 1992.

Cessna resumed piston airplane production in 1995 in a new factory at IDP (Independence KS) after new legislation limiting product liability exposure came into effect.

Today Cessna is headquartered at ICT (Mid-Continent, Wichita KS), where its facilities occupy most of the east side of the airport. Last year the company delivered 289 Citation-series jets, 97 Caravan-series turboprops and 354 pis­ton-powered airplanes worth more than $2.45 billion.


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