Wednesday 23 July 2014
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The Pilatus PC-24 versus the Cessna Citation CJ4 and the Embraer Phenom 300

How does the new Pilatus PC-24 compare to its main competitors in the struggling light jet market?
The ability to land on dirt, grass, snow or gravel runways will set the PC-24 apart from other jets.

The ability to land on dirt, grass, snow or gravel runways will set the PC-24 apart from other jets.

First, the disclaimer: “A paper aircraft can always beat a real aircraft when you compare them,” says the head of one aircraft manufacturer. “Until an aircraft is flying, it is unfair to compare it with an aircraft that is still being designed.”

He is right. But in reality this is exactly what potential aircraft buyers do. Pilatus will not start taking orders for its PC-24 until 2014 and does not expect to deliver the first aircraft to a customer until early 2017. But if you are looking at buying a new light jet, you should look at the PC-24. Even if you plan to take delivery well before 2017 the PC-24 could impact the resale value of your own aircraft.

Embraer delivered the first Phenom in 2010 and Cessna did the same with the CJ4 in 2011. The PC-24 will not become an aircraft until the first flight which is scheduled for the end of 2014.

But if Pilatus can match their estimated performance of the PC-24 it will be a real contender in the already competitive light jet category.

Price

Pilatus PC-24: $8.9 million (2017)
Phenom 300: $8.7 million (2013)
Cessna CJ4: $9.05 million (2013)
Source: Manufacturers/Corporate Jet Investor

Pilatus says the PC-24 will cost around $8.9 million in 2017 making it slightly cheaper than the likely list price of the Phenom 300 and CJ4 in four years’ time. And this is without launch customer discounts.

However, this is a competitive market place and customers have been getting light jets for less than list price. Cessna is cutting production of Citation Jets – including the CJ4 – due to lack of demand and buyers pushing for better deals.

In an earnings call in April 2013, Scott Donnelly, chairman and CEO of Textron, said: “In order for transactions to happen, there are expectations of lower and lower price. And I get to a point here where we’re not going to play that game anymore, so we’re going to take some of the capacity out. Because we’re not going to do deals at price levels that people seem to think that our level is.”

Cabin

Pilatus PC24: 501 cubic feet
Citation CJ4: 311 cubic feet

Phenom 300: 225 cubic feet
Source: Manufacturers/Corporate Jet Investor

The Pilatus is a big aircraft – and it surprised many people at EBACE that it is quite so big – but it is worth noting that this looks to include 90 cubic feet of internal baggage space.

The PC-24 is being classed as a super versatile jet, so owners will have the ability to quickly reconfigure the cabin. Pilatus says that it will carry six to eight passengers in an executive layout or up to 10 passengers in a commuter layout. There will also be options to change it to allow the aircraft to be used for medical fleets.

While the PC-24′s versatility means that it will be attractive to some buyers, this does mean that it will probably not be as luxurious a cabin as the Cessna CJ4 or, particularly, the Phenom 300. Regularly changing interior configuration also often results in scratches and scuff marks meaning that PC-24 interiors may wear out faster.

Embraer Phenom 300 interior

The Phenom 300 has a very popular luxury cabin that the Pilatus may not match due to its versatility.

Maximum range

Citation CJ4:  1,991 nautical miles
Pilatus PC24: 1,950 nautical miles
Phenom 300: 1,937 nautical miles
Source: Conklin & de Decker Long Range Comparison data and Pilatus

There is not a lot between the three aircraft. Particularly as in the real world average missions are usually significantly shorter than the maximum possible range. “Too many buyers get an aircraft that they believe can do the trip nonstop only to discover that “nonstop” has restrictions,” warns David Wydham, Vice-President and co-owner at Conklin & de Decker. “They get quite upset when they end up with a fuel stop en route.”

Other things that can reduce range include wind, payload, temperature, bad weather and flights over water. As the PC-24 is likely to operate in tough environments – where its ability to take off on sand or ice is an advantage – many of its missions are likely to be shorter than the maximum range.

Maximum Speed

Phenom 300: 453 knots/839 kmph
Citation CJ 4: 451knots/835 kmph:
Pilatus PC-24: 425 knots/787 kmph
Source: Manufacturers/Corporate Jet Investor

Although the Pilatus PC-24 is slightly slower it works out at the aircraft taking just six minutes longer on a flight of 1,250 km. More significantly it is more than one hour and 15 minutes faster over this distance than the turboprop PC-12.

Take-off distance

Runway to take-off

Pilatus PC-24: 2,690 feet
Phenom 300: 3,138 feet
Citation CJ4:3310 feet
Source: Corporate Jet Investor/Manufacturer data

If it meets its planned specifications, the Pilatus PC-24 will be clear winner in the category with a significantly shorter take-off and landing. Pilatus says this will allow it to land at 1,300 airports around the world compared to its closest competitor (which it does not name).

Runway length for light jets

However, this is just a minor advantage compared to its planned ability to land on unpaved runways – including ones made from grass, snow, sand or gravel. Pilatus says this opens up a further 21,000 airports around the world.

The PC-12 already has this capability and Pilatus is confident that it can do this with the larger jet. This means there will be many missions – particularly in Africa, the Middle East, Asia –including Central Asia – where it will be the only jet capable of landing. It should be a particularly attractive aircraft for companies or individuals involved in mining or natural resources where paved airports are often a long way from mines or drilling.

Baggage

Pilatus PC-24: 90 cubic feet
Phenom 300: 85 cubic feet
Cessna CJ4: 76 cubic feet

With a cargo door capable of taking a European pallet the Pilatus is a very different aircraft to the other two – which both offer a decent amount of cargo space. PC-23 passengers also have access to the baggage during a flight – which also allows them to watch valuable cargo at smaller airports where security can be a concern.

One Formula One racing team uses a PC12 because it gives them the ability to carry staff and car parts and the PC24 would allow them to carry more and go further and faster.

However, the CJ4 can carry slight more payload than the PC-24 and the Phenom 300 comes close.

Maximum payload

Citation CJ4: 2,518 llbs
Pilatus PC-24: 2,500lbs
Phenom 300: 2,416

Installed Fleet

Phenom 300: 117 aircraft (December 2012)
Cessna CJ4: 92 aircraft (December 2012)
Pilatus PC-24: First delivery due 2017
Source: GAMA

There is always a risk with taking one of the first few aircraft off the production line. Embraer, for example, had some early reliability problems with the Phenom 300. However, owners say that the company managed these problems very well and it has built a loyal customer base.

As this will be the first jet that Pilatus has built the launch risks are even greater.

Owners tend to stay loyal to aircraft types and as a Swiss company, it may struggle to break into the key US market, particularly against Cessna.

About Alasdair Whyte

Alasdair co-founded Corporate Jet Investor in 2010. He has more than 15 year's experience as a financial journalist and has specialised in aviation and high value assets for most of this time. As well as editing the website, Alasdair helps to organise our international conferences and events. He also regularly chairs them as well as other industry events. He has chaired, spoken and moderated more than 100 conferences in 18 different countries.
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