Lightning strikes twice, twice


When Cessna announced that it was suspending further development of its Citation Hemisphere business jet, more than just a few eyebrows were raised.

Not only was it the second time that Cessna has cancelled plans for the largest aircraft in its family (remember the Columbus?), but it was also the same time that an aircraft programme was cancelled due to the failure of the Safran Silvercrest engine that was due to power it (Falcon 5X).

The main difference between the Columbus and the Hemisphere, at least from a non-technical point of view, is that Cessna had announced orders for the Hemisphere. As recently as October 2018, NetJets came forward and announced that it would be ordering up to 150 of the new jets.

Which makes Cessna’s decision to put the Hemisphere ‘on hold’ even more puzzling, especially as eight months prior to the NetJets order announcement, the Wichita-based manufacturer reaffirmed its commitment to the Silvercrest programme.

That reaffirmation to the engine followed Dassault’s announcement to can its own Falcon 5X programme, which itself was due to be powered by the Silvercrest.

That gave Dassault the chance to swap out the Silvercrests for a pair of Pratt & Whitney Canada PW800 series engines. The newly designated Falcon 6X will have a slightly larger fuselage than its predecessor but will retain its cross section.

Cessna did not have that luxury with the Citation Hemisphere. Scott Donnelly, chairman and CEO of Cessna’s parent company Textron Aviation said as much during the company’s 2017 year-end investor relations call (held in February 2018): “To make that aircraft be what we want it to be, that’s the engine that makes it work,” said Donnelly. “So, if you go to a larger engine then you have to go to a larger aircraft and that’s a path that we’re not going to go down.”

For Safran’s part, it says that it has made the intended progress with the engine in the plan that it outlined to both Cessna and NetJets last year.

“Within the framework of the development approach that we defined with Textron and NetJets in 2018, we were committed to validate this year the operability of the HP compressor through rig tests that have been completed in June in line with the timetable agreed with our customers,” says Safran. “On this matter, the results of the ground test which was completed per schedule in June have exceeded expectations.”

Safran also says that it will update Cessna on the progress of the testing. For its part, Cessna says that it will revisit the aircraft in the future, depending on “the state of the market, proven engine performance and a competitive landscape at that time.”

NetJets, the Citation Hemisphere’s biggest customer, says it is exploring other potential options.