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Me & my aircraft – Citation CJ series: Robust and trusty CJs are operators’ go-to aircraft in Europe and beyond
Cessna Aircraft Company, a subsidiary of Textron Aviation Inc, recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of the maiden flight of the model 525 CitationJet prototype. Since its launch, eight variants have been certified, and Cessna has delivered more than 1,800 model 525 aircraft around the world, more than 360 of which are in the EMEA region.
Read this story in our August 2016 printed issue.

Cessna Aircraft Company, a subsidiary of Textron Aviation Inc, recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of the maiden flight of the model 525 CitationJet prototype. Since its launch, eight variants have been certified, and Cessna has delivered more than 1,800 model 525 aircraft around the world, more than 360 of which are in the EMEA region.

Textron Aviation's current production CJ series consists of the Citation M2, Citation CJ3+ and the Citation CJ4. All three aircraft allow passengers access to Europe's shortest runways, bringing them closer to their destination and shortening ground transfer times. The CJ series also offers low operating costs, spacious baggage room along with a cabin that was designed with passenger-centred technology and comfort in mind. All models can be fitted with the Aviator 300 worldwide internet system and Iridium satellite phones.

Tom Perry, regional vice president sales Europe for Textron Aviation, says: “A charter operator needs an aircraft that delights its customers from a cabin and performance perspective, but also offers efficiency in the form of low operating costs.”

Jørgen Andersen, CEO of JAI, a manufacturer of industrial and machine vision cameras in Denmark, used to have a Citation 501 and was one of the first owners of a Mustang, which he flew for seven years. “But I wanted more speed and more range”, he says and in 2010, along with five other Mustang owners and pilots, he was invited by Textron to join the design team for the next Citation variant. This team suggested modifying the Citation 1+, and the M2 was born.

More power and a refined cabin

The M2 has a maximum cruise speed of 460 miles per hour and a range of 1,580 nm. It can operate at airports with runways as short as 3,250 feet and will climb to 41,000 feet in 24 minutes. As with all of the CJ series it is certified for single-pilot operation and it has room for seven passengers.

It has two Williams FJ44 engines which produce 10-15 per cent more altitude thrust, depending on conditions, and consume less fuel at long range cruise than previous versions, enabling the M2 to climb quickly and cruise fast and far. The engine also provides significantly higher thrust at hot and high takeoff conditions and increases time between overhaul from 3,500 to 4,000 hours.

The cockpit design features Cessna's proprietary Intrinzic flight deck powered by Garmin G3000 avionics, with high resolution multi-function displays and split-screen capability. Smartphone comparable touch-screen interactivity provides pilots with the precise performance information they need in a logical, familiar user interface. The main passenger cabin is 58 inches wide and 11 feet long, with a five inch dropped aisle providing a cabin height of 57 inches, eight large windows, roomy adjustable seats and intuitive controls.

“The M2 is still a small jet,” says Andersen, “but I think this small jet does the best job. I fly around 250 to 300 hours a year, all over Europe and all over the US as well.” He flies between JAI offices in Copenhagen, Denmark, and San Jose, California, several times a year. “On the east bound trip I have three stops: San Jose to Winnipeg, Winnipeg to Kuujjuaq in Quebec, Kuujjuaq to Reykjavik and then on to Copenhagen. This is one of the planes which give you the most value for money. Nothing else will do the range and the speed at this price; it does a lot more than the Mustang and the Phenom 100.”

Cessna offers the full package

The CJ series has, according to Belgium-based ASL's safety manager, marketing manager and pilot Maxime Wauters, proved to be a reliable family of aircraft with a very attractive price/ quality ratio. They can land almost anywhere and can connect almost any city in Europe. They are fuel efficient, can takeoff and land on relatively short runways and they offer the comfort needed for one to two hours of flight, whether it's for business or leisure. The other great attribute is for the pilots as the same type rating allows them to fly the entire family. The CJ/CJ1/M2 and the CJ3 or CJ4 are very complementary and can fulfill different sorts of missions. “Having pilots being able to fly them all is a great asset for flight operations,” he says.

ASL currently operates and manages a fleet of six CJs, comprising two first generation CitationJets, two CJ2+ and two CJ3. The CJ fleet has remained relatively stable within the company. “One of our clients who owned a CJ1 recently upgraded to a CJ3, which we happened to operate in the past, so it has returned to its first home. But we have also seen customers upgrading from a CJ to an XLS and now to even larger models as their need to travel further and with more comfort has increased.”

The financial strength of Textron underpinned the choice of CJ1 for German air ambulance operator Dr-Jet, alongside the operating costs, maintenance programmes and single pilot operations. Managing director Kambis Ebrahimi notes that the CJ1 has stronger than expected capability to extend range with LRC power setting, if weather conditions permit. Meanwhile Jonathan Peslier, a private pilot based in France who flies a CJ2 says the balance of cost, speed, range and payload with full fuel made it an economic decision, although good after-sales and a reputation for reliability worked alongside.

Austrian air navigation service provider Austro Control has downsized to the CJ1+ from a Citation 560. Licensing, SAR and aeromedical manager, flight permissions, Vinzenz Mittl, says: “Our fleet has consisted only of Cessnas for the last 30 years. They are easy to fly and to operate.”

In 2008, the boss of French company Oya-Helico was looking for a small twin jet to operate short range around the country. He decided to go for a pre-owned, first generation C525 in a deal brokered by Dominique Trinquet from Boutsen Aviation in Monaco. “It's a nice plane, completely reliable,” says Oya-Helico president Nicolas Boltoukhine. “From France we have travelled to the whole of Europe, each and every country. We have even flown to the UAE and to Syria. It was quite a long way but we did it.”

For the last eight years Oya-Helico has flown an annual average of 200 hours. Its pilots renew their licences on the simulator at IFAERO, a flight training centre based at Cannes in the south of France. And while the engines are not currently under a warranty programme, it is something for further consideration given the not inconsiderable cost involved.

Boltoukhine adds that he is preparing to upgrade the avionics for VNAV approach: “Our plane is equipped with a GNS-Xls enhanced global flight management system from Honeywell, but it is difficult to get full database coverage due to a lack of internal memory, and the system has failed twice in-flight during the last three years.”

Neither does this avionics technology allow for an approach to airstrips under 4,000 ft, and traditional standard instrument departure (SID) and standard terminal arrival routes (STAR) are harder to come by for small airports. “There are few systems apart from the Garmin G1000 and there is nothing like Rockwell's gorgeous Fusion, so we are looking for a solution based on a GTN 750. Of course we decided to go for an iPad mini on the yoke and that will really change life on board,” he adds.

This summer the CJ is due its Doc 10 maintenance and Boltoukhine plans to redesign the cabin with new leather and carpet, and hopes to get a fresh paint job the following year. Like this, he says: “The aircraft will be good for another 10 years.”

Warsaw-based AMC Aviation has close to 10 years experience in maintaining CJs in its Part 145 facility, and has two CJs on its AOC. The company is looking for further acquisitions in this sector and has seen steady demand for chartering the CJs in Europe. The appeal, for AMC, is the low operational cost, pan-European range, good availability of certified maintenance organisations and a better choice of pilot training organisations than for other aircraft types. And while the CJs don't suit AMC's Russian clients, their range being too limited, the company is happy to service this side of the business separately with a Gulfstream G280 and a LearJet 60XR.

Economy and dependability

BackBone Aviation in Denmark operates three fixed wing aircraft, one of which is a Citation CJ2+. As the smallest in its pack, the CJ2+ has a very different market than the two other jets. “It's a fabulous workhorse,” says managing director Nicolas Webèr. “It is unusually well fitted for the normal three to four passengers yet still delivers outstanding performance with six.” He notes that in order to operate commercially it does require a relatively long runway but it has commonality across the fleet, from the small CJ/CJ1 to the rather high-powered CJ4, and from a client's view it is comfortable and delivers good comfort at a reasonable price.

“Overall the CJs are good value for money with a high dispatch reliability and rather good maintenance network when it comes to accessibility of shops and spare parts,” he adds.

Julian Telling is head of training at Bristol Flying Centre (BFC), the UK's only on-aircraft ATO, which operates a range of seven CJs, including the M2. In his role as TRI and TRE he has trained over 200 CJ pilots over the last eight years and examines all over Europe. He has thousands of hours on type and both trains and flies CJs privately and for the line. BFC operates a CJ, CJ2 and CJ2+ for charter as Centreline Air Charter.

Telling feels that different aircraft in the series are more suited to either charter or private operations. “The CJ4 offers great performance but it is an expensive aircraft, for which reason it doesn't really work on a charter rate,” he explains. “For the same sort of money you could charter a Sovereign, which has a bigger cabin and is faster. With any aircraft there is always a trade-off between practicality and cost, but if three or four people want to get from London to Nice it is probably cheaper to use a CitationJet than something a lot bigger.”

Telling is not aware of any CJ4 in the charter arena in the UK as they tend to be privately owned and operated, but people are opting to fly in them because it is a modern aircraft with good range and a nice cabin. He says that there is considerable interest in the M2 now. “It is a good aircraft, basically just a CJ with nice avionics, winglets and an upgraded engine. We have just the one M2 on our AOC at the moment, but I think that will change over the next couple of years.”

The original CJs are now relatively elderly, and most customers want to charter an aircraft that is under ten years old. With the original CJ and the CJ2 no longer in production, the M2 is a good option for people who want a small, light jet, which is relatively state-of-the-art.

High utilisation

Lufthansa Flight Training in Germany now operates five CJ1+ as training aircraft, each of which has an annual utilisation of 1,300 flight hours. In 2007 the company replaced its Piper Cheyenne IIIAs with a CJ1+ fleet because they showed the best price/ performance ratio at that time. Lufthansa reports that it is a small, reliable aircraft with a good support programme, and it performs as a jet training aircraft for multi pilot licences. In May of this year Textron awarded Lufthansa its fourth consecutive High Utilisation Award for Europe, which underlines how well suited Citations are to pilot training.

German operator Star Wings operates a CJ1 and CJ2+, along with a CJ3 as a full flight level D simulator, and it is looking for a CJ4 to join the fleet. Originally the company operated the whole series from CJ to CJ4 but some of the aircraft were sold by their owners and so Starwings is looking for additional ones to replace them. According to training manager Frank Achner: “CJs are popular in Germany because they are very reliable and easy to handle, from both a flying and maintenance respect, but they can sometimes be limited in range and payload. They are affordable and the level of AOG support for the CJ series in Europe is matched only by that of the Phenom 100 and 300.”

Star Wings' CJs are operated on runways with at least 1,200 m available for landing, and preferably with an IFR-approach in mean sea level and standard day conditions. As a TRI/TRE Achner says he likes to instruct on these aircraft because, even for a beginner, they are easy to fly and give the instructor enough time to teach and to correct mistakes.

Jürgen Meyer Brenkhof, ground operations manager at Sylt Air, says: “To cut a long story short, we are very happy with our CJ1 and the CJ2.” Based on a small island in the North Sea, just off the coast of northern Germany, the Sylt Air CJ2 flies mostly in Europe. “We very rarely see it because it is always dispatched on one mission or another. We fly it almost on a daily basis, in southern Europe, flying Olbia to Madrid, to Le Bourget and Stansted and so on.” It has a longer range than the CJ1, which is based on the island and used for ad hoc charter. It is also more comfortable and can go faster and higher. “But the two aircraft are complementary and we are very happy with them,” he adds.

Being more expensive, the longer range CJ3 and CJ4 remain on the Sylt Air wish list. For now they are too big an investment. “We come from the propeller business. A couple of years ago we entered the light jet business, and to invest in a long range jet that will never see its home base, because we are based on a remote island, is a step too far at the moment.”

Pilot recruitment is a function of the market, not the aeroplane

When Europe's first for-charter CJ4 was delivered to Stuttgart-based Eisele Flugdienst in 2011 (now E-Aviation), the company noted that because it shared a common pilot type rating with the other CJs, its own CJ pilots were already rated to fly. This meant it could integrate the aircraft seamlessly into its fleet and begin charter operations straight away.

ASL's Wauters notes that the availability of experienced pilots in Europe is better than for other aircraft types: “It obviously derives from the fact the CJ series is very popular here.”

Telling, however, feels this commonality is not the only attraction for pilots. The CJ is classified as a single pilot high performance aircraft so can be flown privately by just one pilot. However, two pilots are required when it is flown commercially. Pilot recruitment is more about market dynamics than the aircraft, he says. “A captain will need to have reasonable experience to fly a CJ and when there is a buoyant market, that experience means operators with larger aircraft and offering larger salaries will recruit from the light jet market. In a buoyant market it will usually be about lifestyle choice rather than wanting to fly a CJ. As they say, the bigger the aeroplane the bigger your suitcase.”

In terms of training, pilots get a rating for the 525 which covers all the variants. “But if you learn on an old classic and then want to get into the M2, there will be more training required,” Telling continues. From the CitationJet up to the CJ3 there is much similarity, and the CJ2 and above have the ProLine 21 which gives a commonality of avionics across the type. But then the M2 has the Garmin G3000.

“There are slight changes in how you operate each variant, and there are differences in how the power levers are operated in some models. In the CJ2s you have to set the power yourself and you can overdo it if you are not careful with it. But once you have a type rating on one, conversion is very simple,” Telling explains.

Why is the CJ series so popular in Europe?

Cessna is a proven name with many years of experience. The CJ comes from a well-known design stable and many parts are found on a variety of other CitationJets meaning that spares are usually readily available. “The aircraft is stable and robust with few vices,” says Telling. “When privately operated there are few restrictions on which airports you can use. Airfields can be as short as 2,800 feet. Of course this has to be factored up for public transport to about 4,760 feet.”

Overall opinion suggests the CJs are relatively cheap and easy to operate and show good, versatile performance. Less field length is required which is particularly useful in the air ambulance sector.

The CJ series offers the range, comfort, efficiency and payload to connect most of Europe's main hubs. “They are well-known to both clients and brokers for their reliability and their overall price/quality ratio,” says ASL's Wauters. “And besides, Cessna has a strong service centre network in Europe which makes it easy for operators to arrange maintenance, repair or AOG support, wherever the aircraft is.”

There are more than 800 Citations in service in Europe and the CJ series accounts for a large portion of this fleet. Textron's company-owned service centres have been integrated to serve customers across its Citation, King Air and Hawker platforms.

Textron operates six service centres throughout the European region in Doncaster, UK; Düsseldorf, Germany; Paris, France; Prague, Czech Republic; Valencia, Spain; and Zürich, Switzerland. There are line stations in Luton, UK; Geneva, Switzerland; Nice, France; Bremen and Stuttgart in Germany, each offering mobile service units to reach out to customers who may need support, and its airborne response team, Textron claims, is the largest in the industry. On top of that, a fleet of three support aircraft are currently located at Düsseldorf, adjacent to the parts distribution centre, of which one is a CJ3. These are available around the clock to dispatch parts and engineers to support AOG situations.

“Maintenance is very good,” says Sylt Air's Brenkhof. “This is one of the reasons why we chose Cessna in the first place.” The company uses Elite Jet Service, the Mönchengladbach centre near Düsseldorf. “We leave the jets with them and they do a good job. Even if something breaks down somewhere in Europe, there is always a Cessna support point.

“Ours is a bread and butter business,” he adds, “there is nothing spectacular to report. These are just good aeroplanes that do their job. We have had very few breakdowns or instances of AOG, and when there are they are usually fixed pretty quickly. You certainly get what you pay for and you get good value with these machines. It is a stable platform and customers seem to like it. We never have any complaints.”

As a Part 145 organisation with years of experience, AMC Aviation pays a lot of attention to the dispatch capability of its aircraft. “We know how to anticipate and prevent technical issues with the aircraft.” says CFO Jarek Pierzchala. “With our dynamic logistics team and network of spare part providers, we are able to procure parts at very short notice, thus ensuring the dispatch reliability of the aircraft to a very high level.” The only reason for having to turn down a charter request would be due to range limitations with the CJ, but AMC has a sizeable and versatile fleet so that doesn't affect its business in any way.

Grass strips and very short runways off limits to CJs

Landing on anything less than 1,000m of strip starts to become challenging, but most tarmac runways longer than 850m are in fact achievable. As with any aircraft, there are airports that the CJs can't access, at least under the Commercial Air Transport (CAT) regulations. “Most of these airports are very remote locations for which we get very few requests,” says ASL's Wauters. “Recently we were asked to fly to St Tropez La Mole, and the recent reduction in its declared available runway distance has made it challen-ging for commercial operations with their limited payload and fuel.”

In terms of innovation, Wauters says Cessna has been slightly overtaken by the competition. “The later variants are not clean sheet designs. The M2 is just a modernised CJ1 or CJ1+ and the CJ3+ has evolved from the CJ3, which means their basic concept dates back to the 1990s.” But nevertheless the CJs remain a vital component of ASL's VIP air taxi and charter operations in Europe.

With a range of 3,778 km the nine passenger CJ3+ can fly non-stop from London to Moscow or Cairo, or from Madrid to St Petersburg. It can climb to 45,000 ft in 27 minutes, allowing it to operate above some weather and avoid more crowded flight levels. The Garmin G3000 avionics suite includes turbulence detecting weather radar, TCAS II, advanced Terrain Awareness Warning Systems (TAWS), and automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B), and Cessna claims the it burns on average 10 per cent less fuel and costs five per cent less in maintenance per flight hour than other aircraft in the light jet segment.

The pre-owned market in Europe continues to be active for the Textron Aviation product line-up and as the world's largest reseller of Citation aircraft, the company is well positioned to provide factory direct solutions for pre-owned customers.

Aircraft value is affected by a number of factors including hours, engine programmes, and quality of maintenance on the aircraft. The pedigree of an aircraft is important, and where the maintenance and pre-purchase inspection has been completed is key in determining the overall value and confidence in the aircraft. Cessna offers factory-direct support for all its aircraft.

Cessna says its CitationJet customers are looking for aircraft which have the necessary equipment to be placed on an EASA registration. This includes 7.1 software for TCAS-II or an aircraft with a flight data recorder. There is also interest in aircraft that have already been imported and are on an EASA registry. With its network of company owned service centres, Textron Aviation provides an upgrade path to its customers; ensuring they meet the requirements of all regulations. “

The thing about the CitationJet is that it's from a proven stable,” says Telling. “I think it is now facing a lot of competition from other manu-facturers like Embraer with the Phenom 300. But of course there aren't many second-hand models of these, whereas there are a lot of pre-owned Citations about.”

Is the light jet market still a priority?

Cessna has played a key role in developing the light jet segment with the CJ series, and remains committed to these products. In fact, all three current models were on static display at EBACE this year.

The company has made significant investment in the CJ series in recent years with the introduction of the M2 in 2013 and the CJ3+ in 2014. In 2015 it delivered 166 CJ aircraft worldwide, more light jets that any other manufacturer, and the CJ3+ gained EASA and ANAC certification. “We also delivered the 100th M2,” says Textron's Perry, “a fantastic market response to an aircraft that has been in production for just two years.” There have have been very brief periods of overlap where there were up to four CJ aircraft in production, but over the past 10 years there have largely been three products in the 525 line in production at any given time. “This is a broader line-up than any other manufacturer in this segment,” he adds. “The CJ series forms a major part of the European business aviation fleet and we'll continue to innovate and invest in new technologies and features to ensure we keep pace with customer needs and support their interests.”

Perry continues: “For example, the CJ3+, one of the most popular products in the CJ series, was introduced in response to customers' evolving needs. It includes Garmin G3000 avionics, an intuitive cockpit interior and upgrades to pressur-isation and diagnostics systems.”

BFC's Telling says: “I don't see that there is any obvious improvement that needs to be made to the CJ series. It fits in its space, simple as that.” He notes that there is a limit to what you can do with this size cabin, and to improve its range too much would mean spending more time on the aircraft. “This is an ideal aircraft for a two and a half or three hour trip. Much longer than that and you probably want to be looking at something different. Ultimately, it is suited to its function, and that is why it is so popular. If you and your family want to get from London Biggin Hill to somewhere in France, Portugal or Spain, it is the ideal aircraft. If you want to take it to Cyprus, it is not.”

For Telling the aircraft is a real delight to fly. “You would have to do something really silly to get into a dangerous situation. It is easy to land, it is easy to hand fly, it is a straight wing aircraft and does exactly what it says on the tin. Not quite the 'Ford Escort of the sky', but it is a really good aircraft that does what you need it to. The more modern ones like the 2+ and the M2 will do well in the charter market in terms of short European trips.”

The view of Andersen at JAI is that sales of light jets are not reaching their potential given the current economic climate worldwide. In Europe the EASA NCC rules will make private operations more complex and expensive: “We will need to have a manual for operations, a quality inspector and a flight path, among other things.

“In the US you can still operate private jets easily but Europe is very difficult to fly in. You have to submit a flight plan almost two days before. In the US I can just send a flight plan on my computer, go out to the aircraft, and the flight plan will be in the system. I can fly from San Jose to O'Hare in Chicago without any special rules. You can't do that in Europe. You have to get landing permissions, and in many cases you have to get slots. Its very complicated.”

A rugged little workhorse with robust systems

Cessna reports that, for the most part, its Citations are built with more standard features than any other jet. Equipment is specified on the basis of the most popular customer requests so they seldom need to add extra specifications. The CJ series can also be outfitted for special mission operations, the most common being air ambulance configuration.

BFC's Telling is principally a trainer and examiner and has completed over 150 CJ type ratings and well over 500 exams. He says: “While pilots do occasionally get it wrong, the CJ is a very stable platform with few vices, and it is very forgiving. In the event of an engine failure at a critical stage it copes well, but its systems are robust and serious failures are uncommon.”

With over 1,500 hours of flight over six years, private pilot Peslier's global experience with his CJ1 and CJ2 has for the most part been problem free, the only niggle being sporadic trouble with the heater and air conditioning systems.

While the CJs are single pilot aircraft, JAI company policy requires two pilots when carrying staff. Andersen himself has flown nearly 41,000 hours in the M2. “This aircraft is outstanding in the climb. It goes to 41,000 feet fully loaded in 24 minutes and that is pretty good for a small jet, and you still have power when you reach 41,000 feet.” He flies transatlantic three to four times a year and admits that while perhaps a Gulfstream should be the aircraft of choice, he loves flying the M2. “I can fly eastbound to Copenhagen from San Jose, in less than 13 hours airborne, not including fuel stops. It's pretty good. Thanks to its Williams engine the M2 is extremely efficient at high altitudes, and its FADEC system is outstanding.”

When speaking of upgrades, some mentioned getting a satellite antenna for a SAT phone or WLAN internet, others that they would like to move up the range to a CJ3+ or CJ4. But for AMC, Pierzchala says: “There is very little we would want to change and no upgrade we envisage needing. It may not suit our many Russian customers but demand for our CJ and CJ1 is high and any shortcomings are limited for our type of business.”

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