The TTx's Demise

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If there were ever a need for corporate obfuscation and MBA-speak, I hereby nominate Textron to teach the master class. Herewith is how they replied to this simple, direct question: Have you canceled the TTx aircraft? “At Textron Aviation, we continuously monitor the market as it fluctuates and adjust our product offerings accordingly. Our strategy continues to focus on bringing new products to market and aligning business priorities with market demand. We remain dedicated to offering a modern product portfolio, ensuring our customers have access to the latest technology and supporting our existing customer base across all platforms.”

Having labored in the Bletchley Park of marcomm—journalism—for several decades, no one is better equipped than I to translate this. “Focus on bringing new products to market and aligning business priorities with market demand” means that the TTx was a poor seller, we didn’t market it well and buyers aren’t interested in it. “…supporting our existing customer base across all platforms” is a signal to the market that Textron will continue to support the 320 or so stranded airplanes still out there, plus, one assumes, however many Columbia examples are extant.

This they are likely to do, based on Cessna’s corporate history. Owners, understandably, won’t be happy with the depreciation hit their airplanes will take and parts may be expensive, but I have little doubt they’ll be available. Our reader surveys reveal no complaints about support, even for the Columbia airplanes. By the way, if you read the statement above, it doesn’t mention the word airplane. It could just as easily apply to smartphones or snowblowers. Sometime in the hazy past, airplanes became “platforms.”

Why did the TTx tank? Before venturing an answer, another question: Is anyone surprised? Cessna acquired the assets of the bankrupt Columbia Aircraft (previously Lancair) in the fall of 2007. It was either perfect timing or disastrous timing, for in less than a year, aircraft sales followed the general economy over a cliff. The chart shows how the basic Columbia airframe idea sold against Cirrus. It’s not a pretty picture. During 10 years of parallel production, Cessna sold 321 airplanes to Cirrus’ 2564. (That total is both versions of the SR22, exclusive of the SR20.)

To its credit, Cessna bought the Columbia factory in Bend, Oregon, invested in it and made improvements to what eventually became a single model in 2013, the turbocharged TTx. When sales tumbled, Cessna closed the factory and moved production to Independence.

Why the TTx sold so poorly is not plainly obvious, in my view. It is a perfectly competent airplane. It’s faster than the SR22T, carries a little less and has similar cabin size. It handles well, with a sidearm controller that offers a different feel than the Cirrus. The TTx jumped ahead of Cirrus with the Garmin G2000, but Cirrus has since caught up with the G1000 NXi. That made the TTx as much as $60,000 more than the Cirrus, but then you got more for the money, so I’m not sure if it was a factor.

I know your fingers are itching to type a comment that the Cirrus has the parachute and the TTx doesn’t. Could that be a factor in the sales gap? Probably some, but at best, the TTx sold only 29 percent of Cirrus’ volume and the average over a decade was 11 percent. That’s not very good for a company as sales oriented as Cessna has traditionally been.

My view is that the Columbia/Corvallis/TTx idea was never fully embraced by Cessna. In a company dominated by legacy riveted aluminum airplanes, I always felt they didn’t quite know what to do with a slick composite design. In one memorably tense interview at Aero a few years ago, I asked a couple of Textron executives about sales points and volume for the TTx and got an answer similar to the one above. “We’re committed to selling airplanes and you can look up the production figures with GAMA.”

Our attempts to fly the TTx for editorial review were fraught. We scheduled twice and were summarily canceled twice before finally succeeding. No one seemed to want to own the idea of getting journalists to write about what is, in the end, a great airplane. At Sun ‘n Fun last year, Textron said they would have airplanes available for photography, but no would be available for interviews. In days of yore, a straw-hatted salesman would have been on you like white on rice and you’d be hard-pressed to get out of the booth without buying at least two.

That, I think, more than anything explains the demise of the TTx. That’s “aligning business priorities with market demand” in action. Too bad, really. The TTx coulda been a contender.

Friday Foibles: Tail Wind Tales

An amazing number of pilots got predictable results from attempted landings or departures in tailwinds. One South Carolina pilot, wanting to make our cut simulated a tailwind by departing uphill from a grass strip in poor visibility. The NTSB tells it best: “Upon reaching the crest of the hill, the pilot realized that the runway doglegged about 40 degrees to the left, but the airplane was traveling too fast at that point to be able to make the turn. The airplane left the runway and continued down an adjacent road before veering into [Yup!] a ditch.” 

Then there’s the Wyoming wannabe ’copter pilot, who “neither held a pilot certificate nor had any documented experience flying helicopters,” yet borrowed his employer’s Bell 407 to give friends a low-level “joy ride.” Unbound joy included buzzing one of the passengers’ homes when they entered “an uncontrolled descent and collided with the ground.” Injuries were minor, so the non-certificated pilot “departed the scene,” only to be apprehended later in another state. The post-stupid investigation revealed that the non-pilot had given “joy rides” on several other occasions. 



Comments (27)

I swear, Textron / Cessna seems to go out of their way to disparage their piston single line.

Hopefully the Bonanza won't be next. As much as I hate that a capable new airplane costs a million dollars, the end of the Bonanza would be a sad day for piston aviation.

Posted by: Joshua Levinson | February 22, 2018 1:47 PM    Report this comment

When I tried to put the plane in my shopping cart last week, I could not find it on the Cessna website.
Before becoming part of the "damn aviation press", I flew the plane in San Diego while on a Cessna Pilot Center seminar while running a flight school. Great airplane and beautiful powerhouse, but at $700K + just a tiny whee bit out of my league. Cessna is good at answering questions politically, rather than factually and its nearly impossible to get a human being to actually respond to anything. The sales guys and gals are nice and open minded, but I guess people are paid to avoid any and all questions at all cost.

Posted by: Jason Baker | February 22, 2018 1:55 PM    Report this comment

"In a company dominated by legacy riveted aluminum airplanes, I always felt they didn't quite know what to do with a slick composite design."

That's what I feel is the reason for the TTx's demise. I was surprised when Textron/Cessna bought the remnants of Columbia, and when they changed the name of the aircraft to "Corvallis" a few years later without really doing much to the actual aircraft, I assumed it meant they didn't really want it. Too much like a Cirrus, it didn't have a turbine engine, and it was too expensive to compete with their 172/182 line. I also all but forgot they even had the TTx until I read that they were ending its production, so they certainly didn't bother to market it (I do know all about the latest Cirrus models, and even know more about Piper's line of high-end singles).

Posted by: Gary Baluha | February 22, 2018 2:59 PM    Report this comment

Profits on piston aircraft are a rounding error in Textron's bottom line. Pelton was the last airplane guy at the helm and he fought the good fight for GA aircraft. When he left the guys who took over were unemotional business guys. They could not make a good business case for investing in that segment of the market so the line is getting necked down to where the money is, training aircraft for the airline puppy mills.

Within a few years the only pistons in regular production will be the C 172. They will build the rest of the line on special order at the commensurate astronomical price. The 1.3 Million dollar Baron is basically already there.

Posted by: DAVID GAGLIARDI | February 22, 2018 3:36 PM    Report this comment

When I first heard Cessna had bought the plane I assumed it was actually buying technology expertise and that we'd be seeing plastic 150 and 172 derivatives or possibly a clean sheet technical great leap forward. When that didn't happen I was left with "What the hell are they doing?" Now I think they recently asked themselves "What the hell are we doing?"

Posted by: Richard Montague | February 22, 2018 3:45 PM    Report this comment

I sat in a nearly new Columbia 400 not long after Cessna acquired the model. My wife and I were admiring one that pulled up next to our tied down Cessna 182E. Turned out the couple flying it were the dealers based at that airport. Upon our exiting it, they handed us a flyer, which is when we learned that the new Columbia 400 was priced at almost exactly ten times the value of our 182E. It was a nice airplane, but not "sell the 182, both cars, and the house so we can buy one" nice. And the fact that it didn't have a parachute at roughly the same price point as the Cirrus wasn't a factor for us, but would have been had we truly been in the market.

Posted by: Richard Persons | February 22, 2018 4:04 PM    Report this comment

Textron is a for profit entity. Getting rid of bad product. Cleaning up lines. I'm expecting the end of production of the 172s and 182s before 2024.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | February 22, 2018 11:22 PM    Report this comment

There's an operator here who owns four Caravans, two of which were purchased new from Textron. He swears he will never buy an airplane from Textron again. It isn't just the piston customers that they do not care about.

Posted by: Gareth Allen | February 23, 2018 12:44 AM    Report this comment

I suspect the Cessna sales guys might have the same story I had selling vs Cirrus. I never lost a sale to them if I could put the prospect in a demo airplane. Most of my peers had nearly the same record. Cirrus actually ate their own dog food and flew the things around. If you don't do that, you will lose to someone who does because your broadcasting to your customer that you are selling a toy, not transportation. A good reason to dump distributors in what is now a niche market.

The composite quality of the 400 was much better than the Cirrus. The wing was better. The seats were better (though you can always run into the same problem selling planes as you can blue jeans - if it's not a comfortable fit, you lose). The controls were better. The Cirrus has a parachute, and a better sales and marketing plan.

Contrary to what Rafael said, but I don't believe meant, it was not a bad product. It was a good product in a dead market. The bad product is what's left in the line. If Cessna believed the gobbly goop they sent Paul, they'd fire themselves for still selling obsolete platforms that have hastened the demise of GA.

Posted by: Eric Warren | February 23, 2018 8:33 AM    Report this comment

Good observations, Eric. More or less confirms what I sensed on the outside looking in. A real shame, given the human effort that went into making that airplane as good as it is.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 23, 2018 9:42 AM    Report this comment

Eric, you are correct. The 400 is a go design. Not a profitable one and therefore my reference to it as a bad product (line). Tough business.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | February 23, 2018 10:09 AM    Report this comment

When Cessna bought Columbia aircraft, I thought it was going to be there entry into the composite market and we'd see new composite designs to compete and eventually replace their tired old aluminum aircraft. I expect them to manage costs effective and add value, but all this did was drive the price higher and higher on an aircraft that was already too expensive.

As with everyone that has moved manufacturing out of the United States, they promise lower costs, but never delivered. It's amazing they're still in the single engine market!

Posted by: Thomas Wiley | February 23, 2018 10:46 AM    Report this comment

Paul: When I read the initial article confirming Textron dumped the TTx, I started writing my comments and thought - no wait - I cant imagine that Paul has not already opined on this astutely - so I better check. Indeed you had and as usual you hit every nail on the head. As sad as it may be, when you are not serious about a market segment and your decision making is driven by some numbers on the bottom of a spreadsheet or financial statement as so many decisions are made in American business today, the end result is inevitable. Post Pelton, Textron leadership has routinely tossed the non jet products to the curb the TTx will most certainly not be the only Textron product casualty. What is so sad is that the company that literally built an industry and has the engineering and financial capability to lead choose to give up. The marcomm mba mumbo jumbo proves that this company really does think we are all stupid. Why not just kill it all right now and we dont have to have them polluting what little volume there is and leave it for the companies who really are interested in serving this market - for real.

Posted by: Jeff Owen | February 23, 2018 12:27 PM    Report this comment

Textron's corporate offices are staffed by ex-General Electric executives, who are used to building and selling huge gas turbines to the electric power industry (at $40 million each), and big aero turbines to Boeing (at $12-15 million each). They are also used to having a monopoly for the parts supply chain, so they make huge profits from selling replacement parts. Like GE, they also practice corporate cannibalism - if you have a competitor, buy him out and assimilate his orgainzation (remember Beechcraft?). It is cheaper than innovation and new product R&D. I have always believed that they bought Columbia just to keep someone else from buying it. At some point, they may have intended to compete with Cirrus, but realizing that actual competition is hard, they lost interest and finally moved on.

Paul believes that parts will be expensive, but continue to be available for current owners. Being an owner of another orphaned Cessna product, I am not so sure. They will definitely be expensive, but availability is another matter. Let's just hope they don't do the same as with the Skycatcher and crush any unsold aircraft.

Posted by: John McNamee | February 23, 2018 12:31 PM    Report this comment

Well, they won't be crushing any unsold aircraft because they're aren't any.

Late last year Van Bortel bought the remaining production and quickly sold all but one (and that one may have been sold by now as well).

How do I know? I bought what looks like will be the third-to-last TTx ever manufactured. Took delivery on 12/21/17. It joins my 2006 Columbia 400 and my SO's 2015 TTx in our "fleet". Yeah, that's right, three of them-so Ann and I are either dupes or we really like the product (or, as I cynically posted on another board, having three airplanes pretty much ensures that at least one will be airworthy at all times). I'd say it's the latter, but wish that Cessna had shared my sentiments.

While I do think the aircraft would benefit from BRS (if only for sales...) I think the bigger issue was Textron's approach to their entire piston line. As others have mentioned once Jack Pelton left and was replaced by their current bean-counter numbers guy, whatever passion they still had for GA quickly and probably irrevocably melted away. I diligently read the transcripts of Textron's quarterly earnings calls, they are replete with comments on the jets, occasionally mention turboprops (King Air) and-never-as in never-mention their piston line. In fact, over the last year, they have paid far more attention on these calls to their snow toy line (Arctic Cat) than they ever have to piston sales.

The corporate gobbelettygook they put out to announce this decision is absolutely disgusting. "Modern products". What, the 172?

In the 10 years and 2,450 hours that I have owned my 400 it has been by far the most reliable GA airplane I have ever owned (and I have owned a total of six), simple, reliable, and efficient. A true traveling machine. I am hoping I have the same luck with my new TTx and i suspect that parts will remain available, lots of commonality among other things with the SR22.

Posted by: Carl Rossi | February 23, 2018 12:58 PM    Report this comment

Thanks, Paul.

Okay, I had to look it up, it's officially "gobbledygook". CR was closer than I was.

I blame the low maintenance on the 540, which is in my Mooney, and in spite of having two more cylinders, required less maintenance than my Lycoming 180 in my Diamond. I really wish Diamond would have built a plane around one, though I'm guessing electric will soon be the only way to go.

Mooney's get orphaned every five years or so, but parts are only ever a problem during the transition. If Cessna makes an issue of it, it's nothing but a money grab.

I'm glad to see more desire out there for Cessna to just quit. They had their chance 15 years ago to put out a composite fuselage with modern safety to replace the 172 and 182. No way a public company now does that, so why not just sell off like everyone else?

Posted by: Eric Warren | February 23, 2018 1:44 PM    Report this comment

For any manufacturer of a formerly-popular airplane, vastly over-pricing new ones makes perverse economic sense: it provides an incentive for owners of the used birds to keep flying them, and for buyers to keep re-buying them. Parts. The big money is in parts. It's also a HUGE disincentive for manufacturers to innovate.
Until a meteor strikes.
If they don't come up with a miscible, fungible replacement for leaded avgas - and if the EPA outlaws leaded fuel - the parts gravy train will come to a screeching halt, as then-useless aircraft get scrapped or parted out.

Posted by: YARS (Tom Yarsley) | February 23, 2018 3:12 PM    Report this comment

If the EPA obliterates AvGas (by cost or direct regulation), what's everybody gonna do with their piston fleet, sprinkle it with "fairy-dust?"

I mean, c'mon: $700,000 is a lot of loot. People don't get wealthy by mis-investing their dimes and nickles. This is basic R-O-I stuff.

I'm guessing that people on both sides of the accounting ledger are "reading the tea leaves", opting-out of G/A, and sell what you have to ... umm, err, ughhh -- China.

Listen, this is akin to the "gun control argument" that we've all heard: "if you can't get rid of the guns, get rid of the bullets." And, "if you can't get rid of those pesky 'small planes', get rid of AvGas." The small plane manufacturers (and AvGas producers) exist in a market sector of shrinking existing returns and terrible long term market forecasts.

Besides, our video-game addicted youth aren't showing much love for aviation (or marksmanship). If today's youth "happens upon" significant cash, my guess is that they'll spend it on a Porsche or the (proposed) mid-engine Corvette -- and not something requiring much time away from their gaming sets.

For that matter, today's youth aren't "in to" cutting lawns either with that Briggs and Stratton mower either, when a cushy condo in some tony section of town will do. Sadly, our Nation is turning away from creation to embracing consumption.

And I believe Textron knows all this and is "cashing-out."

Posted by: Phil DeRosier | February 24, 2018 7:35 AM    Report this comment

You're scaring me Phil. Unfortunately, all evidence points to your conclusions. I'm seeing the same things unfold. They have no idea what they are missing. Such a tragedy, such a loss.

Posted by: Thomas Cooke | February 24, 2018 7:52 AM    Report this comment

Yup ... I was just thinking along the same lines as Phil early this AM. I'm relatively fortunate, I can sell MY low end GA airplanes for numbers not far off from what I paid for 'em and they're in demand -- SO far. And I've gotten lots of use out of them, too. If I owned a TTx, I'd be mighty peep'ed. Resale of those kinds of airplanes for anything resembling the initial investment is gonna be tough.

What scares me more is the lack of significant interest by the millennials, et sub. I attend a lot of aviation events and in almost every case, it looks like a bus brought the local geriatric set in for a free cookie and milk. There's insufficient youth entering the pipeline to make up for the oldies falling off on the far end. It's that way for the mechanic set, too. In fact, I'm toying with getting an IA so I can take care of my airplanes and those of my buddies because the IA we work with is about ready to retire.

Once the price of a new C172 crossed $200K, the handwriting was on the wall. RAF's extrapolation that a new C172 corrected for inflation should be ~$150K might be a bit low but NOT over $200K. At $400K, no way Jose. So like I said in the previous article on the subject, it's all about price. Most of us here could afford reasonable dollars but not highway robbery. If economies of production scale cannot hold the price down then -- as has been said -- the end has arrived ... it's just a question of the exact date.

I really do wish that we all could be more positive here. Unfortunately, most of us are seasoned aviators and realists ... and we CAN read the tealeaves. When the most produced current airplane is a B737 ... sum ting wong !

Posted by: Larry Stencel | February 24, 2018 1:31 PM    Report this comment

"When the most produced current airplane is a B737"

A fifty year old design! Even Boeing is milking out older designs for as long as possible.

Posted by: matthew wagner | February 24, 2018 4:31 PM    Report this comment

The nearly two-year long production hiatus to correct production issues did not help at all. There was actually an aircraft that had a wing-skin debond during a production test flight audit with the Feds onboard. They eventually traced it to humidity issues at the Mexcian composite facility where the bare airframes were laid-up.

Posted by: Tom Kovac | February 24, 2018 7:36 PM    Report this comment

Quality assurance in airframe manufacturing becomes more complex when using thermoplastics. Debonding and delamination are constant problems. AA587 and Transat 961, both Airbus 300 series aircraft, are examples of thermoplastic composite structural failures. Boeing has had their share of concerns on the 787 composite wing box. Cirrus and the TTx are not exempt. Aluminum construction, or old technology in aviation, is good. Do not kick the silvery grey riveted metal out of bed!

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | February 25, 2018 8:33 AM    Report this comment

A bit off topic but the earlier comments about Avgas are very germane. I was a victim of the latest Avgas fiasco in Canada. It ended OK for us as the storage tank supplying the local airports was OK, but the response from the fuel companies was less than confidence inspiring. This IMO is an indication of how little the petroleum industry cares about making Avgas.

Here is something to think about. ALL of the tetra-ethyl lead in the Avgas we use comes from one plant in England. If that plant blew up this morning flying is over for anything that needs 100 Octane gas.........

Posted by: DAVID GAGLIARDI | February 25, 2018 12:19 PM    Report this comment

And THAT is another reason to keep your 80/87 octane burning low compression O-320 engines up, David. I put a high compression version in my Skyhawk but kept the OEM engine ... for a rainy day. Maybe that was more fortuitous than I imagined?

This GA thing is getting to be a more Sisyphean task by the day :-(

Posted by: Larry Stencel | February 25, 2018 2:06 PM    Report this comment

Got that right Larry. It's like pushing a boulder up a hill and watch it roll back down, to repeat this forever. Where else can we comment about airplanes, economy and Greek mythology.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | February 25, 2018 2:53 PM    Report this comment

I believe Cessna was pushing the 400 as a step-up for future buyers of the Mustang to get used to a high-performance aircraft while waiting for their delivery. That seemed to make sense.

Posted by: James Briggs | February 26, 2018 5:40 PM    Report this comment

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