Textron Aviation has unveiled a new Cessna airplane for cargo carriers and small airlines that is expected to mean more jobs in Wichita.
CEO Scott Ernest said Textron Aviation plans to manufacture the Cessna SkyCourier 408 in Wichita, where it will increase what he called its “extremely productive” factory workforce.
“I definitely think there will be an addition in direct, hourly” workers, Ernest said on a conference call, without providing a specific number of jobs.
FedEx will be the $5.5 million airplane’s first customer.
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FedEx and Textron Aviation officials signed the paperwork Monday afternoon in Memphis for a firm order of 50 of the twin-turboprop airplanes with options for 50 more.
The SkyCourier is somewhat of a departure for Textron Aviation and its Cessna brand, which has focused its new products on the business aviation market over the past few years. Since 2014 it has launched or announced plans for three new Citation business jets — Latitude, Longitude and Hemisphere — and the Denali single-engine turboprop, also aimed at the business aviation market.
Ernest said the company took “a lot of the experience and relationship we had with FedEx over the last 20 years to look at what is their need going forward.”
“This new airplane is at a place in the market they feel is going to be very beneficial to them,” he said.
Textron Aviation also stands to benefit with potential orders from other air cargo companies, small airlines — especially in developing countries — and for special mission applications, such as by military forces.
“We will obviously look at all those markets,” Ernest said.
“This is a very logical place for us to be,” added Textron Inc. CEO Scott Donnelly on the call. “It’s very economical, very durable and will occupy a really important spot in our portfolio.”
In the SkyCourier’s cargo configuration, it will have a more than 7-foot-wide cargo door and be able to fly a maximum payload of 6,000 pounds over 900 nautical — or 1,036 highway — miles. In an airline configuration, it will be able to seat 19 passengers.
Bill West, FedEx vice president of supplemental air operations, said the new planes will replace some of its older Cessna Caravans and ATR twin-engine airplanes in its feeder fleet.
“This airplane is part of our fleet modernization strategy,” he said.
Once Textron Aviation is at full production of the SkyCourier, West said he expects FedEx to take delivery of one airplane a month over a roughly four-year stretch, adding that’s just for the first 50 airplanes.
Brad Thress, Textron Aviation senior vice president of engineering, said the two companies worked together for about seven months to design the SkyCourier.
Textron Aviation plans to fly the plane for the first time in mid-2019, followed by its entry into service in 2020.
That’s a ways down the road, and it’s the reason it’s not yet known how many more workers the company will need to build the airplane once it’s in full production.
Textron Aviation has more than 9,000 employees in Wichita.