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.