A hail storm of mismanagement downs a good airplane

Cessna 400, Corvalis TTx, Cessna TTx
In flight Cessna 400, Corvalis TTx, Cessna TTx

Textron has confirmed production termination of the Cessna TTx. The stoppage occurred after a decade long run up attempt. Only 23 planes were shipped in 2017. Slow sales stalled out cash flow.

The beginning of the end struck in 2006, when a hail storm damaged 60 airplanes on the factory ramp in Bend Oregon. The weather related impairment sealed Columbia Aircraft’s departure – they filed for bankruptcy. Why were so many planes awaiting customer delivery?

Cessna purchased the design in 2007.

Breaking up is hard to do

Like many America companies, management decided to move production outside the country. They relocated to Chilhuahua, Mexico in 2009. This proved to be catastrophic because the composite parts from Mexico were initially defective. “The FAA famously slapped Cessna with a multimillion-dollar fine after a wing built in Mexico delaminated on an airplane with an FAA test pilot at the controls.”

All of those early composite planes were cut-up and scrapped. It took management several years to put manufacturing back on track.

Branding spin

Meanwhile, sales and marketing pitched the plane into a tight branding spiral. Management changed the name 4 times. A dizzying trail to keep up with and a marketing barrier in our era of social branding.

Many aviators had come to appreciate the Columbia 400, but that name wasn’t good enough. The Columbia name was swapped for Cessna 400. Then came a cross control maneuver – management branded the plane as the Corvalis TTx, which is a town in Oregon near Bend, but moved production to Mexico. Later the name was changed to Cessna TTX. Then a final trim adjustment and the plane came to rest as the Cessna TTx (with a lower case “x”).

But the results are not aberrant organizational behavior. Strategy case studies might relate these results as normative when a big company acquires an innovator. Columbia Aircraft was not the first innovative business to crash after a larger entrenched company take-over. The dominate culture prevails.

Background

Birth of the factory certified turbocharged Columbia 400 originated from the Lancair kit, and its founder Lance Neibauer. In 2004, the kit was transitioned into the normally aspirated Columbia 300. Shortly thereafter, the glass panel Columbia 350 and turbocharged 400 became certified production airplanes.

By the numbers –

Spoiler alert. Next week, we’ll look at the total count that Cessna shipped. It’s competitor, Cirrus Aircraft outsold the Cessna high performance composite 12 to 1.

References
  1. Sky Next, Trending Aviation News and Notes, “Textron Ends Cessna TTX Production,” Flying Mag.com, April 2018
  2. Jim Moore, “Fastest Piston Sold to Slowly Too Stay,” AOPA, February 21, 2018

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