February 2018, Textron confirmed production termination of the Cessna TTx. The stoppage occurred after a decade long runup attempt. Slow sales stalled out cash flow. Only 23 planes were shipped in 2017.
The beginning of the end struck in 2006, when a hailstorm damaged 60 airplanes on the factory ramp in Bend Oregon. The weather related impairment sealed Columbia Aircraft’s departure – they filed for bankruptcy. Cessna purchased the design in 2007. Why were so many planes awaiting customer delivery?
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 initial composite parts from Mexico were 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.” It took management several years to put manufacturing back on track. All of those early composite planes were cut-up and scrapped.
Meanwhile, sales and marketing pitched the plane into a tight branding spiral. They changed the name 4 times. A dizzying trail to keep up with.
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 – they branded the plane as the Corvalis, which is a town in Oregon near Bend, but then 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”).
Marketing disconnected social branding and community members became passive passengers all the way to the end. But these results are not aberrant organizational behavior. Columbia Aircraft was not the first to crash after a larger entrenched company take-over. The dominate culture usually prevails. Strategy studies might relate these results as normative when a big company acquires an innovator.
By the numbers
It’s competitor, Cirrus Aircraft outsold the Cessna high performance composite 12 to 1. Spoiler alert. Next week, we’ll look at the total count Cessna shipped.
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.
- Sky Next, Trending Aviation News and Notes, “Textron Ends Cessna TTX Production,” Flying Mag.com, April 2018
- Jim Moore, “Fastest Piston Sold too Slowly to Stay,” AOPA, February 21, 2018
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