Over the Rainbow

If not good times, these are at least better times in Wichita, Kan., home of Bombardier Learjet, Cessna Aircraft, and other business-jet and personal-aircraft makers. Here in America’s heartland, two leading private-jet manufacturers are developing and delivering a range of new aircraft that, in most cases, offer superior performance, safety, reliability, efficiency, comfort, and value.

"Nothing in our industry is more exciting than new products," says Brad Thress, senior vice president of business jets for Cessna, which has introduced four new jet models in the last two years: The $4.2 million Citation M2 and $21.5 million Citation Ten are expected to enter service next year, and the $14.9 million Citation Latitude and $26 million Citation Longitude are still a few years away. Cessna’s Wichita neighbor, Learjet, which Canadian transportation conglomerate Bombardier acquired in 1990, has three new models in the pipeline: the $11 million Learjet 70 and $13.5 million Learjet 75, which will replace the 10-year-old Learjet 40 and 45, respectively, and the $20 million Learjet 85, which will be the manufacturer’s longest-range model and its first to feature a composite fuselage. Learjet expects all three models to enter service next year. (For details on all forthcoming models, see "Arrivals and Standbys")

In the years leading up to the recent recession, business was booming even more in Wichita, where the established manufacturers and numerous startup aircraft makers had several years’ worth of orders on the books and were giving their R-and-D teams virtually limitless budgets to develop new models. Then the momentum halted, resulting in the failure of startups and the losses of thousands of jobs at Cessna, Learjet, and Hawker Beechcraft.

This is not the first time the industry has experienced such a dramatic swing. In the decade prior to the Great Depression, Cessna, Beech, Mooney, and dozens of other aircraft companies were founded in Wichita, leading to its nickname: the Air Capital of the World. The industry stalled during the Great Depression, but World War II fueled its recovery, when the U.S. government ordered an unprecedented number of aircraft. A slump and layoffs followed the war, but then in 1962 Bill Lear arrived in Wichita and began building the Learjet 23, the aircraft that launched the business-jet industry.

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