Aircraft: XLS Excellence

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In 2001, when Cessna began considering a new midsize aircraft to replace its Citation Excel, which it had introduced in 1998, the objective was evolution rather than revolution. After all, the seven-passenger Citation was, at the time, one of the best-selling jets in its class because of its speed, relatively low maintenance costs, reliability, and cabin height, which is sufficient to allow passengers to stand up during flight.

Owners tend to hold on to their Excels as they do any other valued possession. Aircraft Shopper Online, which lists pre-owned aircraft that are available for purchase, estimates that no more than seven of the approximately 370 Excels in operation worldwide are for sale. “The Excel has been an extremely well-received airplane,” says Nick Cerretani, president of Cerretani Aviation, a Boulder, Colo., broker. “They hit a bull’s-eye with it and did a great job.”

The $9.9 million Citation XLS, a more powerful version of the Excel, promises to be just as popular as its predecessor. Cessna plans to begin deliveries of the XLS this summer. (The company expected the FAA to certify the jet by the end of March.) Those who have not already ordered an XLS will have to wait until November at the earliest for their aircraft. “In some cases, we do a major redesign by stretching the airplanes and putting in entirely new engines,” says Mike Fuhrman, director of Citation marketing support. “In this particular case, we decided the [Excel] cabin was just the right size, and we didn’t want to mess with that.”

In truth, the cabin of the XLS does differ slightly from the Excel’s. Cessna redesigned the plane’s armrests, making the XLS’s seats 4 inches wider. However, the primary improvements are in the XLS’s performance. The XLS features new Pratt & Whitney PW545B engines, which give the plane enough additional thrust to carry an eighth passenger. The XLS can also climb to its 45,000-foot ceiling in 25 minutes, which is 48 minutes faster than it takes the Excel to complete the ascent. Fuhrman explains that the Excel needs to fly to a certain altitude, level off, burn off fuel to shed weight, then resume the climb. In contrast, the improved thrust performance of the XLS’s engines enables the jet to fly directly to 45,000 feet—where it can cruise at approximately 500 mph above inclement weather and commercial traffic—while burning less fuel.

The performance and capabilities of the XLS are strong enough selling points to entice owners of older Excels to trade up to the new jet, says Cerretani. Furthermore, he adds, potential new jet owners have the added incentive of the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003. Under the federal law, which was passed in May 2003, those who purchase a new aircraft—the act does not apply to used planes—in 2004 can claim an accelerated 50 percent bonus on the jet’s first year of depreciation. For example, if you purchase the XLS for $10 million this year, you can claim a $6 million deduction ($5 million in addition to the regular first-year rate of depreciation) for your first year of ownership. Backers of the law are lobbying to extend the qualifying purchase deadline beyond 2004. “For individuals or companies with an appetite for that amount of depreciation,” Cerretani says, “it offers a tremendous benefit to defer income as a result of a new aircraft purchase.” 



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