October 01, 2013
Credit: Paul Bowen
Rising from the ashes of Hawker Beechcraft's bankruptcy, the King Air 350i now serves as the real-life phoenix of the new Beechcraft Corp., a far leaner and financially stronger company since its February 2013 reorganization and relaunch. Exiting jet production and promoting its enduring King Air line were key strategic changes that restored the health of the iconic Wichita manufacturer. The back-to-basics King Air 350i is as Midwestern as sweet corn and soybeans, and just as consistently in demand in the marketplace. It now claims title as the firm's top-of-the-line model for several reasons. The duration of most business aircraft trips is less than 2 hr. In fact, most business aircraft missions are no longer than 300 to 600 nm.
While a 300-kt. King Air 350i lacks the panache of a 430-kt. turbofan that can cruise in the stratosphere, it's only about 20 to 30 min. slower than a jet on shorter trips and notably burns 20% less fuel, even assuming an ideal, near parabolic vertical profile for the jet.
The 350i provides cost-effective business transportation for eight to 10 passengers at a significantly lower direct operating cost than a corporate jet with as many seats. Estimated direct operating cost is less than $1,200 per hour, including engine reserves, scheduled maintenance and $6.00 per gallon fuel.
Those economic realities hit home during the Great Recession of 2008 when hundreds of jet owners chocked or chucked their airplanes because they didn't make economic sense. The used business jet market became as flooded as Mesopotamia 3,500 years ago. Some light and midsize jet owners were nearly swept away in the surge.
So, gone are the more glamorous jets that caused Hawker Beechcraft to hemorrhage more than $1.6 billion from 2009 to 2012. Going forward, everything Beechcraft builds will have propellers.
“We're not selling the tip of the pyramid in luxury and performance. We're selling very well executed regional transportation,” says CEO W. W. “Bill” Boisture.
The old Hawker Beechcraft, as the 80+ year-old company was known from 2007 to 2013, was spinning out of control with more than $2.6 billion in debt, mainly due to its money losing turbofan product line. However, its prop models, and especially the King Airs, held their own during the global meltdown.