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Unparalleled Versatility with the Skycourier

Issue 21 - 2023
Unparalleled Versatility with the Skycourier

Textron Aviation’s Cessna SkyCourier combines performance with payload to offer an aircraft with standout versatility. 

The twin-engine, high-wing turboprop can be reconfigured for air freight, commuter and special mission operators, making it possible to fly passengers in the day and deliver cargo at night using the same aircraft. Revenue generation opportunities are further boosted by the aircraft’s unparalleled range and payload, allowing operators to fly more trips without needing to refuel. 

Combining high performance with lower operation costs, the freighter and passenger configurations offer single-point pressure refueling that allows faster turnarounds, while the 19-passenger version has crew and passenger doors for smooth boarding, alongside large cabin windows for natural light and views. 

The freighter variant features a large door and a flat floor cabin that accommodates up to three LD3 shipping containers, offering some 6,000 pounds of payload capability. The aircraft can also be designed with a cabin partition that allows for a mixed passenger-freight service. 

Powered by two wing-mounted Pratt & Whitney PT6A-65SC turboprop engines, the aircraft features the McCauley Propeller C779, a heavy-duty and reliable 110-inch aluminum four-blade propeller, which is full feathering with reversible pitch, designed to enhance the performance of the aircraft while hauling significant load.

“The ability to combine performance with payload and to reconfigure the aircraft depending on the specific mission means the SkyCourier is a compelling proposition for operators. Its versatility maximizes revenue, while operating costs remain low,” says Juan Escalante, vice president, SkyCourier Sales, Textron Aviation.

Designed to Deliver

Part of the reason the SkyCourier expertly meets operator requirements is because it was designed by Textron Aviation in response to a request from one of its major customers, FedEx Express.

FedEx required a large aircraft with more volume, which would enable the company to transport containerized freight. The SkyCourier allows FedEx to offload LD2 and LD3 containers from large, longer haul aircraft directly onto the new turboprop ahead of transfer to its feeder network, in turn boosting efficiency by avoiding FedEx needing to manually offload containers ahead of loading freight, which was proving labor intensive. 

The use of containers was also an important aspect of FedEx being able to confidently deliver freight to and from particularly hot or cold regions. 

Textron Aviation designed the SkyCourier to offer the capacity for three LD3 containers, with a sizable fuselage and large door for accessing the cargo hold, enabling a fast and simple loading of large freight, including palletized and containerized items. This close collaboration ensured the aircraft perfectly met the needs of FedEx Express, which has already ordered 50 of the aircraft, while retaining options for an additional 50.

Throughout this process, Textron Aviation was also very aware of the significant potential for a passenger version of the SkyCourier. 

To move forward, the company established a Customer Advisory Board to define the configuration of a passenger version. Cessna Caravan, Beech 1900 and Twin Otter operators that provide passenger services within their aircraft types joined the Board to offer input on the final configuration of the passenger variant, which has already achieved FAA certification. 

The resulting design offers modern passenger amenities, including extra legroom and baggage space, USB charging ports and a large window at every row. 

“Every variant of the SkyCourier has benefitted from a collaborative approach in which the operators of our aircraft have provided valuable input from the earliest stages. The result is a hugely versatile aircraft that very precisely meets the needs of a wide range of operators and different missions,” says Escalante.

Performance and Payload with a Range of Features

The SkyCourier has been designed to maximize performance, reliability and revenue for operators, while providing safety and simplicity. 

This aircraft includes a fixed landing gear, which ensures there is no complex retractable landing gear or hydraulic-powered extension and retraction. Instead, operators are provided purely with manual controls, cables and push rods. 

Other features include a crew door on each side, which avoids pilots needing to use the main door, while there is also an optional weather radar and optional inflatable pneumatic boots, which sequence to various sections of the wing, tail surfaces, wing struts and landing gear for de-icing. 

The aircraft is also equipped with the Garmin G1000 NXi avionics suite with 12-inch displays, LED lighting, backlit panels and dual USB ports for electronic flight bags. 

Diagnostics come from the aircraft systems recorder, which constantly runs during aircraft operation, and Pratt & Whitney Canada's FAST solution. 

FAST optimizes maintenance planning and maximizes aircraft availably by capturing, analyzing, and sending wirelessly full-flight data intelligence to the operator base within minutes of the engine shutting down.

“The SkyCourier is entirely designed to ensure more efficient operations can be executed day after day. It is truly a hard-working aircraft that can boost efficiency for passenger and freight operations alike,” continues Escalante.

Adapting to the Mission 

With unmatched versatility, the cabin space in the SkyCourier can be easily converted to a freighter configuration by removing the seats and baggage areas in just 60 minutes or less. 

Alternatively, it’s possible to convert the aircraft from a 19-seat passenger configuration to cargo by using patent-pending quick release seats and removable bulkheads, with a conversion possible in just 90 minutes. 

This ability to easily switch between the passenger and freight variants significantly boosts the aircraft’s revenue generating potential, enabling operators to provide passenger services by day while hauling freight at night. 

Both SkyCourier variants use the same airframe, except for fuselage side panels on the passenger version, which incorporate large windows and three emergency exits to allow for passenger transportation for airline or charter use. 

The dedicated freighter version has a forward cargo barrier to separate the pilots from the cabin, whereas the combi version has a mid-cabin three-piece divider that enables quick installation to separate the freight from the passengers. 

“Historically, it’s very much been the case that aircraft for passengers and for cargo have been viewed as separate models. While the mission profile for these aircraft is clearly different, by creating dedicated passenger and freighter aircraft, alongside a combi version, we’ve shown how true versatility is achievable within the same aircraft and enabled operators to truly maximize revenue,” says Escalante. 

Supporting Remote Communities 

The versatility of the SkyCourier extends to the areas and runways where it can take off and land, as well as the remote regions that it is able to serve. 

In May 2023, Textron Aviation delivered the first passenger version of the SkyCourier to luxury regional carrier Lāna’i Air, which will use the aircraft to service business flights connecting Hawaii’s Oahu to the island of Lāna’i.

Textron Aviation remains in ongoing discussions with additional airlines, alongside private and corporate shuttle operators and charter operators, as the team continues to identify and respond to a wide variety of missions suitable for the SkyCourier. 

These include providing essential services to small and remote communities that are not connected by a typical airline style service, helping transport people and crucial goods, such as fresh produce, to hard-to-reach locations. 

The ability to serve these remote locations has been further enhanced by Textron Aviation developing an optional gravel kit, which boosts the already rugged reliability of the SkyCourier and enables it to operate from unimproved railways. 

As a result, the SkyCourier builds on Textron Aviation’s extensive track record in supporting customers operating in some of the world’s most demanding environments, allowing them to take off on short runways.

“We know that not every region has smooth, paved runways that can help move people and cargo out. The SkyCourier is already a hugely versatile aircraft suitable for an array of missions and the introduction of the gravel kit just further extends the opportunities for the aircraft, particularly in remote and hard-to-reach locations,” continues Escalante.

Powering Regions 

While the SkyCourier has generated interest among existing Textron Aviation customers, there have also been enquiries from new customers seeking to tap into the growth of regional aviation. 

This is particularly the case in rural Africa and parts of Asia, where the versatility of the SkyCourier means it could provide a tailored solution to some unique transportation challenges. 

“The demand for regional aviation has resulted in new start-up airlines already launching in the likes of Africa and Central Asia, creating new point-to-point opportunities and boosting the importance of the countries in which they launch as a connecting hub. The economics of turboprop aircraft makes a lot of sense for these airlines, while proving suitable for the range they require. Boosting regional connectivity is yet another valuable application of the endlessly versatile SkyCourier,” says Escalante 


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