Cessna recently announced a partnership with FedEx to build a clean-sheet twin called the SkyCourier. Designed to service smaller markets in the FedEx network, the new high-wing twin is a classic Cessna design: It’s boxy, with a strut-supported, straight high wing and fixed gear. It won’t be fast, as it is advertising a top speed in the range of 200 knots. Odds are that the airplane will be designed for single-pilot operations in the cargo world, and will be flown with a crew for passenger flight.
Big, boxy Cessna’s tend to be easy to fly, and the SkyCourier will likely be no different. The landing gear is going to be fairly wide, so crosswind landings will be a relative breeze.
So what does this mean for wanna-be professional pilots? Back in the day, getting multiengine time was the equivalent of a crusade. Nowadays, there’s a recognition that multi time is not realistically attainable in any sufficient quantity, and regional airlines train pilots the way they want them to fly in Level D sims, after which they get extensive training when flying the line.
There is no word yet on how training will be conducted in the SkyCourier. Chances are, there will be some kind of simulator, even if it isn’t a full Level D. Sim training is safer, cheaper, more efficient, and more effective than training in an airplane. The systems on the SkyCourier are likely to be pretty simple, so the academic side of the training will probably spend more time on the avionics.
Pilots who are lucky enough to fly the SkyCourier when it hits the market will have a decided leg up on their competitors when it comes to landing certain jobs. Multiengine time will always be a valuable commodity, and it’s quite possible that pilot with relatively low total time, but a good chunk of multiengine turbine pilot-in-command time in the SkyCourier may be able to procure a job with a major airline faster.
I also suspect that the SkyCourier will find a place in the passenger world in markets where the Beech 1900 or the Twin Otter used to excel. It won’t happen in droves, but it will happen. In time, it will find work for skydiving and missionary work, and if winds up on floats, I won’t be surprised.
The lack of retractable landing gear will lower insurance premiums (not to mention maintenance costs) for operators, and won’t measurably hurt pilots looking to move on.
This airplane is a great piece of news, as it demonstrates the confidence of FedEx and Cessna in the small-town package delivery market, and injects new life into a segment in which the airplanes that are available are old and tired. Those who are going to fly are going to be very fortunate indeed.