RICHMOND HEIGHTS -- A local company is building airplanes and employing hundreds because one man can See the Possible.
Kenneth Ricci is CEO of Nextant Aerospace, a unique and growing company which remanufactures private business jets and sells them around the world. It is headquartered at the Cuyahoga County Airport in Richmond Heights.
Nextant is the latest in a line of aviation companies the Cleveland native has created and nurtured over the last 30 years. It is making Northeast Ohio an important location on the world map of aviation businesses.
"I have to tell you, there's probably no better salesman than me for Cleveland," Ricci smiles as he inspects the latest of his 400XT jets ready for delivery. "In the 15 years I've really been building aviation businesses here, I've brought almost 1,200 people from other cities to work here in these aviation companies."
Nextant buys older Beechjet aircraft and completely strips them down. "We replace only what has evolved and leave what works well the same," Ricci explains. Modern, fuel-efficient engines are added, and the interiors, computers, and avionics are completely redone.
The resulting Nextant 400XT is not only the world's only FAA-certified remanufactured business jet, says Ricci, but also the "greenest" jet around.
"We have reduced fuel flows 40 percent. That's important if you understand what's going on in terms of world development, becoming more green. There are places where they put on carbon taxes, and we're talking about airplanes, things that tend to burn a lot of fuel."
"So to take a 40 percent reduction in fuel, essentially makes it as a green friendly plane as you can have."
In the first six months Nextant created more than 150 new high skill local jobs, and expects that number to soon double when it rolls out a second, larger line of remanufactured business jets.
"These are highly technical jobs," Ricci proudly states. "We are assembling aircraft and today about 40 percent of our sales have left the country. So we have high skill technical jobs in Cleveland and we're exporting planes out of the country. Cleveland is a leader in this field."
Skilled workers assemble and install engines, pylons, wiring harnesses, and other aircraft parts, working on six jets at a time in a large hangar at the airport. Nextant expects to deliver 32 jets to domestic and international buyers by the end of 2012. Each costs just under $4 million.
"What we have on the drawing board is a remanufactured airplane for 8 passengers that's coast to coast range," Ricci says of his company's soon to be announced next model. "This one will have a price point that's about double the $4 million price we have on the 400XT plane."
The entrepreneur is a little reticent to speak of his pioneering efforts, saying only that "I'm an innovator in just my field, aviation, which I learned to love in the Air Force."
Of his vision, and ability to "See the Possible," he offers, "Anytime I look at a business or look at an idea we can do, I always ask what's unique about this. Then if I can identify what's unique about it, is it sustainable."
He has found positive answers to both questions in Nextant Aerospace, an idea he says is a great leap in the way airplane design and manufacturing has been done "the last 30 or 40 years."
"Let's say we have an idea for a new aircraft," Ricci gestures, "and we draw a picture of it. To get from that picture, develop it, produce it, to take it into manufacturing and sell it, costs about $800 million."
"To remanufacture an existing plane takes Research and Development of only about $25 million. Amortize that over the years and you can see how cost efficient our idea is."
Nextant anticipates yearly sales to grow to 48 planes in 2013, and beyond that Ricci believes anything is "possible."