Cessna Citation lll vs Learjet 55

How will the Citation III compare with the Learjet 55 series business jets?

Mike Chase  |  01st December 2015
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Mike Chase
Mike Chase

Michael Chase owns Chase & Associates, an aviation consulting firm specialized in industry product...



This month, Mike Chase compares two popular used business jets for the purpose of valuing the Cessna Citation lll for sale. A 1991 Citation lll has a list price of  approximately $1m...

We will consider payload/range, speed and cabin size; and cover current and future market values for the Citation lll against the Learjet 55/55B/55C.

Brief History

The Citation lll model represented several milestones in Cessna’s Citation program. This jet was Cessna Citation's entry into the high speed, mid-size corporate jet market. It was also the first Citation model to utilize Garrett (now Honeywell) engines as opposed to P&WC.

The introduction of the Citation III also brought a departure from the original structural design of all previous models, offering an entirely new fuselage mated to a supercritical swept wing and a T-Tail empennage.

Today, there are 179 wholly-owned Citation lll aircraft in operation worldwide and an additional eight Citation llls in shared-ownership for a total of 187 units globally. 

Six - 3.2% of the in operation fleet - are leased, according to JETNET. By continent, North America boasts the largest fleet percentage (81%) followed by South America (10%), for a combined total of 91%.

Payload & Range

The data contained in Table A are published in the B&CA, May 2015 issue, but are also sourced from Conklin & de Decker. The Citation lll ‘Available Payload with Maximum Fuel’ at 1,071 pounds is less than the Learjet 55/55B (2,495 lbs) and Learjet 55C (1,788 lbs) of payload capability.

Table A also shows the fuel usage of each aircraft. The Learjet 55 is the most frugal at 227 Gallons/Hour (GPH) while the Citation lll (248 GPH) burns the most, according to Aircraft Cost Calculator.

Cabin Cross-Sections

According to Conklin & de Decker, the Citation lll cabin volume is 422 cu. ft. and its cabin length is 18.4 ft. The Learjet 55 series is smaller in cabin volume at 403 cu. ft. and shorter in length (16.7 ft). Another notable difference between the two aircraft is the step-down in the aisle for the Citation lll compared to a flat floor of the Learjet 55 series. Chart A, courtesy of UPCAST JETBOOK, shows the side-by-side cross-section comparisons.

Range Comparison

As depicted by Chart B and using Witchita, Kansas as the origin point, the Citation lll shows less range coverage than the Learjet 55 series, with both reaching all of the lower 48 states, Canada and Mexico non-stop, per Aircraft Cost Calculator (ACC).

Note: For jets and turboprops, ‘Seats-Full Range’ represents the maximum IFR range of the aircraft at Long-Range Cruise with all passenger seats occupied. ACC assumes NBAA IFR fuel reserve calculation for a 200nm alternate. The lines depicted do not include winds aloft or any other weather-related obstacles.

Powerplant Details

As mentioned previously, the Citation lll is powered by two Honeywell TFE 731-3B engines with a thrust rating of 3,650 lbst each. The Learjet 55 series is also powered by Honeywell - two TFE 731-3AR engines, each offering slightly more output with a rating of 3,700 lbst.

Cost Per Mile

Using data published in the May 2015 B&CA Planning and Purchasing Handbook and the August 2015 B&CA Operations Planning Guide, we will compare our aircraft. The nationwide average Jet-A fuel cost used from the August 2015 edition was $5.25 per gallon at press time, so for the sake of comparison we’ll chart the numbers as published.

Note: Fuel price used from this source does not represent an average price for the year.

Chart C details ‘Cost per Mile’ and compares the Citation lll to its competition, factoring direct costs and with each aircraft flying a 1,000nm mission with an 800 pound (four passengers) payload. The Citation lll shows the highest cost per nautical mile at $5.12 compared to $4.52 for the Learjet 55/55B and $4.58 for the Learjet 55C.

Total Variable Cost

The ‘Total Variable Cost’ illustrated in Chart D is defined as the Cost of Fuel Expense, Maintenance Labor Expense, Scheduled Parts Expense and Miscellaneous Trip Expense. The Total Variable Cost for the Citation lll computes at $2,161 per hour, which is 7.7% more than the Learjet 55C ($2,007) and 15.8% more than the Learjet 55/55B ($1,866).

Aircraft Comparison Table

Table C contains the pre-owned prices from Vref Pricing Guide for a 1986 model of each aircraft (and a 1990 model of the Learjet 55C). The average speed, cabin volume and maximum payload values are from Conklin & de Decker, while the number of aircraft in-operation and percentage ‘For Sale’ are as reported by JETNET.

The Citation lll currently has 16% of its fleet ‘For Sale’ while the Learjet 55/55B has 17% for sale. However, Learjet 55C has a highest percentage ‘For Sale’ at 30.8% of the fleet. The average number of used transactions (sold) per month for the Citation lll is higher at 3.8 per month than the Learjet 55/55B at 2.3 per month.

Depreciation Schedule

Aircraft that are owned and operated by businesses are often depreciable for income tax purposes under the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS). Under MACRS, taxpayers are allowed to accelerate the depreciation of assets by taking a greater percentage of the deductions during the first few years of the applicable recovery period (see Table D).

In certain cases, aircraft may not qualify under the MACRS system and must be depreciated under the less favorable Alternative Depreciation System (ADS) where depreciation is based on a straight-line method, meaning that equal deductions are taken during each year of the applicable recovery period. In most cases, recovery periods under ADS are longer than recovery periods available under MACRS.

There are a variety of factors that taxpayers must consider in determining if an aircraft may be depreciated, and if so, the correct depreciation method and recovery period that should be utilized. For example, aircraft used in charter service (i.e. Part 135) are normally depreciated under MACRS over a seven year recovery period or under ADS using a twelve year recovery period.

Aircraft used for qualified business purposes, such as Part 91 business-use flights, are generally depreciated under MACRS over a period of five years or by using ADS with a six year recovery period. There are certain uses of the aircraft, such as non-business flights, that may have an impact on the allowable depreciation deduction available in a given year.

Table E depicts an example of using the MACRS schedule for a 1991 Citation lll aircraft in private (Part 91) and charter (Part 135) operations over five and seven-year periods, assuming a used retail value of $1 million, per Vref Pricing guide.

Asking Prices vs Age, Quantity & Engines

Chart E, sourced from the Multi-dimensional Economic Evaluators Inc. (www.meevaluators.com), shows a Value and Demand chart for the pre-owned Citation lll, including the Learjet 55 series aircraft. The current pre-owned market for the Citation lll aircraft shows a total of 29 aircraft ‘For Sale’ with 10 displaying an asking price, thus we have plotted them.

We also added other pre-owned business jets in our study group with asking prices ranging from $0.7m to $1.225m. The equation that we derived from these asking prices and other criteria used should enable sellers and buyers to compare, and perhaps adjust their offerings, if necessary.

Demand and Value are on opposite sides of the same Price axis. Thus, the market for the used Citation lll responds to at least four features: Years, Altitude, Quantity, and Price. The maximum flight ceiling is 51,000 ft. for all the aircraft in this study.

Productivity Comparisons

The points in Chart F are centered on the same aircraft. Pricing used in the vertical axis is as published in the Vref Pricing Guide. The productivity index requires further discussion in that the factors used can be somewhat arbitrary. Productivity can be defined (and it is here) as the multiple of three factors:

1. Range with full payload and available fuel;

2. The long range cruise speed flown to achieve that range;

3. The cabin volume available for passengers and amenities.

Others may choose different parameters, but serious business aircraft buyers are usually impressed with Price, Range, Speed and Cabin Size.

After consideration of the Price, Range, Speed and Cabin Size, we can conclude that the Citation lll displays a reasonable measure of productivity.

Popular attributes of the Citation lll  are a larger cabin volume compared to the Learjet 55 series and lower acquisition cost on the used aircraft market. However, costs per mile and per hour are higher for the Citation lll, and it has less payload capability and range than possible competitors on the pre-owned market. Upgrade and modification programs exist to help improve some of these elements, but operators should weigh their mission requirements and budgets precisely when picking the option that is the best for them.


Within the preceding paragraphs, we have touched upon several of the attributes that business aircraft operators value. There are other qualities such as airport performance, terminal area performance, and time to climb that might factor in a buying decision, however.

The Citation lll continues to prove popular today. Operators exploring the market for pre-owned aircraft should find the preceding comparison useful. Our expectations are that the Cessna Citation lll jet, which started delivering in 1983 and ended production in 1991, will continue to do well in the pre-owned markets for the foreseeable future.

Find the latest Mid-Size Jets for sale  on AvBuyer

Mike Chase

Mike Chase

Editor, Aircraft Comparisons

Michael Chase owns Chase & Associates, an aviation consulting firm specialized in industry product and market research in the Commercial & Business Aviation sectors.

With over five decades of extensive experience, Michael has worked as a director of special projects for JETNET, LLC; served as Senior Management Consultant for Sabre Holding; and was Director of Market & Sales Research for Gulfstream Aerospace, leading sales and product research, including feasibility and viability studies.


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