It’s been a tough time for general aviation since the U.S. economy went bust in the early fall of 2008. But I was happy to hear some good news for a change when I visited Cirrus Aircraft in Duluth last week.
The good news is that for the first time since the recession began in 2008 Cirrus has a backlog of orders for its new SR22-G5 piston single. The backlog is by no means huge, but still, sales are finally headed in the right direction.
Part of the reason for the pickup in demand is the new G5 model of the SR22. Cirrus was able to increase maximum takeoff weight from 3,400 to 3,600 pounds and keep nearly all of that weight increase as new useful load. That is a remarkable achievement.
The G5 is a rare new production airplane that can carry at least two typically sized couples and enough fuel to go a long way, or maybe even fill the tanks. Pilots want all of the equipment that increases capability such as ice protection, air conditioning and many add turbocharging, but they also want a big useful load. The G5 delivers.
Another aspect of the new success at Cirrus is what I would call right sizing the production plans. Though an optimistic attitude serves all of us well in many aspects of our lives, being unrealistic about the size of demand for any product can kill a manufacturer. It’s extremely difficult to forecast demand for airplanes, but for several years Cirrus, like many companies, had erred on the optimistic side in planning, and that has been costly.
This year Cirrus co-founder and CEO Dale Klapmeier and new company president Pat Waddick told me last week that conservative planning—realism actually—has won out. Cirrus will build five airplanes a week, 260 for the year. That is about what the company sold last year, and close to demand the year before. We all hope the economy is improving, stock market indexes are way up, but there are not really solid reasons to believe the market for high performance piston singles will jump.
If Cirrus can build and sell the planned 260 airplanes without deep discounts or other costly measures to move excess inventory the profit picture is okay. And that’s what it takes to keep any manufacturer humming along.
I think the change in leadership positions at Cirrus is also encouraging. Dale, along with his brother Alan, had the dream of building airplanes. And they made the dream come true. But Dale’s first love is spending time with Cirrus customers and, well, continuing to build the dream. It’s impossible to not like Dale, he is charming and affable. And he has the hard earned street cred as both a pilot and airplane builder that makes him so interesting to spend time with whether you fly a Cirrus, or some other type.
Pat has been at Cirrus for 25 years joining the company as an engineer. Pat lived through the wild swings of the VK30 piston pusher kit effort. Then the ST50 program to put a turbine engine in the VK. And he persevered through the many near death experiences Cirrus survived to get the SR20 and then SR22 into production. He has the irreplaceable experience and engineer’s attention to detail needed to run the operations day to day. And to manage the enormous number of projects big and small that are necessary to transform the SF50 single-engine jet from a proof of concept into a real production airplane.
With a reasonable level of funding from its Chinese owners, and a well suited management team in Klapmeier and Waddick, I think Cirrus gives us reason to be optimistic about the future of general aviation manufacturing and flying. It sure is nice to see some good news.