Cirrus on a roll

Cirrus aims to grab Cessna’s No. 1 spot; The Minnesota manufacturer is closing fast and hopes to become the leading producer of single-engine piston aircraft.

BY MOLLY MCMILLIN
The Wichita Eagle
630 words
29 February 2004
Wichita Eagle (KS)
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Copyright 2004 The Wichita Eagle. All rights reserved.

Cirrus Design Corp. --a relatively new producer of high-performance piston-powered aircraft – has taken aim at Wichita-based Cessna Aircraft Co.

Cirrus’ goal is to overtake Cessna as the largest manufacturer of small piston-engine aircraft.

“We want to be the No. 1 manufacturer” in that segment of the general aviation industry, said John Bingham, Cirrus executive vice president for sales and marketing.

The Duluth, Minn., planemaker is in second place and growing quickly.

Last year, Cirrus – which first began mass-producing planes in 1999 – delivered 459 piston-powered planes, more than double its shipments in 2001.

In the first two months of this year, it took orders for 100 new planes – nearly twice the number of planes sold in the first quarter of 2003.

The company was founded by brothers Alan and Dale Kalpmeier, who started Cirrus with an aircraft design that began on a clean sheet of paper.

Cirrus has ramped up production and now builds two planes per day.

Cirrus produces three models of piston aircraft: the SR20, SR22 and, most recently, the SRV, which it introduced in July.

The aircraft offer advanced avionics with flat-panel, multifunction technology to give pilots vital information on a computer screen rather than using traditional round gauges.

“That’s been a tremendous advantage for us,” Bingham said. “It makes flying so much easier, and it’s terribly reliable.”

Cessna is in the midst of adding that kind of avionics package on its 182 and 206 models.

Cirrus planes are made using composite materials rather than the traditional aluminum. All of its planes are equipped with parachutes as extra safety precautions.

Cessna officials realize that Cirrus’ goal is to overtake their company as the largest manufacturer of single-engine aircraft.

Cessna intends to be in the business a long time, to make investments in that sector of the business and to do "everything we can to make sure… that they don’t overtake us in deliveries, "Cessna spokesman Marilyn Richwine said.

Cessna, of course, makes far more than piston-engine aircraft. With its ever-growing Citation line, Cessna is the leading producer of business jets.

But in the lower-cost piston market, Cirrus is a serious competitor.

“They have apparently developed a good airplane and have become real competition for us,” Richwine said.

If the two companies’ predictions of how many planes they will build and deliver this year are accurate, Cirrus won’t overtake Cessna in 2004.

Cessna says it expects to deliver 600 single-engine aircraft this year. Cirrus plans to ship more than 500.

Cirrus is gaining in market share, however. Last year it captured about 30 percent of the market – up from about 11 percent in 2001.

Historically, Cessna has been, without question, the big kid on the block.

Since its beginning in 1927, Cessna has shipped about 185,500 single-engine aircraft.

More pilots have learned to fly on Cessna-built planes than any other.

And more than 60 percent of the active U.S. single-engine fleet is made up of Cessna aircraft.

“We still believe we have the proven record, and the product stands behind that record,” Richwine said.

Cirrus keeps a close watch on its competition, Bingham said.

Cessna, along with New Piper Aircraft, Diamond Aircraft and Lancair Co. --“all those are great companies,” Bingham said.

But the way the folks as Cirrus see it, “there is a great opportunity for us to grow into a serious dominant force in the industry,” Bingham said.

Ah! The sweet smell of near victory in the light GA production race.