There’s been lots and lots of discussion on this forum about the quality and design issues relating to the SR20 and 22, and the inevitable (sometimes implicit) questions about the safety of the airplanes. I believe most of us have given lots of thought to the subject, and I’d like to join in with my point of view.
Two relevant points of background:
-My plane has seems to have been near the top of the heap in terms of problems - 5 or 6 HSI’s, 4 autopilots (one of which went out smoking), wing-rocking autopilot, etc. (Don and Art, I think I can give you a run for your money.)
-I am among the group that purchased the Cirrus primarily because of its safety advantages, especially the CAPS. (At least that’s how I justified it to my wife.)
That said, I’d offer a number of perspectives.
Flying in general has a meaningful level of risk associated with it, and the opportunity for mechanical problems is a part of that (pilot error issues not withstanding). In any plane this is an issue and risk, so what’s important in evaluating the Cirrus is not the absolute number of problems, but how we compare to the alternatives. I believe that we are prone to a number of aberrations in these non-scientific comparisons.
One is our beloved COPA. COPA has undoubtedly saved lives - I truly believe that. It’s been a great source of comaraderie and new friendships. It also, by its nature, brings all the problems and warts into the forefront. That’s great from a safety point of view, but it distorts the subjective comparisons to other planes. (My old Warrior had a chronic nose gear shimmy problem that I suspect was common on Cherokees, yet the owners’ forums weren’t nearly as adept as ours in exposing the problem.) The size of our membership and our openness adds to the potential for distortion.
Another issue is the complexity of the systems of our airplane. Other planes don’t typically have problems with Sandels, MFD’s, backup GPS’s, backup vacuums, backup alternators, and parachutes for good reason - they don’t have them. The incidence of problems is directly and multiplicitively proportional to the number of things installed on the plane. My Warrior didn’t have an electrical vacuum backup. The fact that my Cirrus had a malfunction in the mechanism that activates the backup vacuum doesn’t make it more dangerous than the Warrior in this regard.
We also need to bear in mind that while Cirrus has an X% share of the single engine piston market, it probably has 2X% of the opportunities for device failures. Two choices in addressing this: Eliminate one of the Garmins, Sandels, CAPS, standby vacuums, and MFD’s, and I’ll guarantee that the incidence of device failures will go down. Or, we can understand and take into account the pitfalls in just looking at number of failures even compared to other airplanes.
Related to this is the issue of having a system, upon which we have become reliant, that fails. The case can be made that we’re better off without it in the first place, from a risk management point of view. The Garmins would be an example. My subjective assessment is that while having the Garmins could compromise my ability to fly a VOR approach soley by the CDI (sans moving maps), I still view that the overall benefits outweigh the risks. This is especially true if we’re diligent about training and keeping our basic instrument skills sharp, which of course we control.
I’ve come to the conclusion that combining a new airframe design, new technology (CAPS for example), and the integration of lots of state-of-the-art avionics, makes the early Cirrus airplanes (maybe the first 400 or so) more problem-prone than the later ones. One could make the case that from a safety point of view (and certainly from an aggravation point of view) that the best course of action is not to buy one of the early models. This, of course, begs the question of what you fly in the meantime. If we’re willing to take a four year break from flying, then this makes great sense. However, for those of us with the addiction, the question reverts to the comparison to the alternatives. Even with my atypical level of problems, many of which were in fact safety-compromising (a glideslope indicator that was stuck in the one dot down position, for example), I am absolutely convinced that I have had a safer 240 hours with my SR20 than if I had kept my Warrior. (My bank account is another matter.)
Finally, for anyone still reading this, there’s the light at the end of the tunnel factor. My experience, which unfortunately represents a good sample size, is that after about the first year or 200 hours, the incidence of problems has dramatically dropped. On perhaps a different magnitude, my perception is that this is typical of many if not most of the other owners. I believe there is in fact a due-diligence process in owning a early-production Cirrus. But, to extrapolate the first year seems to be flawed, based on my experience. And, although not related to safety other than my blood-pressure, Cirrus’s high degree of responsiveness has made this process bearable.
Maybe I’m rationalizing, but I believe that my flying safety has been enhanced in owning my Cirrus, and with what I believe is most of the problems behind me, and the learning curve behind me, I think an even safer flying plane is in my future.
Once again, I’m bracing myself.