Is a Cirrus Safe? (Long)

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.



A very thoughtful post, and one that’s hard to argue with. I agree completely that the Cirrus is likely no worse than most other airplanes, especially new designs, in terms of failure rates, etc.

That said, it’s my understanding that Cirrus’ goal was to make the plane comparable, not to other “spam cans,” but to a luxury automobile. In that regard, I think they’ve fallen short.


Andy-- Great post.
In fact one of the reasons I purchased the SR20 was because of COPA, and its ability to quickly transmit issues relating to our aircraft. Again, bravo to you!!

Eric Goldfine --N112HW (1128)


Good post and well thought out. I think that your last few paragraphs mirror my experience as well. Although I have not had the magnitude of problems that have plagued you (SN122 SR22), I have still spent much time at my service center. The good part is that the problems are really diminishing in frequency at 170 hours. It is also interesting that the service centers don’t seem to be finding new problems, and they can be a pit pre-emptive in addressing things that they have found on other airplanes. This should benefit us all.

I do commend the COPA membership for their candor, and their patience as we have all worked through the problems.

I also commend Cirrus and their service organization for making this whole process tolerable. Even though there are 400 planes flying, this is still not what I would call “volume production”. Cirrus will continue to find AND fix problems as they build more airplanes…With volume, the problems will slowly disappear. As someone who has also transitioned from a prototype manufacturing environment (100s of complex things per year) to thousands a month, I can tell you that the problems really do not become quickly obvious until the volumes increase. As a result, I will continue to be patient.


Dear Andy,
your post seems to be a clear and objective analysis of the situation.
Human habits take more note of negative things cancelling every other positive…
To criticize is so easy, especially when criticism on one subject (Cirrus…) aren’t compared on other different more bad subjets (think here to other aircraft name without CAP, autopilot, Sandel, etc).
I fully agree with you Andy.
If I don’t should agree with you I’d never ordered my Cirrus SR20 yet. I did it, and I’m waiting anxiosly to have my new toy!

Andy: My experience has been that after I left Duluth the only problems so far (115 hours on the Hobbs) have been a starter drive mechanism and a leaking fuel drain on the right wing header tank. To Cirrus’s credit when I called about the fact that on two occasions that the starter would spin without engaging and was making an unusual sound on starting, they didn’t say “you have to have an A&P look at”. They didn’t say “this is a Continental part, you have to call them”. They said “where do you want us to ship the part?” The replacement of that was done at Hillsboro Aviation and the engine starts without any metallic sound of any kind now. Same thing with the fuel drain leak. No excuses. They shipped the part and authorized the repair, even though the fuel drain replacement is an 8 hour labor job. Everything I have called about has been fixed without delay and handled very professionally.

I have a friend who is an A&P with IA and he says that failures of the starter drive are not uncommon. The drive is the clutch assembly of the starter and consists of a heavy spring around a drum that winds onto the drum when the starter is engaged. Once the engine starts the spring relaxes off the drum. The problem is one of the hardness of the metals involved on the spring and the drum. The hardness has to be equal or the spring will eat the drum or the drum will eat the spring. I had Hillsboro Aviation do an oil and filter change and took an oil sample for analysis at the time of that change.

This A&P also indicated that fuel leaks in the drain valves are not uncommon in new aircraft.

I do not consider either of these problems extraordinary. All of the fairly complex systems have worked perfectly since leaving Duluth (except when my malevolent CFII turns the brightness all the way down for partial panel work!).

Fortunately, all of the avionics problems occurred while the plane was still at Duluth. The autopilot pitch servo, the altitude encoder and the avionics master relay were all replaced at Duluth. For anybody planning to pick up their plane at Duluth planning on some additional training (I had my CFII take the Cirrus transition course) has the added benefit of shaking out more the bugs while you are still at Duluth. We were a little frustrated while waiting for the plane to be fixed, but the factory has the best source of parts and technicians. In fact, the autopilot pitch servo was put in by one of the production technicians on a Sunday afternoon!

Comparing the Cirrus to automobiles is not fair. The environment that avionics and instruments have to live in in an aircraft is more stressful than in an automobile and the avionics and instruments are substantially more complex. The proper comparison is to other aircraft, and in every post that I have seen on this subject the Cirrus comes out better than most, if not all, of the competition.


Great, honest piece. I am lurking out here, thinking about buying a part of a Cirrus (anyone in the Wichita area interested in a partnership??), and your story reminded me of my Air Force days.

Since the Air Force almost always buys “custom” aircraft, there’s an expected level of after-delivery development which is always part of the puzzle.

The Cirrus is loaded with “stuff” that (my opinion) is in its final stage of development, too – user testing in the real world. And it is not a derivative aircraft (e.g., how difficult was it for Cessna to build the 182 after building a ton of 172’s?), so Cirrus is still learning.

What’s important is to: 1) understand that’s the reality of low quantity manufacturing; but 2) it definitely appears Cirrus Design and its suppliers are totally committed to a level of service quality normally not seen in general aviation.

That’s maybe more important than anything else I’ve heard said about the aircraft itself.

Keep up the great posts.



As someone who is about to place an order for an SR-22, I found your post to be one of the best I have read over the past few weeks. Obviously, safety is critical and the Cirrus has numerous features designed to make it safer than many other planes. But as a new design, there are bound to be problems, issues, bugs, etc. Let’s face it - problems can be caused for very different reasons : 1) Design flaws; 2) manufacturing problems 3) random system/component failures; I would worry the most about design flaws, but haven’t seen much that would indicate that this is an issue. Manufacturing problems are obviously inherent in any new company with a new product, particularly this complex. But, over time these should become less and less. Random component problems are inherent in any new plane and I suspect Cirrus’ experience is no better or worse than any other manufacturer buying complex systems, sub-systems and components.
Bottom line - I feel comfortable that the plane is safe (maybe safer) than other airplanes and should keep getting better and more reliable with fewer squawks – So, unless someone convinces me that I am wrong, I’ll probably be placing an order shortly. Anyone disagree??

Steve Kahn

Stephen writes:

Comparing the Cirrus to automobiles is not fair. The environment that avionics and instruments have to live in in an aircraft is more stressful than in an automobile and the avionics and instruments are substantially more complex. The proper comparison is to other aircraft, and in every post that I have seen on this subject the Cirrus comes out better than most, if not all, of the competition.

It wasn’t me that thought of the car comparison, it was Cirrus. Comments by the K’s explaining the philosophy of the Cirrus early on were peppered with phrases like “for a pilot who steps out of a $40,000 car and into a $300,000 airplane it shouldn’t be a step down” or “the cockpit is modeled after a BMW 5-series” (quotes approximate). What’s a guy to think?

You’re right — it’s quite unfair to compare a Cirrus and a BMW. I’d never consider buying a BMW!

BMWs seem to be plagued by electrical problems, too. I’ve never seen one that had working turn signals. (Either that or I’ve never seen a BMW driver who used them…) [;)]


No, I don’t disagree at all. Several COPA members have had an inordinate number of issues but Andy’s letter is quite fair and reasonable.
I’ve had my airplane for almost one year and 190 hours. It’s going to DLH next week for its first annual. I have had NO airplane related flight cancellations in the entire time I’ve owned the plane and have had far fewer problems with this plane than with any other that I’ve owned (PA-32, M-20, BE-35, BE-55 and BE-60), although none of them were factory new.
One issue is clearly that any NEW airplane simply shows defects as it becomes used in the real world. This is true with GA aircraft and airliners as well. There is no question that there have been issues with the Cirrus but I really don’t think they are any worse than with any new design. I personally find the airplane to be by far the best I’ve ever owned in terms of efficiency, ease of operation and reliability.

Steve, your post prompts me to share 2 not-so-obvious lessons that I learned during the first couple of months of Cirrus SR22 ownership. They were learning how to manage my own expectations and learning how to interact, control and operate an enormously complex system. Not-so-obvious because the plane proved me to be have too low expectations in some areas and too high expectations of my own abilities!

So I would add a fourth problem area: 4) operator errors.

For example, my expectations of new plane ownership, especially as a novice owning a new generation of composite airframe with lots of electronics, were that there would be more problems than there were. When I picked up the plane, Cirrus employees were impressed with my plane because it had so few problems which I attributed to their improvements in production quality. Comparing my experiences with other COPA postings and especially hearing about things from my instructors and other plane owners, my Cirrus SR22 #127 has been very reliable with modest maintenance issues after 5 months and just over 200 hours flying time. I’m very happy to learn that my fears (and budget) were not realized!

Yet, there were some problems and I was surprised at my involvement in them. Several times I manhandled delicate things and physically caused problems. More often, I misunderstood the sequence and relationship of things that must go together in flying the plane with skill and finesse. In retrospect, I am amazed at how much I have had to learn – especially getting things to the point where my muscle memory knows what feels right that allows my brain to figure out what to prepare for next. (By the way, this contributes greatly to my joy of flying the SR22!) Fortunately, during most of my learning opportunities, a willing instructor, mechanic or owner has offered to help me diagnose, research and fix the underlying cause. And those causes have occasionally been your random component failures (e.g. lazy attitude indicator or balky Garmin radio) or manufacturing problem (leaking fuel tank), although I didn’t recognize or understand properly what was going on and so I sometimes made things worse until the right cause was identified and fixed.

So I support your assessment of the Cirrus situation and look forward to you joining us, those who enjoy Cirrus ownership.

And welcome to the COPA community, people who were so candid and supportive of my decision to order a plane! It was my 2nd best reason for buying the SR22.


I do not have my plane yet so I cannot comment on direct problems or issues with the equipment. But I have been flying Cessnas, Mooneys, Beechcraft and Pipers for 30 years albeit never as a single owner. The thing that impresses me the MOST so far is the support of the company. Cirrus bends over backwards to help you with ANY service related issue. The other companies do not even come close in this regard.
Considering this is a new design with new features and therfore the potentila for unexpected problems, it is great to see a company that is so cooperative in getting things done for the customer. One could argue that things should not have gone wrong in the first place but this company and aircraft still have “teething problems” which I think is to be expected. I think even Art would agree that he has never had a problem with Cirrus not cooperating in getting a problem fixed.