NBAA Convention News

Piper’s plans to reveal VLJ today; Cirrus backs off talk of a jet ‘soon’

 - November 7, 2006, 11:19 AM

While Piper Aircraft is poised to unveil a new compact jet at its booth (No. 5785) this morning, Cirrus Design Corp.’s booth (No. 2957) will offer no such event, in spite of speculation that an announcement was near. But Cirrus president Alan Klapmeier told NBAA Convention News that the company is working steadily on its own very light jet (VLJ) program, and will spill the beans when his engineering team is further along with the design.

Rumors have been swirling for weeks that the lightplane makers would launch very light jets here at the show, but Cirrus, maker of the SR20 and SR22 piston singles, made it clear it’s not ready to enter the VLJ fray.

“We won’t be announcing any designs at NBAA or anytime soon,” Klapmeier said. “At our customer convention this summer, we announced that we were definitely going forward [with a compact jet], but we would not be showing a picture or a price or delivery date yet, at this point. We really do feel that there is no advantage in showing everyone what we’re doing until we’re further down the road. We have not flown a prototype yet. We still have a long way to go.”

Klapmeier said the Cirrus jet would have one engine, a parachute, retractable landing gear and a cabin pressurization system, but would not elaborate further. “Clearly our design goal is about this definition of what we’re calling personal jet. Our airplane will be the next logical step up from the SR22, we think, in terms of that customer and that operational style.”

The idea for a Cirrus jet was spawned back in 1998, Klapmeier said. “It’s frustrating for me that it’s taken so long. It’s definitely a problem taking our time. I suppose at this point the one that we would say is the likely competitor to us is Diamond. Their concepts are similar to ours; but I don’t really mind that, some competition will certainly help grow the industry.”

Klapmeier said Cirrus has not discussed any sort of partnership with general aviation peer Diamond, which has designed its own jet, but noted that “we both feel very comfortable with what we’re doing, we know each other and talk to each other.”

As for the mystery Piper jet?  It’s due to be unveiled here on the show floor at 11 a.m. Look for full details in tomorrow’s edition of NBAA Convention News.

Klapmeier, meanwhile, said the main impediment to progress of the Cirrus jet is the company’s difficulty in recruiting quality engineers to work out of its Duluth, Minn. headquarters. He said Cirrus is looking to hire at least 20 engineers next year to work exclusively on the jet program. “The problem we run into is that there are changes we want to make to the existing aircraft, and [the jet program] just sucks up a huge amount of the engineering resources of the company.”

Klapmeier added that Cirrus is “definitely considering” moving parts of the jet program to less frigid climates, and noted that avionics supplier Avidyne has encouraged Cirrus to “give in” and relocate its research and development center to Florida.