Cirrus Aircraft is flying high, announcing here at AirVenture that it has ramped up production of its SR piston aircraft to eight per week and increased output of its new SF50 Vision jet to one per week.
Cirrus obtained FAA certification for the single-engine Vision Jet last October and to date has delivered seven. Pat Waddick, Cirrus president of innovation and operations, said the slow delivery rate was deliberate and necessary to mature production processes. "We'd love to put a lot of airplanes out there, but the production has got to be stable. Sometimes you have to slow down to speed up. Right now airplanes fly out very smoothly. Methodically going through the process ultimately gets us to the higher [production] rate at the quality level and efficiency that we want. We don't go by calendar targets. We're focused on showing stability at the rate we set out, and [if we] are ready to move on to the next step. Is the quality level where we want it and is the customer experience where we want it?" he said. Waddick said Cirrus intends to bump jet production to two per week by early next year. Cirrus has orders for more than 600 Vision Jets.
The company already has planned for the additional production capacity. In this year's first quarter it opened a new 70,000-sq-ft paint and finishing center at its aircraft production facility in Duluth, Minnesota. Customer acceptance space that is now part of Cirrus's Knoxville, Tennessee "Vision Center" freed additional space. Waddick said that the company plans to bring on a second shift on the jet line and more off-shift work to handle increased jet production rates.
Waddick attributed the strong demand for Cirrus's piston SR aircraft to its new SR22 G6 model and the continued popularity of the SR22T. He defined most of the customers as "domestic retail," and characterized the export market as "relatively flat" save for fleet orders from governments, colleges and militaries. He said the company has a "significant" order backlog for SRs and that Cirrus had ramped up production to eight per week to cut down customer wait times. "When the jets go to two per week, we may actually flex down on the SRs so you'll see that go up and down based on customer demand," he said.
While these are unquestionably busy times for Cirrus's aircraft production facility in Duluth, by the end of the year customers for all Cirrus aircraft will take delivery of their airplanes from the company's new Vision Center in Knoxville; and all factory training for all Cirrus aircraft will be conducted there. Todd Simmons, Cirrus president of customer experience, said the company had delivered 150 SRs through Knoxville to date and plans to expand that number to 300 by year-end. The four-building Vision Center campus opened six months ago. The training building remains under construction and will be finished by year-end. It features a level-D full-motion simulator for the Vision Jet. In the next four to five months, all jet training will transition there. All training for the SRs is already conducted there.
Simmons said the Knoxville campus is also home to a fully functioning factory service center. "Any maintenance we do from light to heavy can be done there. We're booking out four to five months even on annuals. We're packed, quite bluntly. We're also using part of the service center to prep planes for delivery. There are five full stations in there, and every one of them is filled to capacity, so we have clearly tapped into a market that was ready for us to offer that kind of capability to the marketplace," he said.
When asked if this suggests the need for another factory service center, perhaps in another part of the country, Simmons said, "Sure it does. We're offering premium products and services such as Jet Stream for the Vision Jet; a prepaid maintenance program that includes engine, airframe and avionics. We have a similar program for the SR, and customers want to bring that to the factory service center, which makes it easy to own their airplane. Right now that makes us think that we want to expand Knoxville; and that is what we are doing."