Waiting list for new Cirrus jet displays customer loyaltyAbout 45 owners and prospective buyers of the Cirrus jet, which will be built in Duluth, turned out for a jet showing last week at the Rochester International Airport.
By: Candace Renalls, Duluth News Tribune
ROCHESTER, Minn. — Michael Marto does a lot of traveling for his businesses.
And it’s wearing him down.
“We see clients all over the country for entertainment events,” said Marton, president and CEO of Executive Visions, Inc., in Atlanta. “We fly all the time.”
The process of getting in and out of the commercial airports, boarding and disembarking charter and major carriers, the accompanying delays and hassles — it all means long hours away from home and overnight stays.
So the idea of saving time and having more control over his schedule has him excited.
“If we had our own plane, we’d be flying home at night,” he said.
That’s why he’s buying Cirrus’ new light Vision Jet that’s designed for regional business and personal use and with a price tag that jumps from $1.72 million to $1.96 million on July 1.
“We’re position holder 141,” Marto said proudly at a Cirrus invitation-only event in Rochester last week where Cirrus executives gave a presentation and the jet was flown. That’s holder No. 141 of 515 buyers who have first dibs on the Vision SR-50 Jet that — if all goes as planned — will roll off the Cirrus production line beginning in 2015.
In the meantime, Marto is buying an SR-22T, Cirrus’ top-of-the-line single-engine piston plane that starts at $550,000 brand new. And he’s learning to fly so he can serve as a pilot, along with a colleague. Besides business, they’ll use it for pleasure, as well.
“We will fly this until that jet comes,” he said, standing next a similar Cirrus piston plane on display.
About 45 Cirrus owners and prospective buyers turned out for the jet showing, which included a flight demonstration that wowed observers with its fast and slow flybys and steep climb.
The event, Cirrus’ only one in the region this year, was held at the Rochester International Airport because Rochester is a big jet market. And Duluth, where Cirrus is based, already has a lot of Cirrus owners, said Gary Black, Cirrus regional sales director.
Cirrus is banking on the single-engine personal jet to fill a gap in the light-jet market between high-performing propeller planes and light business jets. Twice as big inside as Cirrus’ four-seat piston planes, the jet will seat five adults and two children with the advanced technology, avionics and luxury features similar to its pistons.
Tough niche to fill
Richard Aboulafia, a general aviation analyst for the Teal Group outside Washington, D.C., agreed there is a niche to fill in the low end of the light-jet market.
“It certainly is big enough for one (maker),” he said. “If they get there first and there aren’t any other competitors, they’ll find something. It probably isn’t big enough for two.”
But others have been trying to break into that owner-pilot light-jet market.
Diamond Industries is developing the Diamond D-Jet, which seats five and would be direct competition for the Cirrus Vision Jet. Currently undergoing flight testing, it also is a single-engine personal jet.
Like the Cirrus, development of the Diamond D-Jet was delayed when funding dried up during the economic downturn that hit the general aviation industry hard. But development of the Diamond jet has resumed. And the Cirrus jet program recently got the boost it needed with nearly $100 million from its owners, China Aviation Industry General Aircraft Co.
But, said Aboulafia, a lot more money will be needed to bring the jet to market.
“That’s a Chinese decision,” he said of whether that happens. “If they fund it, it will happen.”
With expected price tags at roughly $2 million, the personal light jet is a notch down from the $3 million to $4 million twin-engine business jets, he said.
Many have tried and failed to enter the market. Among them is Piper Aircraft, which has shelved the development of its Altaire single-engine business jet.
“There’s a lot for irrational exuberance in this (light jet) market,” Aboulafia said. “There’s always expectations that this will change the world. We’ve seen this before. It never works out.”
But, he said, if Cirrus can get its jet to market first, it would be a big advantage.
Moving on up
So who will buy the Cirrus jet?
Current and former Cirrus owners, for one, who are looking to move up to a higher-performance aircraft for personal and business use, says Todd Simmons, Cirrus vice president of sales and marketing.
The numbers show it. Seventy-five percent of the 515 place holders, who each have put $100,000 down, are Cirrus owners, former owners or who otherwise are part of the Cirrus family.
Others simply are drawn to the entry-level personal-jet niche being created. They’ll pilot the plane themselves or hire a pilot to fly it.
The Vision jet also will be able to use the shorter runways at thousands of regional airports that the big commercial airlines can’t use.
Cirrus owner Fred Runde of Belmont, Wis., is considering upgrading to the jet when it becomes available.
“The jet is at least two years away,” he said. “If they had one ready right now, I would trade for it.”
Runde, who has six businesses, said he would use the jet to travel between them, saving time.
And with the ability to fly at much higher altitudes, he said he wouldn’t have to deal with the weather.
“Who wouldn’t want to go faster and higher?” Runde said.
He’s sold on the Cirrus brand.
“They’ve been on the cutting edge with avionics, and the parachute is a big deal,” Runde said, referring to Cirrus’ whole-plane parachute system that the jet also will have. “It will be the only jet in the world with a chute.”
Moreover, the jet will be easy to handle, and Cirrus planes are so popular, servicing can be found anywhere, he said.
Cirrus is looking beyond that base market that includes Runde and Marto to future buyers who could use the jet as a charter or an air-taxi service. Other possibilities include using the jet for flight training, humanitarian efforts and to move patients.
“This is a market we haven’t penetrated yet,” Simmons said.
Tony Biff of Henderson, Minn., could be part of that future market. He’s interested in buying a Cirrus SR-22 piston to use as an air-taxi service for shorter trips in the region. But he sees the jet as an option in about 10 years.
“I could take longer trips, haul more people and save people even more time,” he said.