Kestrel aims for practical addition to established turboprop marketWhile Cirrus Aircraft is looking to carve out a new industry niche for its light personal jet, Kestrel Aircraft hopes to break into an established market.
By: Candace Renalls, Duluth News Tribune
While Cirrus Aircraft is looking to carve out a new industry niche for its light personal jet, Kestrel Aircraft hopes to break into an established market.
“The turboprop market is different,” said Richard Aboulafia, a general aviation analyst with the Teal Group. “This is a well established market that’s been going for years. We know the growth rates, and they’re good.”
Because the business jet market has done well in contrast to much of the general aviation industry since the recession, Kestrel Aircraft founder and CEO Alan Klapmeier set out to develop a more efficient and practical alternative to the small business jet.
While typical twin-engine small business jets sell for about $4.5 million, Klapmeier expects his Kestrel K-350 to retail for about $3 million. The plane is under development with its manufacturing planned for Superior.
The Kestrel, which will seat eight passengers and a pilot, will have other advantages: greater fuel efficiency, ability to fly at high speeds and use shorter runways and lower pilot skill requirements. With space for hauling and an optional bathroom, Klapmeier likens it to an SUV that can be used for a business trips or to take the family to the cabin.
“If you need this plane, you will not have a lot of choice,” he said. “We think we will have a very competitive product for that market.”
While some observers say buyers of the Kestrel will have to be downright wealthy, Klapmeier preferred the word “affluent.”
The vast majority of buyers will fly the plane themselves. They’re probably currently flying single-engine or twin-engine turboprops or single-engine pistons and looking to move up, he said.
“Some will buy it, and it will become part of a company fleet,” he said. “And then we have people on the other end who have outrageously expensive business jets just for personal use.”
Klapmeier, who co-founded Cirrus in 1984 but left in 2009, is confident he can do it again with Kestrel. With the help of an incentive package of more than $40 million in loans, grants, tax breaks and credits from various government entities, he plans to build a facility this year in Superior to make composite parts for the plane and a production plant next year near the Richard I. Bong Airport.
The big question, said Aboulafia, is whether Kestrel can break into the existing turboprop market. Dozens have tried with little success and having enough cash is key, he said.
“The odds are overwhelmingly daunting,” he said. “But if he has access to the right people, the right money, sure it could happen. It’s a good plane.”