Vision realized: Duluth-built Cirrus jet a luxury sedan in the sky
This was said before the tour of the bustling production lines, before the flight around the edge of Lake Superior, before the CEO declared again that personal air transportation had been transformed forever.
"It's happening," Cirrus Aircraft spokesman Ben Kowalski said, because of a decade of dreaming, planning and building; because of the work of 1,200 employees; and because of the line of more than 600 people waiting for their chance to own this nearly $2 million piece of history, the Vision jet.
The Vision won federal approval last fall, had its first delivery in a showy December ceremony and has been coming off the line in Duluth at a rate of one per week.
Last week, Cirrus invited the News Tribune for a ride.
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I am not a frequent flyer — more of an anxious flyer, really — but if I owned a Vision, that would change fast.
Despite the massive windows and bumps through the clouds, it's easy to forget you're thousands of feet from the gravity-bound world below. CEO Dale Klapmeier said they wanted something closer to a sedan, something accessible for families to fly themselves, something memorable.
This, I thought while comfortably circling the South Shore of Lake Superior at 250 mph, is what he meant by "redefining what it means to fly in a personal jet."
It comes at a cost — $2.2 million with all the finishing touches and $600 an hour to operate. These jets appear to be the playthings of the rich, though Kowalski made a good point to counter that sentiment: Many of the jets will be used for charter flights, and with lower costs compared to other personal jets, more people may be able to experience the Vision.
It is still, of course, a luxury — one that affords hundreds of families in the Northland the chance to chase their own version of luxury.
If it was comforting to know there's a parachute packed inside the nose of the jet as I nervously watched the runway approach as we landed, it was more comforting to see the Vision come together under the skilled hands of the hundreds of Cirrus employees in Duluth. The view from the sky was great, but that scene on the ground was gold.
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This is no advertisement for the plane, as none is really needed — the company already has more than 600 people in line to buy these jets right as they come off the line, a number that has slowed its growth as the last people on the list remain years from their very own Vision, even if production doubled tomorrow. What Cirrus needs to advertise — and has done well to — are all the jobs it has to fill, and fill fast.
"We are hiring — so if someone is looking for a career in aviation, come on out to Cirrus," Klapmeier said.
These are the manufacturing jobs cities dream of landing — a clean work environment with good pay and a product to be proud of. There are currently more of these dream jobs in Duluth than qualified people to fill them, however. The company's in-house training program, Cirrus University, is helping to bridge that, as are efforts by Lake Superior College, local schools and many businesses inside the growing aviation cluster here.
City leaders can tout how far the industry has come — 1,200 more jobs over the past decade. But without the workforce, there is no further growth.
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The digital displays and controls, the ease with which the Vision moves through the air, even the room to move around in-flight — it's clear why someone would pay a $100,000 deposit for one of these even if it wouldn't be delivered for years.
As the plane again circled the South Shore on a briefly sunny Tuesday afternoon, a song was piped through the headsets, a new one by Arcade Fire.
"I guess that you've got everything now."
For a moment, it sure felt like it.
Brooks Johnson is a business reporter at the Duluth News Tribune.