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Cirrus increases production

Cirrus Aircraft's second-generation Vision Jet, the G2. Courtesy Cirrus Aircraft.

Cirrus Aircraft saw strong growth in 2018, boosting production of its SR22 piston-engine airplanes by 7 percent and delivering nearly triple the number of turbine SF50 Vision Jets it did the previous year.

The 380 piston-engine airplanes Cirrus produced last year marked the highest output the company has achieved since the recession of 2007-2008 hit, causing general aviation aircraft sales to plummet nationwide.

But Todd Simmons, Cirrus president of customer experience, said: "Our expanding turbine portfolio is the real news."

Simmons predicts continued production growth for the Vision Jet this year, though at a more modest clip of probably 30 to 40 percent, as the aircraft graduates from startup mode.

"We wouldn't expect to sustain that sort of initial ramp-up rate, but getting more into a steadier production rate in 2019," he said.

Cirrus delivered its first three jets in 2016 and has continued to significantly accelerate the line in recent years.

Cirrus is the largest manufacturer in Duluth, employing about 1,020 people locally, another 250 at a composite plant in Grand Forks, N.D., and approximately 120 more at an aircraft delivery center in Knoxville, Tenn.

"Our growth in Duluth is fueling the growth in other places," Simmons said.

He described Cirrus today as "a smarter and a healthier business."

The company has not returned anywhere close to its production high of 721 aircraft in 2006, but Cirrus is producing higher-value planes these days. Its billings for 2018 totaled more than $437.3 million, surpassing its previous high of $338.3 million set in 2007.

Cirrus' year-over-year growth in 2018 was particularly impressive, with sales climbing 35 percent from the previous year, according to a report released by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association on Wednesday.

"While the financial numbers that were reported today by GAMA are quite strong, overall, the balance of our business across the product line is really where our strength is, and the maturing of the Vision Jet line is the story behind that," Simmons said.

"Obviously, the Vision Jet, once you start delivering at the numbers that we're talking about — in the 60s and growing — the average selling price of that plane is much, much higher," he said, agreeing that Cirrus' recent revenue growth is largely a function of its evolving product mix.

Simmons said Cirrus aims to build the Vision Jet business "in the same way we grew the SR business."

"I focus a little bit less on those top-line revenue numbers and more on a balanced business. We're now seeing our revenue being diversified across our portfolio," he said.

"We're focused on the kinds of products and features that our customers want in an airplane. We're so focused on making the plane easier to fly and providing more capability, more performance and more range," Simmons said, pointing to the recently released second-generation jet, with a base price of $2.38 million, to illustrate his point.

Peter Passi

Peter Passi covers Duluth city government and community issues. A graduate of Carleton College, he has worked as a reporter for more than 30 years and joined the Duluth News Tribune newsroom in 2000.

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