Cirrus Marks 9 Percent Increase In Plane Sales

Cirrus Aircraft delivered 276 airplanes in 2013

Feb. 20--Cirrus Aircraft posted encouraging annual results Wednesday, when it announced it had delivered 276 airplanes in 2013. That's 9 percent more machines than it shipped the previous year, and it marks the Duluth-based company's best performance since 2008, when it produced nearly twice as many airplanes.

But Cirrus has a long way to go before its output returns to prerecession levels. At peak activity in 2006, 721 airplanes rolled off the production line in Duluth -- more than 2 1/2 times what Cirrus churned out last year.

The entire general aviation industry has contracted substantially in the wake of a global economic downturn. Yet Cirrus has emerged in a commanding position with a record-high claim to a 37 percent share of the single-engine piston airplane market.

"When it comes to the piston-side of the business, with the performance we offer and such a strong safety record, we're the natural choice if you're looking to replace an older aircraft," said Bill King, Cirrus vice president of business administration. "Dollar for dollar and pound for pound, we're the best value in the sky."

With about 500 people on its local payroll, "Cirrus is a huge economic engine for the city of Duluth," said Chris Eng, director of the Duluth Economic Development Authority. "Their continued growth is very important to us, and we continue to work with them."

In addition to bolstering its domestic market, Cirrus continues to make inroads abroad.

In 2013, it shipped more than 20 new Cirrus aircraft to the Royal Saudi Air Force for use as trainers. Jon Dauplaise, vice president of fleet and special mission aircraft at Cirrus, called the order "the most recent example of impressive global institutions choosing to train new pilots with technically advanced aircraft." Saudi Arabia is the third nation to pick Cirrus airplanes for its air force training needs, following in the footsteps of the United States and France.

King said Cirrus sees strong prospective sales for civilian pilot training as well, as flight schools replace outdated, aging aircraft.

Cirrus is off to a strong start in 2014, and King said he expects to see continued sales growth this year.

"We ended the year with a backlog of orders, so we're moving into January with a waiting list, which is virtually unheard of in our business at this time of year," he said.

While King forecasts continued steady growth in Cirrus' sales, he said it will probably be some time before the company's production approaches the kind of peak numbers it saw eight years ago.

But he anticipates Cirrus' development of its first jet, the SF50 Vision, will soon pay dividends in another aviation market sector. Although the Vision has yet to be made available for sale, Cirrus already has received orders for more than 550 of them.

"We believe we are going to do to the light jet market what we've done to the piston engine market," King said. "We want to be the market leader."

Eng said the city of Duluth continues to work with Duluth to help accommodate the growth of its jet program.

"We're looking at any and all resources we can bring to bear that will keep their growth here," he said.

"The continued growth of the aviation sector is very important for us, so we've talked with Cirrus about helping with their expansion and an R&D facility," Eng said. "Cirrus is our Mayo Clinic, the jobs it provides both today and in the future will be very important to Duluth and the state."

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