The private jet industry is highly competitive, one in which companies will utilize any advantage to maintain existing clients while also luring in new ones. Which makes the fact that Cirrus — a Duluth, Minn.-based aviation company — has come out with the world's most affordable private jet something that will turn heads in the industry.
After roughly a decade of development, Cirrus is beginning to deliver their first batch of SF50 Vision Jets to the more than 600 customers who were the first to purchase them (the inaugural plane arrived in Switzerland around mid-May of this year). The company received Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification late last year, which not only paved the way for Americans to purchase the jet, but for foreign buyers to lobby their government for a proper flying certification (FAA-certified private jets can quickly receive the required paperwork to fly in and out of foreign countries).
Yet, the path to distributing their first aircrafts wasn't always a clear flight. Cirrus hit some serious turbulence along the way, particularly during the economic downturn of 2008. "When the economy took a hit, we had to slow down our efforts quite a bit," says Dave Rathbun, Chief Engineer at Cirrus, which makes several other aircraft models in addition to the SF50 Vision. "It wasn't until about four years ago that we were able to get the program fully funded, which meant we could properly restaff and get through the final phase of developments." While the first sales have gone to buyers in Europe and North America, Cirrus is courting clients from around the globe. "We are keying in on markets ranging from South America to South Africa," says Rathbun.
Cirrus's SF50 Vision Jet cost $1.96 million. That means for roughly two million dollars, owners have access to a private jet that can carry five adults and two children between a range of 1,000 and 1,200 miles in distance at 28,000 feet in the air, while cruising at 345 m.p.h. In other words, enough to get from New York to Miami in about three hours. This is all the more impressive when you consider a used private jet made by different airlines such as Gulfstream or Embraer can sell for upwards of $10 to $12 million.
Rathbun and his team were able to do this in a variety of ways. "The single engine introduces some reduction in cost," says Rathbun. The owners will appreciate it because after the purchase, the operation cost will go down significantly when compared to a similarly sized private airplane." Yet, it wasn't just the engine. The way Cirrus crafted their entire SF50 Vision Jet was in a way that cut costs without increasing any sort of risk for the passengers.
"The airplane is almost entirely made out of carbon fiber epoxy high performance composite material," explains Rathbun. "Traditionally an airplane is made out of aluminum, which by itself is not expensive. However building with aluminum requires assembling a large number of parts — and that introduces additional labor costs," he goes on. "So a carbon fiber structure allows us to combine many different parts into one unit at the same time of the production process."
Much of the reason Cirrus is able to do this and other aircraft designers are not is quite simple: Cirrus is a relatively new company. "Because we are a relatively new company, we benefit from by not using decades-old manufacturing practices. So while other company's may use carbon fibre, they still assemble parts of it as if they were in an aluminum mold, because that is the way their factory operates," explains Ben Kowalski, vice president of marketing and communications at Cirrus. "We were able to start with a completely clean slate, so to speak."
Any buyer of a Cirrus SF50 Vision Jet can select from a wide range of interior options. However, for those who prefer to outfit their own interiors, the company has set up a program allowing for that to happen. "Our clients can select from a range of our designs, or if they'd like, they can come to the drawing board with us to ensure the interior of the aircraft fits their aesthetics," says Alex Alequin, design director at Cirrus. "Their inspiration might come through previous cars they've purchased or certain sections from their home interior."
When asked about some of the quirkier requests for the interior, Alequin responded, "We had a request from a baseball player to outfit the interior using alcantara suede coupled with red stitching throughout, so that it has the feel of a baseball."