Cash-strapped Cirrus puts the brakes on Vision jet

NBAA Convention News » 2009
October 20, 2009, 3:16 PM

A spokesman for Cirrus Design (Booth No. 2669) confirmed yesterday that development work on the company’s SF50 Vision jet has slowed, that a number of employees working on the program have been laid off and that the program has been moved out of its dedicated hangar at the Duluth International Airport, Minn., into “consolidated facilities” after falling $250,000 behind on its rent.

Jon Dauplaise, Cirrus vice president of domestic sales, said the company is concentrating on maintaining its core piston airplane business, but limited flight testing is continuing on the V1 SF50 prototype and the single-engine personal jet recently returned to Duluth after being flown around the country on a marketing campaign. “Next week it will be back out on the road going to Nashville, Atlanta and Orlando,” he said. “Just to get it out there and let people know the program is still going forward.”  Cirrus has a mockup, not the actual aircraft, here at NBAA.

Dauplaise said some depositors had requested refunds and acknowledged that Cirrus had been late in making some of those refunds within the 45 days stipulated by their contracts, but added that “we don’t have anyone screaming to get their money back who hasn’t been refunded yet. We don’t have anyone we haven’t refunded yet.”  He said two waves of refund requests occurred. The first was in March, shortly after VLJ-maker Eclipse went bankrupt and the stock market bottomed out. The second occurred after Cirrus co-founder and former co-chairman Alan Klapmeier’s bid to buy the jet program from the company over the summer was rejected. “The worst is behind us with regard to that,” Dauplaise said.

Dauplaise said Cirrus currently employs 595 at its facilities in Duluth; Grand Forks, N.D.; and its field offices, down from 1,350 a year ago. Dauplaise said Cirrus most recently laid off 87 employees, including some engineers working on the jet program.

The company is currently manufacturing four of its single-engine piston SR aircraft per week, he said.  That number is down substantially from 2007 and 2008, when Cirrus manufactured 710 and 549 aircraft for those years, respectively, according to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. Through 2Q 2009, Cirrus had shipped only 121 new aircraft. “We’re still selling [piston] airplanes in a nearly impossible environment,” Dauplaise said. “We’re very pleased with that. But it is very challenging financially and we keep downsizing the business to the point where production matches cash flow. On a month-over-month basis, we are bumping along.”

Dauplaise said that a second jet prototype is not under construction. “We are in engineering refinement mode on V1 [the first prototype].” Some of the recent changes include changes to the flap geometry and flap mounting systems and getting the jet engine nozzle canted correctly. “The big components have been defined and we are, essentially, in tweaking mode on V1. The next step is to go with the conforming prototype and that is the one that requires the capital,” Dauplaise said. “That’s the one that is on the undefined timeline. That’s the next major stepping stone.”

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