After more than a decade designing and building a first-of-its-kind aircraft, weathering a major recession, and securing $100 million from a Chinese-owned company to jumpstart the project, Cirrus Aircraft has finally won federal certification of its 'Vision' jet.
That means the Federal Aviation Administration will no longer have to inspect and certify every aircraft that comes off the production line in Duluth.
"They've watched us enough to know that we can safely and smartly replicate the building process," said Ben Kowalski, the company's vice president of marketing and communications.
Cirrus is banking its future on the success of the jet, the first single-engine, personal jet to hit the market.
With a distinct V-shaped tail and a nearly $2 million price tag, the seven-seat aircraft offers the speed and range of a larger jet, but is designed to be flown by the owner.
"What that brings to the market," said Kowalski, "is an acquisition cost and an operating cost that is truly in a category of its own."
Five jets have so far been delivered to customers in the U.S. A sixth is scheduled to be delivered to a European customer next week. So far, the customers have used the planes both for business and personal use, Kowalski said.
Cirrus is now producing one jet a week at its facility in Duluth with plans to speed up that production rate to three jets every two weeks later this year, said Pat Waddick the company's president of innovation and operations.
"We have over 600 very patient 'Vision' jet customers who have been waiting for us to deliver their airplanes," Waddick said. "That's an over billion-dollar book of business."
That business has meant job growth at Cirrus' facilities in Duluth, Grand Forks, N.D., and Knoxville, Tenn. Since the company started ramping up its jet program five years ago, employment has grown from about 470 to more than 1,100, including about 850 in Duluth.
The company plans to add more than 100 jobs at its operations over the next couple of years, Waddick added.