Cirrus began putting flat-panel displays in its airplanes, starting with the short-lived Arnav multifunction display in early-serial-number examples. The company quickly progressed to the excellent Avidyne Entegra system with both primary and multifunction displays shortly thereafter and eventually to the Perspective by Garmin cockpit in today’s SR22s. Cirrus’ courageous decision to go with such bleeding-edge technology in a Part 23 airplane was huge, and it gave the company a big competitive advantage. It also led to the widespread adoption over time of flat-panel avionics systems — mostly in the form of the Garmin G1000 system — in tens of thousands of light airplanes the world around.
While Cirrus has over the years touted versions of its SR20 as training airplanes, the bigger issue for Cirrus has always been developing high-quality training programs for people learning to fly in its airplanes or simply transitioning to them. Working with a number of partners, from the University of North Dakota to Jeppesen, Cirrus has developed training curricula and computer-based tools to address big safety challenges. When you fire up a Cirrus, for example, you have to check off a series of safety questions addressing the potential risk factors of the flight before the system allows you to proceed. To some, the apparent reason for this emphasis on safety was the early poor safety record of the type. Examination of the record, however, leads to the conclusion that most of those accidents had much to do with the pilot flying the airplane and very little to do with the airplane itself.
7 Safety Utilities
From the very beginning Cirrus has put into its airplanes whatever safety features the current technology would allow. Along with partners Avidyne, Garmin, L-3 and S-Tec, among others, Cirrus gave buyers the option of getting instrument approach charts, remote-mount lightning detection, satellite weather, traffic awareness and GPS steering. It also developed nonhazard and, later, approved flight into known icing deicing systems into its airplanes, along with infrared vision and synthetic vision systems.
Power-plant innovation is one area in which Cirrus did not meet its own high standards, though that being said, it has a fairly impressive record of trying new engine approaches nonetheless. While Cirrus would have loved to adopt a fadec engine from the start, it settled instead for Continental engines that had mechanically integrated prop control. (Ironically, this was a long-existing Continental product that Cirrus made innovative by adopting it on its airplanes.) The introduction of the Turbo model was nothing new. Beech, Piper and Cessna had turbocharged models by the dozen as early as the 1960s. But the adoption of the Tornado Alley engine, which was a high-compression IO-550 with an aftermarket turbocharging package, was well outside the mainstream. And the Turbo, a 200-knot fixed-gear single that could fly legs of around 1,000 nm, depended on the lean-of-peak operation you can get with that engine.
9 Customer Care
Cirrus studied the premium automobile industry carefully and established a number of programs designed to give its customers that same kind of high-end experience. I went through the acceptance process at Cirrus a few years ago (without actually buying an airplane) and saw the breadth of the services that Cirrus offers, everything from standard and extended warranties to customized training packages to mentor pilots.
10 The Demographic
Almost everyone acknowledges that Cirrus has been a pioneer in bringing new kinds of owners to aviation. Again, nothing that the company did in this regard was brand-new. It simply succeeded at putting a lot of existing aviation sales theory into practice. In this case, the coming together of the company’s innovative design approaches — the company wasn’t called “Cirrus Design” for nothing — with the advent of a new breed of high-tech-savvy prospects made for a fertile sales environment. Cirrus went to boat shows, NASCAR races, PGA tournaments and computer shows in search of new prospects. And it worked. There was, of course, criticism that these new pilots shouldn’t be cutting their teeth on fast-glass airplanes. It didn’t stop the company’s competitors from trying the same sales tactics, however.
For more on the SR22, see 10 Years of the Cirrus SR22.