Like it or not, Cirrus is now officially a Chinese company. I know that’s a bitter pill to swallow for many who viewed the Duluth, Minnesota-based company as a unique triumph of American entrepreneurial and aeronautical spirit. But let's face it, Cirrus has been owned, in essence, by Middle Eastern investors for the last decade. An argument can be made that a Chinese manufacturing consortium is a better steward for the lightplane maker than a bank in Bahrain. On the other hand, you might also make exactly the opposite argument, and I probably wouldn’t disagree with you too strongly.
Still, you have to admit, one of the reasons the acquisition of Cirrus by China Aviation Industry General Aircraft (CAIGA) is so intriguing has to do with prospects for the manufacturer’s long-dormant single-engine Vision jet project. With the proper capital backing and a desire to produce the diminutive bizjet, an airplane that has caused Cirrus so much angst (in terms of dollars spent and relationships strained) is now, for all intents and purposes, back on the front burner.
“We’re excited to have joined forces with CAIGA,” Cirrus president and CEO Brent Wouters said when the deal closed on Monday. “This partnership will benefit our business and our customers. CAIGA has the resources that will allow us to expedite our aircraft development programs and accelerate our global expansion.”
Cirrus chairman Dale Klapmeier recently said it would take only about 36 months from the close of the deal with the Chinese to achieve FAA certification and start deliveries of the Vision jet, saying the prospects for such an aircraft were a big part of the reason CAIGA bought Cirrus in the first place.
If Cirrus and its new owners can pull off such a feat in 36 months, more power to them. I’m betting it will take somewhat longer than that. After all, for a variety of reasons, the dreams of many wide-eyed piston-aircraft manufacturers attempting to break into the business jet market have languished. Cessna was the last lightplane maker to successfully pull it off, but that was back in the late 1960s with Citation 500.
Since then, several have tried to duplicate the feat, but none have crossed the certification finish line. With Cirrus in the hands of owners dedicated to seeing dreams of the Vision become a reality, Cirrus now has a superb chance of being the first successful single-engine very light jet maker in the history of aviation.
I’m also predicting CAIGA doesn’t turn its back on its biggest trading partner and potential customer base by pulling out of Duluth in favor manufacturing exclusively in Zhuhai. I can’t claim to know the intentions of CAIGA, but the words of the company’s head are encouraging:
"We are very impressed with Cirrus' performance in the global general aviation industry," said Meng Xiangkai, CAIGA president. "It has a very strong record of consistent product excellence, comprehensive safety features, an outstanding management team and a highly skilled workforce who operate from advanced production facilities. We look forward to working with Cirrus' management team to build upon its success and to expand production volume to further cement Cirrus' leadership position in the global general aviation industry."
I don’t know about you, but it sounds to me like Meng is definitely not a banker.