Downturn forces Cirrus to delay aircraft development

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The global economic meltdown has forced Cirrus Design to delay its new aircraft development timetable while it awaits the signs of recovery.

Certification of the SF50 Vision - formerly the SJ50 Vision - has been pushed back from late 2010, as originally scheduled, to 2012, while development of the SRS light sport aircraft "is under review", says the Duluth, Minnesota-based general aviation aircraft manufacturer.

Speaking at the Aero Friedrichshafen show in Germany on 2 April, Cirrus vice-president of international sales Ian Bentley said: "We have been hit pretty hard by the recession and this has impacted our product development."

Bentley said Cirrus began "downsizing" the company last August, just before the slowdown took hold. "We began cutting our workforce from 1,300 to 800 employees, so now we don't have enough man hours to devote to both aircraft programmes," he added.

Half of the jobs cuts are permanent, Bentley admitted. "Ten years of growth at Cirrus made us very fat and we realised that we could not support such large numbers of employees if we were to ride the economic storm that was looming. As the situation improves, around half of the jobs will be reinstated when we come out of the recession."

cirrus 
 © Cirrus

Cirrus has chalked up 400 orders for the SF50 to date and the single-engined jet has chalked up 120h and 80h of in-flight and ground testing, respectively. "The aircraft is selling well and we are aggressively pursuing certification under the new schedule, we now have a little longer to do it, by which time the global economy could be in a better position," Bentley said.

Cirrus's owner Arcapita is seeking outside investors to help fund development of the personal jet. "There has to be a capital injection in order to complete the SF50. They may consider selling a part or a majority share in Cirrus - at the right price, of course," said Bentley.

He admitted that any spare money the company has is spent on developing the SF50 - placing the SRS light sport aircraft programme in a precarious position. "The future of the SRS is under review and we hope to make a decision [about its fate] in a month or so," said Bentley.

Meanwhile, Cirrus is "cautiously optimistic" it can deliver more than 320 piston singles this gear - down from the 500 SR20, SR22 and Turbo models it delivered in 2008. "If deliveries this year can exceed 320 aircraft we stand to make a profit," said Bentley.