THE 10- Q: THE NEW FACE OF Flight
Cirrus CEO Dale Klapmeier on creating a one-engine jet, drone taxis and brotherly rivalry at 20,000 feet.
Cirrus CEO Dale Klapmeier talks personal single-engine jets. Plus: Idaho’s richest man wants to sell you some antacid.
Cirrus airplanes come with a parachute built into the craft’s body, which makes flying considerably safer. How’d you think of that?
My brother Alan was in a midair collision back in 1985. He lost four feet of the wing but was able to land the airplane, barely. He got out of the airplane and said, “We can do better.” This started the search for the parachute.
How many parachute saves have there been in Cirruses?
Since 1999, 146. That’s a lot of lives. I won’t say all of them wouldn’t be here without it, but the parachute is a good solution when there’s a problem.
Early on, Cirrus had to fight the image that only wimps would pull the parachute handle if they got in trouble.
We’re a lifestyle company, not an aviation company. That means we make our planes safe and teach customers how to safely fly them. Happy customers come back.
How did Cirrus survive the Great Recession, when its business fell by almost two-thirds?
September 2008 was our best delivery month outside of a December. But by October 2008, we couldn’t give an airplane away. It stopped that fast. It was several years of pure hell.
During all that, you’re trying to complete the Vision Jet, the world’s first single-engine personal jet.
We knew the Vision Jet was the future of Cirrus. We could not let that die, but we were forced to slow the project down to what I call “the speed of cash.” Development got pretty slow.
And then you ended up selling Cirrus to China’s CAIGA in 2011. What’s that been like?
It’s been both frustrating and exciting. A business issue that seems very simple can come off the rails quickly. Then again, it’s been fantastic for the company and the customer to have that influx of cash. It let us finish the Vision Jet.
The Vision Jet sure is strangelooking.
It looks different because we designed from the inside out, not for the professional pilot but for the amateur owner flying the airplane with his or her family. It’s simple to fly. Every seat is comfortable and has a spectacular view.
Your cofounder brother Alan left Cirrus in 2009. Now he runs One Aviation. Are you two competitors?
Oh, sure we are. But at the same time, One Aviation’s six-seat Eclipse 550 costs $3.5 million, and we cost $2 million. We have a very big base of customers we’re trying to move up, and they don’t.
Do you and Alan get along?
We are competitors. Let’s leave it at that.
Uber and others talk about drones as air taxis. Seriously?
Traditional aviation and drones will converge. There is no question about that. They’ll be expensive at first. Battery technology has a long way to go. But it will happen. We will see drones flying people across cities.