Cir­rus CEO Dale Klap­meier on cre­at­ing a one-en­gine jet, drone taxis and broth­erly ri­valry at 20,000 feet.

Forbes - - CONTENTS -

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.

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