Cirrus unveils plans for new Tennessee operations
DULUTH, Minn. -- As anticipated, Duluth-based Cirrus Aircraft announced Wednesday morning that it will open a new delivery and customer service center in Knoxville, Tenn.Dale Klapmeier, Cirrus' co-founder and CEO, was joined by Tennessee Gov. Bil...
DULUTH, Minn. -- As anticipated, Duluth-based Cirrus Aircraft announced Wednesday morning that it will open a new delivery and customer service center in Knoxville, Tenn.
Dale Klapmeier, Cirrus' co-founder and CEO, was joined by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam during a press conference at the McGhee Tyson Airport, where the company plans to open a new facility that will deliver planes to customers, provide hands-on training, offer detailing services and provide ongoing customer support.
In March, Cirrus disclosed its intentions to relocate its delivery operations from Duluth to some place with a warmer climate and more consistently favorable flying conditions. The shift is expected to result in the transfer of 35 to 40 jobs from Duluth to Knoxville, but the new delivery facility is expected to boast an even larger workforce as Cirrus rolls out production of its first jet aircraft, the Vision SF50, later this year.
"Our expectation down here is that it will be north of 150, probably more like 170 people when it's all stood up and doing all of the functions," said Bill King, Cirrus' vice president of business administration, describing what the fully operational center will probably look like in five years or so.
Although some jobs will migrate south as a result of developments in Knoxville, Duluth still stands to see a net employment gain if Cirrus is successful in its efforts to expand local manufacturing operations. The production of the new jet aircraft is expected to generate another 150 jobs at a minimum, adding to the company's current Duluth workforce of about 600.
Cirrus chose Knoxville after an extensive search that included 30 prospective airport locations in 15 states. King said the company narrowed the field to two finalists before picking Knoxville ahead of Asheville, N.C.
King said key considerations that went into the selection included an evaluation of the experience visiting customers would likely have, safety, airport congestion, how attractive the area would be for employees and the availability of skilled workers in the local market.
"We want the experience for our customers to be Duluth-like from the aspect of being comfortable and welcoming," King said.
Pilots receiving the keys to a new Cirrus jet typically will receive 10 to 14 days of training in Knoxville.
To help draw Cirrus to Knoxville, the state of Tennessee has agreed to invest $950,000 that King said will fund infrastructure improvements, such as taxiways that will provide access to and from the center. The company also will be furnished with a free building site for its new facility.
King said the guts of the new center likely will require an investment of about $15 million, not including the cost of the building.
The center will house a multimillion-dollar advanced flight simulator so sophisticated and exacting that King said the Federal Aviation Administration will assign a tail number to it.
"To the FAA it is an airplane," King said. "Every minute you're in that simulator counts toward a real flight hour."
Todd Simmons, Cirrus' chief customer officer, has been tapped to lead the new facility, which will be called The Vision Center.
Speaking at a press conference Wednesday, Dale Klapmeier, Cirrus' co-founder and CEO, said: "The Vision Center is the next step in our goal to reimagine general aviation and flying at Cirrus Aircraft. We call that aviation experience 'the Cirrus life,' and with the Vision Center in Knoxville, we are bringing together transformational new airplanes with a reinvented ownership experience, all led by the forward-thinking leadership team that is unique to Cirrus Aircraft."