By David Klein
Cirrus Aircraft, co-founded in 1984 by CEO Dale Klapmeier, is bringing jobs and a facilities expansion to Knoxville. The Duluth, Minnesota aircraft company’s new Knoxville facility will be called the Cirrus Aircraft Vision Center Campus and celebrated its grand opening Thursday night.
According to the company website, The Vision Center facility will include sales, delivery, training, maintenance, support, personalization, and fixed base operations, which cover all aspects of ownership for customers.
“As of tonight, the Vision Center for Cirrus Aircraft is open in Tennessee,” Todd Simmons, President of Customer Experience, said during a presentation.
The Knoxville location near McGhee Tyson Airport was chosen from among 50 possible locations in 15 states, Simmons said. “All of the customer-facing functions are going to take place here in Knoxville, Tennessee,” he added.
“We chose Knoxville for a number of reasons,” Klapmeier said. “We chose it because of the university, the lake, the mountains. That made us look at the area, but what really brought us here is the people. From the mayors in the area, to the city council, the airport, everyone opened their arms and asked us to come. We felt immediately like a part of the family, like we belonged here. That’s the most important thing. We’re going to be bringing people from all over the world to Knoxville. We chose Knoxville because we felt so welcome. We know our customers will. That was the difference. We want our customers to feel welcome the day they walk in.”
Forty Cirrus employees were relocated to Knoxville, according to Ben Kowalski, Vice President, Marketing & Communications. Kowalski said there are plans to expand the Knoxville facility to 150 employees within three to five years.
Besides Knoxville, there are two other Cirrus locations involved in bringing the aircraft to customers. “The Grand Forks (South Dakota) facility manufactures the parts to the airplane,” Kowalski said. “Duluth assembles those parts into airplanes, then we deliver them to our customers right here in Knoxville, Tennessee. Our customers from all over the world fly to Knoxville to pick up their airplanes,” he added.
One of the airplanes that customers can pick up at the Vision Center is the Vision Jet, or SF50, a personal, single engine jet. The Vision Jet is a personal jet designed to be flown by the owner and not require a full-time professional pilot or a flight department.
“It’s going to bring a lot of people into aviation that weren’t into aviation before because of how economical it is,” Kowalski said of the Vision Jet.
Besides the Vision Jet, the SR20 and the SR22 will be sold and available for pickup from the Knoxville Vision Center.
“You can buy a brand new Cirrus for less than $400,000 all the way up to 2.5 million and everything in between,” Simmons said. “We have a price point for everybody.”
The Vision Center will also be the home for all the training equipment, including simulators for SR20, the Vision Jet, and the SR22. The training center will break ground in a few days and will be completed by the end of 2017.
Simmons anticipates 350 airplanes will be delivered this year.
“What we do here at Cirrus Aircraft is change people’s lives,” Kowalski said. “Although we make the coolest airplane in the world in the SR, what it’s really about is what it does for a person. It allows them to get more time with their family. It’s a time machine. It gives people more time in their life. It lets them own their schedule, and it changes their lifestyle.”