Cirrus Aims For Top Spot

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Last year it was Boeing's surrender to Airbus. Could this be the year that Cirrus overtakes Cessna as the world's leading producer of piston singles? If the early numbers are any indication, it could be shaping up that way. Although it's projecting to build at least 500 aircraft this year (vs. 459 in 2003), Cirrus took orders for 100 planes in January and February, about twice the projected number, and has ramped up production to two planes a day. Cessna expects to build about 600 piston singles in 2004. "We want to be the number-one manufacturer," Cirrus marketing spokesman John Bingham told The Wichita Eagle. Cessna isn't going to relinquish the top spot without a fight, however. Of course, Cessna hasn't always held so firm to the title of top piston single producer. For 10 years it didn't make any. It stopped production of all piston models in 1986 and didn't resume until 1996 at a new plant in Independence, Kansas. That was then and this is now. Cessna spokesperson Marilyn Richwine said the company is now doing everything it can to stay at the top of the heap, including offering glass cockpits in its higher-end models. The flat panels are standard in all Cirrus models. Richwine acknowledged Cirrus is "real competition" for Cessna but she pointed out that Cessna has delivered more than 185,000 aircraft and that more than 60 percent of the U.S. single-engine fleet is Cessna. "We still believe we have the proven record and the product stands behind that record," she said.