Blog: Cirrus’s Fresh Approach Represents A New Pathway To Piloting

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Cirrus took its marketing strategy in a new and different direction with January 11’s livestream “reveal” of the new G7 version of the SR-series piston singles. As a “mature” pilot in the process of reestablishing instrument currency, I had mixed feelings on the overriding message.

The livestream made no secret that Cirrus is targeting customers traditionally outside the usual general aviation range—younger (meaning, “not old like me”), financially qualified prospects who wouldn’t have considered owning their own airplane without a nudge. Cirrus cited market research that suggests the COVID pandemic exposed a fertile swath of potential new Cirrus buyers to the travel experience in personal aircraft. For those with an existing interest in general aviation, the time made available due to the pause in commuting and business travel—and funds available due to lack of other spending options—opened up their opportunity to pursue learning to fly. That population caused a bulge in Cirrus sales.

But now, it’s friends and colleagues of that group that Cirrus believes could be influenced to take wing, themselves.

The tag line “Everything in Reach” has a double meaning. More literally, it references how the cockpit is redesigned so controls and avionics fall more readily to hand, the better to take advantage of phone/tablet-like touchscreen control.

But as illustrated by the promotional video, the wider message is that personal flying (in a Cirrus, of course) brings exciting, distant destinations within easy reach. At first blush, I feared it came off as a suggestion that flying a Cirrus is “so easy, even a caveman can do it.” That’s a potentially dangerous pathway to tread. General aviation has a tainted history when over-promoting how simple and safe personal flying can be. But on closer examination, it appears more likely to me that Cirrus has its bases well covered when it comes to ensuring customers lured by the sizzle are indoctrinated with a robust safety culture.

The Cirrus website’s training section lists four categories, starting with “Becoming a Pilot.” It references Cirrus’s global network of training partners who will “help you experience the joy of flying from an initial discovery flight through your entire Private Pilot flight training and beyond.” My hope is that Cirrus has directed its ab initio training partners to focus on the fundamentals of aerodynamic hand-flying, rather than placing excess emphasis on the buttonology that comes later in the learning process. That will generate better and safer stick-and-rudder pilots.

Next, Cirrus shows a comprehensive curriculum for the specific learning required to master its SR20 and SR22 models and their systems. The G7 update stresses simplicity and clearly leverages how more youthful prospects enjoy a comfort level with automation and touch-ology that their parents—and grandparents—may struggle with. But again, my hope is that the technology is taught as the means to flying safely in a traditional, seat-of-pants manner, rather than an end game unto itself.

Under “Continued Education” Cirrus shows an appreciation for the critical necessity of continued recurrent training, at all levels. Its online portal approach recognizes that today’s learners are adept at acquiring and retaining safety-critical information remotely, with a balance of live, real-time experience. The importance of regular recurrent training is well-appreciated in the professional pilot population, and it is hoped Cirrus will be successful in transferring that culture to its future owner/operators.

That brings up another interesting facet to the current Cirrus marketing approach. The company is presenting the opportunity for owners who don’t feel the urge nor the confidence to learn to fly themselves to enjoy the benefits of GA flying. Cirrus has a program for connecting new owners with potential professional pilots who would handle the driving.

Finally, Cirrus can be excused for including a teaser for potential new pilots by adding a section on Vision Jet Training to the webpage. That carrot-on-a-stick (hopefully a long stick) could be the final push to get someone started on this journey.

But it’s vital that Cirrus’s new target customers understand that they are buying into a journey—not a turnkey purchase like a jet ski or an exotic automobile. In my mind, it’s critical to the success of Cirrus’ new strategy that they consider how they will navigate a situation where someone with a large checkbook shows themselves to “just not be cut out to fly.” To me, it would be best to establish that possibility up front in the process, with a range of no-harm/no-foul exit strategies in place for buyer and seller, alike. That could include the aforementioned option to hire a qualified pilot, or some other option that keeps “Everything in Reach,” but also keeps everyone safe.

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

24 COMMENTS

  1. As a Cirrus owner and pilot, I can confirm the approach of Cirrus has safety painted all over its programmes. I can also say that buttonology is well taught, as a tool and not as a means to everything. I have taken the Cirrus Embark programme when I bought the airplane, which is offered FOR FREE by Cirrus to any new owner, whether it’s a new or 2nd hand airplane. Not sure how many manufacturers offer that. Within that course, aerodynamics, basic rules, special cases, understanding of all systems etc. was thoroughly covered, sometimes to a level that I even thought was too basic.

    While separate and not funded by Cirrus, the COPA has a plethora of programmes, training, activities in place, all centered around safety.

    I bought a Cirrus for its modernity and for the chute (WAF). I was totally swept in by its safety-minded approach while I was researching and even more after I jumped ship.

    That said, I do agree the message in the last paragraph should be emphasised and it’s probably not. A good suggestion to heed.

    • One reason Mooney is a zombie company is precisely because they contracted out training and at an extra cost.

      Anyone in the industry would do VERY well to figure out how to partner with flight schools for sales to private pilots. Cirrus should be applauded for trying, but the reality is there aren’t enough customers because there’s not enough money in running a good flight school to create actual private pilots.

      The reality was for decades that the manufacturers could more easily win market share by using professional sales channels and sales people to “steal” the customer others were making. Well, there’s not enough customers now, is there?

      I’ve been saying for 20 years the manufacturers need to be requiring and incentivizing the creation of better schools. Diamond looked into it, but then wouldn’t discuss why they rejected the idea (at least not with me).

      Make a good plane, and people will line up to be your dealers, but hardly anyone wants any connection to the schools.

      Well, they are all rotting together.

  2. What a strange culture we have in GA. On the one hand, we bemoan the decreasing numbers of GA pilots and complain about lack of progress in airframe design since the 1940s. On the other hand, we clutch our pearls when a company wants to expand their market by targeting new customers who perhaps otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to the benefits of personal flight, and we wring our hands at the thought of a new pilot’s first airplane having touch screens and glass.

    Any company that is actively working to bring new pilots into GA should be celebrated. Cirrus’s marketing has the side effect of touting the benefits of GA overall, and the company is clearly balancing its marketing with training and safety programs. Cirrus’s glass-and-touchscreen take on avionics is helping make GA attractive to generations that grew up with technology and expect the state-of-the-art in any new product. I wish them great success and hope they bring hundreds of new pilots and owners into the GA market in the coming decades.

  3. I went to a G7 “reveal event”. It was very glitzy, with a polished video showing all the great things one can do in a GA plane. The video made it look like flying a Cirrus was just like getting in a car and driving off. I get that it’s this type of marketing that’s going to attract new blood to the industry, but there was not one mention of safety, not even a view of the chute.

    I think it’s disingenuous not to let even new people know that they can easily kill themselves in these things without the appropriate respect that proper training instills.

  4. GA is at an inflection point. On one end are the ultra expensive airplanes that few can afford, and at the other end are “legacy” aircraft that require a lot of maintenance and upkeep due to their age. Then there are the autonomous flying vehicles, which reduce pilots to passengers, not unlike passengers in automatic elevators. Talk about market segmentation! My hunch is that the automatons are going to prevail because they offer the experience without the trouble of learning how to “fly”. At least in the GA world at the personal level. Above that basic level, will come the flying for business aircraft, some self piloted, some chauffered by professionals, and some, automatic, like elevators. The “legacy” aircraft and the recreational pilots will continue to exist, but probably in lesser numbers. Just sayin’…

    • The bot planes will only prevail if their manufacturers can somehow trick the FAA and the lawyers into treating them differently.

      Good luck to them, but I won’t hold my breath. And, I’m not skeptical they will make the things work like so many people here.

  5. Make no mistake, these are extremely expensive ($800k) aircraft that require VERY specific training to operate safely. Are they fantastic? Yes. I dont see how the GA market will survive in 20+ years without a major paradigm shift. Its important to note that there are less and less pilots solely due to the overwhelming expense of flying, not the lack of enthusiasm of flying. If we collectively want GA to continue into the future, we need to make learning to fly essentially free to those who have the desire to do so. Of all the stupid things we as a society pay for, having passionate, enthusiastic pilots needs to be on that list. Folks that want to learn to fly and have a genuine passion for aviation should be able to do so without the prerequisite of being millionaires or going heavily into debt.

  6. There’s much to admire in how Cirrus has made technology not just accessible to but usable by pilots new to their market. Similarly, their emphasis on training is remarkable.

    There are some areas that seem questionable. I’m told that in a loss of control situation, the pilot is instructed to recover control and only then use the LVL button on the autopilot. The number of very low altitude loss of control accidents (below CAPS deployment altitude) seems surprising, but I’ve not seen relative frequency statistics. And that (perhaps) stick and rudder deficiency is widespread in the industry. And I wonder if there are unintended consequences to the philosophy of just pull the chute when in trouble, implying that you don’t have to be all that risk-averse or have good stick and rudder skills because you can always pop the chute. They’ve obviously done a good job, but I wonder if their scope is a bit limited.

  7. “General aviation has a tainted history when over-promoting how simple and safe personal flying can be.”

    That’s very true. It also has a terribly tainted history of failing to make personal flying as simple and safe – and affordable – as it needs to be, if it is to succeed. Busy, high-income colleagues occasionally tell me they want to learn to fly so they can put their family in a rental plane and fly to a beach town for the weekend. They tend to imagine “getting a pilot’s license” as being like getting a driver’s license; once you have one, you just rent a plane and go. And, it makes sense to think that way. Most often, after talking with them a bit, I wind up having to tell them honestly that they’re very unlikely to have the time or patience or interest required to learn all of the many, many layers of arcane skills needed to do that mission – and, worse, to keep those skills current if they want to do it on a schedule, safely, in varied weather. Also, that it would probably be cheaper to charter a plane, with a pilot – very, very expensive, but still cheaper. It’s the truth, but there goes another affluent, interested prospect.

    We need to stop glorifying our “stick and rudder skills” and ask questions like “why does it have to be so hard to learn to fly?” We may not be there yet, but automation is coming – just look at the capability we now have with iPads for flight planning, which has made our planning much more complete and much easier and less demanding of exotic knowledge of weather sources than it was in the past. Not very many of us miss the days of having to jot down an extensive weather briefing read out over the phone!

    If flying is going to be safe enough and easy enough to gain traction among folks who just want to go out and do it, like driving a car, we’re going to need to make those – and many other – skills about as relevant as knowing how to use a sextant.

    By all means, we can continue to enjoy hand flying. Heck, aerobatics and gliding are all about that. But we don’t need to impose a vision of “pilot” that emerged before automation, on everyone, now and forever.

    All that said, the technology isn’t here yet. Cirrus aircraft are quite capable but enormously more complex than the average motorist can imagine; they operate in an airspace and ATC environment where there are so many “cheat codes” that most avid pilots discover new ones on a semi-regular basis; and they operate in a very complex weather environment. There’s a huge amount to learn, to stay safe – and most of it isn’t even “stick and rudder” stuff, but there’s that, too. We’re not there yet, but I applaud Cirrus Aircraft’s efforts to move in that direction.

    Now, about that million dollar price tag…

  8. Loss of control is by far the largest cause of GA deaths. Rather than pushing new pilots to learn to fly archaic aircraft made long before they were even born, new aircraft need more automation. Specifically, an always on flight control system that provides envelope protection would do more to make GA safe than any other factor, including training. This Cirrus/Garmin effort does not go far enough.

  9. Emphasis: “financially qualified”

    Increasingly, it’s all about products for the top 5% because what used to be the middle class has little money to spare.

  10. This hobby is time consuming, expensive, massively regulated and dangerous.
    These days you can throw in killing the planet, too loud, and poisoning kids near airports.
    I seriously doubt that one vendors slick promotion can reverse both reality and politics.

  11. The Cirrus SR-22 and variants stand out with their speed, comfort, and the CAPS system for an extra layer of safety. However, Cirrus marketing might downplay the importance of pilot experience.

    As a Cirrus instructor, sharing “pearls of wisdom”, since the early days (think Avidyne Entegra and dual GNS430s!), I’ve seen some new owners, often those with less recent flying experience, struggle with basic maneuvers like transitioning from cruise to landing. While the parachute (CAPS) is a valuable safety feature, pilot proficiency in both flying and navigating the increasingly sophisticated avionics systems is as crucial as scanning for traffic.

    • “I’ve seen some new owners, often those with less recent flying experience, struggle with basic maneuvers like transitioning from cruise to landing.”

      Nothing Cirrus has ever offered, offers now, or ever will offer in the way of features and flight training will ever replace basic skills that are first learned in the most basic of airplanes, more basic than Cirrus airplanes, airplanes which require peripheral depth perception, measurably variable elevator input, and measurably variable rudder input. Until that happens with any roster of Cirrus pilots past present or future, we’re merely looking at a new iteration of dangerous “doctors and their Bonanzas” who don’t know and never will know how to fly airplanes.

      • Are you implying by phrasing “doctors and their Bonanzas”, referring to wealthy but potentially less skilled pilots, that Cirrus ownership might create a similar situation? The thought has crossed my mind.

        • No Raf, he’s referring to “doctors and their Bonanzas” who don’t know and never will know how to fly airplanes.

          • In fairness, just like people from any profession, doctors can be highly skilled and well rounded pilots.

  12. While Cirrus is trying to lure in new pilot it certainly does its best to reduce the value of their older models. We have seen some examples lately on Youtube. With a parachute that every ten years gets a 50-100% jump in price to a level that starts to equal an engine. It would have been OK if there was ANY factual justification. However they had to work super hard in 2014 to get some – close to zero – justification about one or possibly two activation failure, which caused about 80% rise in price. they struggled to come up with minimal reasoning for that first change, yet now they again nearly doubled the price with a mandatory new and “improved” rocket motor that offers one advantage: squeeze more money from owners.

    When the cost is such a significant portion of the value of the aircraft, Cirrus implicitly declares that they sell limited time aircraft.
    Cirrus enforces an absolute monopoly on their aircrafts – nobody can compete in the parachute business, and they can dictate to their owners the options to be blackmailed for no added value or to sell their airplanes.
    So they do direct their effort to a crowd that does not care about the price and I personally believe that they follow a path of self destruction, where larger part of their population will discover their predatory attitude, and their abusive greediness mandating super high cost of ownership. Working for profit is good but when you squeeze your customer too hard – it backfires.

    • This fits:

      Cirrus CAPS Repacks: Expense, Depreciation
      The fleet of older Cirrus airframes could face further depreciation because of pricey parachute upkeep. We look at the economics and the CAPS repack process.

      By Larry Anglisano Published: November 15, 2012 Updated:October 29, 2019

      aviationconsumer.com/maintenance/cirrus-caps-repacks-expense-depreciation/

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