“We are not going to do a VLJ,” Alan Klapmeier stated flatly during an interview at Sun ‘n Fun in April.
However, he added quickly, “we are going to explore the concept of a personal jet.”
Asked to give us a hint at what a Cirrus personal jet might look like, the Cirrus Design chairman and CEO said, “What we’re proposing is about changing the user-friendliness, the actual acceptability, of the airplane. It’s not going to be high performance by jet standards. We don’t mind being the slowest jet that’s ever been built. We don’t mind flying lower, where we’re out of the way.”
Going into a bit more detail, he said that the Cirrus jet will be “a step up from the SR22 – the next step – close enough to the SR22 to be a very easy transition.”
Klapmeier emphasized low approach speed as a major contributor to that ease. “It’s more important to me to have the airplane go 10 knots slower at the low end than 20 knots faster at the high end,” he said. “And a good landing gear design so if you do it wrong you don’t bounce,” he added with a smile.
Some people think the small jet market is being saturated now, but Klapmeier takes a different view.
“I think everyone will sell more jets because of the jets we build,” he stated. “Cessna will sell more Mustangs. The potential volume for this industry is so much larger than our combined ability to supply it that we have no reason to fear competition. In fact, we need to work together to increase the size of the pie. Different airplanes for different people,” he explained. “There’s a natural pyramid that’s built by feeding at the bottom. It’s just the way the world works. We need to speak with one voice and quit picking on one another, and then maybe we’d get somewhere.”
Klapmeier is an admirer of Eclipse Aviation’s Vern Raburn, particularly for convincing the financial world that small jets are worthy of investment. “Those are the guys who needed to be convinced, to finance the industry,” he said.
Appropriate training is an issue close to Klapmeier, and one where he believes that we should place more emphasis on control-manipulation skills. Once that vital aspect of flight is mastered, then it’s time to learn to manage all the systems and “draw the three-dimensional picture in your mind.”
“As we make all that simpler,” he said, “we can spend more time on decision-making. I would like to see flight training change from ‘how little time can I spend with the instructor’ to treating cross-country, say, as valuable time. Time to ask questions and listen to answers. ‘What do you think about…Have you ever seen…’ That’s good stuff and shouldn’t be minimized.”
It can’t be done in a simulator, Klapmeier believes. “You have to see different kinds of runways, different weather systems, and different airplane loading configurations,” he said.
He also doesn’t believe in stabilized approaches which, he said, lead to thinking that everything will work the same way every time. “If only half of it is the same every time, you’re only going to get the same result half the time. You need a feel for the airplane, not a feel for the technology.”
Knowing the right procedure and following it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get the right outcome, he emphasized.
Part of the key to industry growth, Klapmeier said, is how we train pilots. He’s not even sure “train” is the right word, he says. “How we instill the decision-making process in people” is the real point, he believes.
“If we do that right we improve safety,” he insisted.
“I’m really very optimistic about the future of general aviation,” he concluded.