Above: Donald Allen (right) with instructor Justin Eshelman
It’s not just your imagination. There’s a proliferation of Cirrus airplanes at FCI.
Donald Allen, a recent Cirrus purchaser, considered it an obvious choice. “Why wouldn’t you if you can,” he asked. With its airframe parachute, “It’s the safest plane out there by far.”
Dominion CEO Mike Mickel said customer demand drove the company’s investment in its all-Cirrus training and rental fleet. Pilots love them, he said, for their performance, safety and sophisticated electronics.
Dominion bought its first Cirrus Oct. 31, 2014. It was N83DA (the firm’s year of founding and initials), a 2003-model SR20. Mickel said it was originally a suggestion from Tony Nunes, Director of Maintenance and FBO Manager, to have a trainer for customers and employees.
“We wanted a late-model airplane because we thought that would appeal to our students and we wanted to strengthen our relationship with Cirrus,” Mickel explained. “People who are serious about flying and interested in becoming owners want the latest technology. They also want safety. These are simple airplanes, flown by relatively inexperienced pilots. Why not have the safety of the parachute?
“We bought our second one, N544CD, a 2005-model SR22, at the end of December, 2014. We bought it because a customer who needed a quick sale made us a good deal.
Now both those airplanes are scheduled for replacement with newer models with all-Garmin panels.
“It was only after the first of the year 2015 that we decided to go fully back into the flight school business,” Mickel continued. “A customer pushed us. He was buying a new SR20 with a Garmin panel and wanted a lease-back with us. Prior to that, I thought I had too many other things to do to start up a flight school. But we did it and it’s been successful. We now have about 35 active students and about 35 active renters in the Cirrus program.”
Earlier this year the flight school added a simulator, which not only replicates the performance of any generation Cirrus, but also the exact avionics. Pilots can practice approaches, deal with malfunctions and emergencies and even pull the parachute.
The first Cirrus joined the charter fleet this summer, providing a lower-priced charter option, as well as a chance for charter customers to experience the cockpit. Several have taken the next step and started their flight training.
They’re buying airplanes, too. In the last two years, Dominion has helped five customers buy new Cirrus airplanes.
Donald Allen was one of those. Allen describes himself as “semi-retired,” a former Wendy’s franchisee and homebuilder who spends the winter months in Naples, Florida.
“Once I made the commitment to get my pilot license,” he said, “I decided I’m going to buy an airplane.” Now he trains in his own SR22 and is on the verge of earning his instrument rating.
“I can’t wait to get the instrument rating so that I can fly to Texas to go hunting with my buddies or fly to Greensboro to visit my two daughters there,” he said.
“I have at least one son in law who’s expressed serious interest in learning to fly. He has 12-year-old twins, so I’m encouraging him for safety reasons alone to get a Cirrus.”
Allen said he’s also sold on Dominion’s flight school. Starting his training in Florida, “I had 10 or 11 different instructors, mainly because they turn over so fast there.” Here, he trains with Justin Eshelman, who, he said, is “an excellent instructor, very professional and very patient.”
The Cirrus growth is good for the airport, Mickel said. “We’re putting airplanes in the T-hangars, we’re initiating new pilots, we’re pumping more fuel and we’re servicing more airplanes.
“And for me,” he added, “it’s reinvigorated my passion for flying. It brings back the fun of stick-and-rudder flying in a single-engine airplane, and combines that with the mental challenge of mastering the very latest in avionics. Those panels are so capable that after you learn to do the basics, you can keep learning new tricks as you go. The new Cirrus models have better avionics than many modern jets.”
Now Dominion is upgrading its Cirrus fleet. For training, the company deploys two identical SR20s, both 2015 models with G1000 panels. The 2005-model SR22 is scheduled for replacement.
Dec. 1, the company will add a 2017 SR22 turbo for charter and limited rental, with very strict pilot requirements.
On the horizon is the Vision Jet, which Cirrus just began delivering. Mickel said three of his customers have delivery positions.
“We want to become a service center for the jet, and we’re well prepared. We’re thoroughly familiar with the Williams jet engine. Our pilots have been flying them on other jets, and our shop has been maintaining them. We’ll have a staff of experienced mentor pilots ready to help new owners in their transition.”
This is a new kind of airplane. It’s not as fast or high-flying as a conventional jet, but it’s simple to operate and designed for a safe and easy transition from the SR22. With appropriate training, it’s designed as an affordable and insurable option for the upper tier of owner-pilot.
With its piston-powered singles, and perhaps with its new, simple jet, Cirrus has created a segment of the general aviation market and found ways to make it grow. Almost 40% of all domestic deliveries of new single-engine piston aircraft in 2016 were Cirrus Aircraft.