Cirrus could expand to aircraft maintenance base

But Northwest Airlines’ former, mostly vacant maintenance base in Duluth could provide the aircraft maker with temporary leeway as it searches for a longer-term solution. In recent years, the facility had been used by AAR Corp. to maintain commercial aircraft, but that company closed in May 2020 as the pandemic plunged airlines around the world into free fall.

Cirrus has an immediate need for both more space and more workers, said Ben Kowalski, vice president of marketing.

“We are looking at several different options to expand our aircraft production capacity,” he said, acknowledging that the basis for maintenance is under consideration by company management.

Their interest in the base appears to be more than fleeting, according to Chris Fleege, director of Duluth’s planning and economic development division, who said company staff and engineers spent more than a few weeks studying installation and develop potential development plans. .

Fleege briefed members of the Duluth Economic Development Authority on ongoing talks with Cirrus on Wednesday.

“They are taking a good, thoughtful approach, and I think we’ll find out more in the next couple of weeks,” Fleege later told the News Tribune.

Kowalski said Cirrus is currently looking to fill around 200 positions, including more than 130 in Duluth. The company also has pre-assembly production in Grand Forks, North Dakota, as well as research, training and delivery facilities nationwide.

Earlier this year, Cirrus said it employed around 1,900 people across the company, with most of its workforce (1,300 employees) based in Duluth, where its headquarters are located. The company is owned by a subsidiary of the Chinese company AVIC.

SEE ALSO: Cirrus Aircraft Co-Founder Tells Story of Growth, Landing in Duluth in New Show

DEDA owns the old Northwest / AAR maintenance base and continues to lose money every day the facility is empty due to its considerable overhead costs. Fleege previously estimated the cost of ownership for the largely vacant building to be between $ 50,000 and $ 60,000 per month.

If Cirrus does decide to lease space inside the base, Fleege doesn’t expect the company to fully cover these transportation costs, but he said, “It would reduce the bleeding.”

Fleege said the company was considering a lease of up to two or three years and told DEDA commissioners the deal could alleviate losses in grassroots authority while simultaneously supporting a growing local business.

The Cirrus SR-22, a single-engine piston aircraft, is pictured in flight.  (Photo courtesy of Cirrus Aircraft)

The Cirrus SR-22, a single-engine piston aircraft, is pictured in flight. (Photo courtesy of Cirrus Aircraft)

“It would be a win-win for both of us,” he told the News Tribune.

Cirrus faces a welcome challenge, according to Kowalski.

“The demand for our products over the past 12 to 15 months has increased and remained strong, so we are looking for options to grow our workforce and our facility base,” he said.

In the first nine months of this year, Cirrus achieved sales of over $ 360 million. That’s 70% more than the same time last year and almost 6% from pre-2019 pandemic levels, according to statistics from the General Aviation Manufacturers Association.

“Grand Forks and Duluth continue and will continue to be our primary production facilities. We will continue to build planes at Grand Forks and Duluth and expand into those facilities, where possible, and to that end, the AAR building is one of the potential options, ”Kowalski said.

Fleege said DEDA will welcome Cirrus as a tenant, but likely not on a permanent basis. He said city staff will continue their efforts to recruit another Aircraft Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) to occupy the building. The base, with its high ceilings and equipment, was specially designed to accommodate large commercial aircraft.

SEE ALSO: Planing together: a local “aeronautical cluster” is developing around Cirrus

“It’s a unique building designed for one purpose. But this deal with Cirrus could be a good intermediate use, ”Fleege said, noting that if efforts to bring another MRO to Duluth ultimately prove successful, at least six months of delay would likely be involved.

If Cirrus landed at the facility, it wouldn’t be the first time the aircraft manufacturer had moved there. The fast-growing company briefly used the space in the maintenance base until 2009, when a recession temporarily forced the company to significantly downsize.

While the ongoing pandemic has created other challenges for Cirrus, including supply chain and labor difficulties, Kowalski said demand for its products has held up and even strengthened.

“A lot of people have been introduced to personal aviation in the past 15 months. When the world changed a bit and commercial air travel contracted significantly, there were still a lot of people who wanted to travel for business or personal reasons. And personal aviation is the market we are in, ”he said, noting that Cirrus planes are a friendly and popular entry point for many new pilots.

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