At about 20,000 feet above the Hudson River along the west side of Manhattan, the Vision Jet zips through the clouds at 300 miles per hour--oblivious to the city's afternoon traffic creeping below.

After 10 years of development and hundreds of millions of dollars in investment, the single-engine jet aircraft's maker hopes to corner the private jet market, says Cirrus co-founder and CEO Dale Klapmeier. At $2 million, about half as much as the closest competing aircraft, the Vision Jet is an aircraft for entrepreneurs and executives who are wealthy enough to afford one, and want to fly it themselves. The Vision is a cross between a jet and a luxury vehicle.

Ben Kowalski, Cirrus's vice president of marketing and communications, says the jet is for people who need to hop from one meeting to another a city away and get back home for dinner.

"This is James Bond, Tony Stark-type of transportation," says Kowalski, before we board the Vision at the Million Air Airport in West Harrison, New York.

The Vision Jet is what Cirrus calls a "personal jet." It is designed to be flown by the owner. Many business jets, like the Embraer Phenom 100, require a pilot and co-pilot, but the 30-foot-long Vision, which is small for a jet, requires just one.

The Vision is the industry's most modern, technologically-advanced general aviation jet and is supposed to be easy to fly for those with a pilot's license, according to aircraft broker Ed Dahlberg, president of Emerald Aviation. Compared to direct competitors like the Cessna Mustang and the Phenom, which cost around $4 million, the Vision is a big draw, Dahlberg says.

"Cirrus created a big opportunity with the $2 million price point for the jet," says Dahlberg.

Brothers Dale and Alan Klapmeier co-founded Cirrus in 1984 in their parents' barn in Baraboo, Wisconsin. The brothers started the company to make a plane comfortable enough and safe enough so their wives would fly with them, says Dale Klapmeier. The Vision Jet is the culmination of that vision, he says.

But Cirrus had trouble developing the Vision.

The great recession crushed the private aviation industry and Cirrus was hit hard, the company says. Private aircraft sales went from 1,000 a year in 2008 down to around 600, according to J.P. Morgan. The industry still hasn't rebounded, but enthusiasm among manufacturers is rising. Cirrus was forced to fire hundreds of employees, Minnesota Public Radio reported, and the company could not fund the development of the Vision. Alan left in 2009 to start another company, One Aviation.

In 2011, the China Aviation Industry General Aircraft Company (CAIGA) acquired Cirrus for $210 million and invested $100 million into the development of the Klapmeiers' jet.

Cirrus has hired over 600 employees since ramping up its Vision program in 2012, Klapmeier says. The company now has 1,100 employees and plans to build 100 Vision Jets a year. The Federal Aviation Administration recently certified Cirrus to start producing the Vision on a mass scale. Klapmeier says the Vision, in some respects, is a "bet the company" decision.

"Twenty years ago, we made a big bet with our first production aircraft--the SR20. Today, the SR series is the best-selling aircraft in its segment," says Klapmeier. According to industry data, SR-22, a single-propeller, piston engine plane, has been the best-selling aircraft in its category for over a decade. "We aim to do that again with the Vision Jet."

With six jets delivered to customers already and over 600 pre-ordered, Vision has registered "over a $1 billion book of business," Klapmeier says.

But the question is whether or not there's a sustainable market for a "personal jet." Dalhberg says the industry has not rebounded to the pre-recession highs, but the industry is "cautiously optimistic" about consumer demand under a Trump economy.

"We had a nice bump after the election, but it has slowed and now we're treading water at a steady uptrend," says Dahlberg. "It's not nearly as fast of a recovery as we've seen in the past. But the people who buy Porches and Mercedes will also want a new jet."

Published on: May 23, 2017