Steve Miller was the type of kid who was interested in aviation. He grew up watching Top Gun and wanted to fly, but didn’t know how to pursue his dream.
“I had a vague notion that I wanted to get my pilot’s license but I didn’t know how to make that happen,” Steve said. “It was the classic problem with General Aviation. I never followed through with going to the local airport and finding a flight school. I just didn’t know how the process worked.”
Fast forward to the fall of 2007. Steve was looking to relocate to Duluth, Minnesota, and while on vacation there had a job interview for a systems administrator position in the IT department at Cirrus Aircraft. His father-in-law works for Textron and is a member of its flying club, so during the interview process Steve inquired if Cirrus had an employee flying club.
“It just so happened that the week I got hired they had a ground school that was starting so I got enrolled in it literally from day one,” Steve said. “I was like, ‘I’m going to make this happen.’”
Steve took his first flight lesson in early 2008, soloed that year and earned his private pilot’s certificate in 2009. But he didn’t stop there. He went on to earn his commercial rating and become president of the flying club. He also has moved from IT to a marketing specialist position.
“Steve is our shining example of someone who … throughout his career here he has taken an active interest as an employee to fly in the flying club, earned [his private pilot’s certificate and] additional ratings in the flying club and then also led the flying club as well,” Vice President of Marketing Ben Kowalski said.
A company dedicated to developing its employees
The company’s philosophy regarding the flying club and developing its employees is front and center on the club web site:
As a manufacturer of personal aircraft, Cirrus Aircraft is dedicated to the advancement of general aviation by encouraging and enabling the acquisition of flying skills and activities of its employees and their immediate families. The Cirrus Aircraft Flying Club is committed to making flight accessible and affordable to its members.
To fulfill on that mission, the company subsidizes the club. There is no initiation fee and dues are just $5 per pay period, which works out to $10 a month. The flying club has three aircraft—a 2009 SR20 G3, a 2011 SR20 G3, and a 2010 SR22 G3. The SR20s rent for $50 an hour wet. The SR22 is $75 an hour wet.
“We make it affordable for our staff so literally anybody that’s got the desire at all can certainly afford to be part of our flying club,” Vice President of Business Administration Bill King said.
Not only do employees have access to aircraft at affordable rates, but they also have the opportunity to get training at the same high-tech facilities used for customer deliveries and training just by walking out the office door. Employees also have access to Cirrus Approach, the company’s suite of online training tools. The club has two full time flight instructors and is planning on adding more. Last year about 10 members earned their private pilot certificates, while another 10 or 12 soloed. A handful earned advanced ratings.
Cirrus has approximately 800 employees at its Duluth facility, and approximately 100 are members of the flying club, including the entire senior leadership team. There are monthly lunch meetings that tend to be quick and focus on anything new, and quarterly meetings with either a fun presentation or a case study on topics like winter operations or accident analysis. Once a year the club holds a big safety meeting.
Beginning back in the Baraboo days
The club started in the early 1990s with a Piper Warrior when the company was still located in Baraboo, Wisconsin. “That was our flying club airplane until we came up with something called an SR20. The company kept the first production SR20 and used it as a high-time vehicle and maintained it as a flying club airplane,” Bill said.
Keeping the plane in the club benefited both the company and the club. Cirrus wanted to run the plane non-stop to see how it would hold up, especially in a training environment. In order to build hours and evaluate the SR20s durability, the club charged little to nothing to help ensure the plane would fly constantly. “If we were going to have some component start to show wear and tear, we wanted it to be on our airplane that we had been using,” Bill said.
Like many flying clubs, the slow economy in 2008 resulted in membership numbers dwindling. They dropped from a high of about 150 members to about 15 members. During that time, the club didn’t always have its own aircraft but had an agreement to have access to a flight operations plane if it wasn’t being used. Despite the tough times, the club continued to hold meetings and ground school and as the economy turned around, interest in the club rebounded. With more members and greater demands for training and cross-country travel, the club acquired its own aircraft and has built back up.
Members are encouraged to take the aircraft on longer trips and many will fly to sporting events in the region or to visit family in other parts of the country. “The first time I was able to fly home to Illinois, that was a pretty big deal for me,” Steve said. “It was something I had always wanted to do. Once I was able to do that I was hooked. Three hours of flying versus 11 hours of driving is a big deal.”
Having a company flying club benefits the employees by providing them with affordable access to aircraft and training, but Cirrus also benefits by having a workforce that is more knowledgeable about the product. “We want everyone to have that connection to the product that they’re working on all day,” Ben said. “We think that knowledge increases the productivity in every job no matter what it is that they’re doing.
Bill agreed that the club is part of the core philosophy for Cirrus. “One of the great advantages of our flying club is that it’s just a wonderful opportunity for our own staff here at Cirrus, literally whether it’s guys in marketing, design, administration, or guys on the manufacturing floor, to have access to our aircraft and to get out and fly them and really have an appreciation for what it is that we build day in and day out,” Bill said. “It’s a great marketing tool for attracting and retaining our employee base, but aside from that it’s a wonderful asset to have the guys that are turning the wrench on the airplanes – actually building them, flying them. You end up with this passion for quality. We see it as serving a lot of different purposes, not the least of which is continuing to have people understand the great value of aviation in general.”
|Name||Cirrus Flying Club|
|Location||Duluth International Airport (KDLH), Duluth, MN|
|Year formed||Early 1990s|
|Aircraft||2009 SR20 G3 ($50/hr)
2011 SR20 G3 ($50/hr)
2010 SR22 G3 ($75/hr)
Rates are Hobbs time, wet.
|Monthly dues||$5 per pay period ($10 per month)|