Cirrus Aircraft: Leading from the top
Cirrus Aircraft CEO Zean Nielsen reveals why the personal aviation industry is thriving in such turbulent times and how the US-based company is leading that charge with its SR and Vision Jet series, safety initiatives and flight-training programmes. By Terence Ruis.
Zean Nielsen, CEO, Cirrus Aircraft
Zean Nielsen joined Cirrus Aircraft as Chief Executive Officer in 2019 and is responsible for oversight of the company, working with senior leaders from across the business to transform innovation, operations and the customer experience.
With a career rooted in globally recognised lifestyle brands including Tesla Motors and Bang & Olufsen, Nielsen has brought a diverse background of strategic planning, channel diversification and ground-breaking marketing initiatives to Cirrus Aircraft.
He began his career in 1997 at Bang & Olufsen, spending almost 17 years with the luxury electronics maker including over six years as President of Bang & Olufsen North and South America. Nielsen’s work gained the notice of Tesla and Elon Musk, and he joined Tesla Motors in 2014 as Global VP of Sales Operations, responsible for all aspects of worldwide sales operations.
A Vision Jet (left) in Cobalt blue and an SR22T (right) in Bimini Blue
Immediately prior to joining Cirrus, he served as the Executive Vice President of North American Sales at James Hardie, a leading industrial building materials company.
To find out more about his intriguing career, we caught up with Nielsen to pick his brain about the current – and surprisingly positive – climate of the personal aviation industry, as well as what we can expect of Cirrus Aircraft in the near future.
Zean, tell us more about yourself and your role at Cirrus Aircraft.
I have been overseeing Cirrus Aircraft as CEO since mid-2019. I have over 20 years of professional and leadership experience in luxury manufacturing and automotive brands such as Tesla, James Hardie and Bang & Olufsen.
Cirrus Aircraft offers world-class service to global customers
At Cirrus Aircraft I spearhead the strategic and financial planning for the company, determine which new markets we need to penetrate and where we can gain the most visibility. We aim to introduce more people to aviation and are rapidly expanding across the United States and Asia.
Having come from high-end consumer companies such as Tesla and Bang & Olufsen, how are you finding the aviation industry?
I’m thrilled to be here! I find the industry fascinating and love discovering new ways to improve the aircraft ownership experience. There are several similarities between my prior ventures with Tesla, James Hardie and Bang & Olufsen that directly correlate with what Cirrus Aircraft is accomplishing today.
Strategically speaking, we are continuously innovating, which is reflected by the aircraft we create, the avionics we integrate, and the industry-leading training programmes we develop. Additionally, we want to remove any barriers of exclusivity in aviation, so we bring various backgrounds and experiences to the table to better understand how to do that.
Considering the effects of Covid-19, the personal aviation industry seems to have done well over the past two years. Can you tell us more about the status of the industry and how Cirrus Aircraft has faced these turbulent times?
Personal aviation is on the rise and while the coronavirus impacted every industry, business owners were forced to think outside the box, adapt to changing times and equip themselves with solutions that allowed their business to prevail.
Many superyacht owners have private jets
We have been working closely with individuals and several business owners who have been keen on finding a safe, efficient way to continue personal or business travel during these times. Owning an aircraft opens new doors and provides people with the freedom to safely travel the world.
On both a financial and order book basis, how successful have these past two years been for Cirrus Aircraft?
We are currently breaking all sales records in the United States and expanding our sales and support team in Asia Pacific. Cirrus Aircraft’s SR Series has been the best-selling high-performance piston aircraft for 19 consecutive years and our Vision Jet has been the best-selling jet in general aviation for two years.
The comfortable interior of the G2+ Vision Jet
In 2020, we delivered 346 SR Series aircraft and 73 Vision Jets. The General Aviation Manufacturers Association recently released its report on general aviation aircraft shipments, stating Cirrus is a market leader with a total of 195 SR Series and Vision Jets delivered in the first six months of 2021.
What are your objectives for Cirrus Aircraft?
You can expect us to appear in new markets around the world to better serve the deep-rooted and growing aviation community. Just this year, we’ve announced several Flight Training and Innovation Centers that offer aircraft maintenance, management and sales, further supporting our aircraft owners and growing economies. We are also actively recruiting as we expand.
We are an inventive company and constantly explore how we can create the next best thing for our customers. And if you have ever experienced the SR Series aircraft and SF50 Vision Jet, you’ll know our innovation speaks for itself.
The new G2+ Vision Jet
For instance, we recently announced the G2+ Vision Jet, which features 20 per cent more take-off performance and Wi-Fi connectivity. The newly optimised thrust profile provides an extra boost during departure and provides access to more destinations around the globe.
We are excited to soon be announcing new features and tailored services that will make flying safer, smarter and more convenient.
The SR Series has an incredible history of innovation, evolution and invention. What can you tell us about the Limited Edition models you launched this past year?
This year, we released eight 8000 Limited Edition SR Series aircraft to celebrate the delivery of our 8,000th SR Series aircraft. We were inspired to create a Limited Edition that steps out of the mould and reflects the energy and excitement of where we are going next.
The interior of an SR22T Carbon
The 8000 features a bold, new design and unapologetic accents on the exterior and interior. The design is accentuated by an industry-first Volt wing paint scheme, which clearly can be seen from the ground or sky. The unmistakable graphics and colours carry through into the interior with Volt stitching on the seats, embroidery on the door and luxury perforated leather on the seats, control yoke and throttle.
Additionally, each 8000 Limited Edition aircraft were delivered along with a curated series of gifts and bespoke events for the new owners.
How is Cirrus Aircraft advancing the personal aviation market?
We are developing an aviation experience that is unmatched. Whether you are a student pilot or have hundreds of hours clocked, we treat you as family and tailor every experience so that they are memorable – from continuous training options to personalising your aircraft interior and exterior.
The Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS) is a standard feature on all Cirrus aircraft
Additionally, owning and operating a Cirrus aircraft enhances your lifestyle and provides the opportunity to fulfil a personal or business need.
We truly set ourselves apart in the personal aviation industry because we have incorporated exceptional, award-winning safety features including the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS), a standard feature on all Cirrus aircraft, and Safe Return Emergency Autoland enabled by Garmin.
Cirrus Aircraft has also developed the Safe Return emergency autoland
To date, worldwide flight time on Cirrus aircraft has passed 13 million hours and at least 212 people have returned home safely to their families as a direct result of our CAPS technology. With CAPS and Safe Return, people are safer when they fly in a Cirrus and that message resonates with prospective and existing aviation enthusiasts.
You provide world-class training to Cirrus owners through both the company-owned facilities as well as the partner network around the world. How do you organise that key aspect of the business and ensure such a unique service?
At Cirrus, we welcome anyone that has ever dreamed of becoming a pilot or owning an aircraft to fulfil their dream, whether it’s for leisure or business. Our team is involved with customers for their flying lifetime. We’ve created Cirrus Approach, an in-depth, online flight-training programme that walks people through flight instruction.
Cirrus Aircraft offers flight training using the TRAC Series
Additionally, we have Cirrus-trained flight instructors that dedicate time to reviewing course work and flying with you. We put you in the pilot seat and allow you to experience what it’s like to fly an aircraft.
When we work with our customers, we create milestone memories together. That is what differentiates our company from the next and makes our aircraft highly-sought after. With our expansion, we are deploying more resources to create convenient ways to reach aviation communities that are interested in flying with Cirrus.
Cirrus Aircraft offers the freedom to travel with award-winning safety features
What other trends do you see in the personal aviation industry?
Personal aviation has been positively impacted by the pandemic, resulting in various new market trends. There are three main trends we have observed – people are seeking to completely control their travel experience, grow their business or learn to fly.
Where do you see Cirrus Aircraft in five years?
This is a very exciting time because we are growing in every way. Cirrus Aircraft will have more visibility – geographically, digitally and in everyday interactions. We will have faster production times and our aircraft will be seen at every airport.
“I can be in three different places in one day and back home before dinner.”
Finally, what is your favourite aspect of flying?
I love that aviation has changed my life. I can be in three different places in one day and back home before dinner. Personal aviation also offers my family and I a safe and convenient way to travel in the comfort of our own aircraft.
ABOUT CIRRUS AIRCRAFT
Cirrus Aircraft is the recognised global leader in personal aviation and the creator of the best-selling SR Series piston aircraft and the Vision Jet, the world’s first single-engine Personal Jet, as well as the recipient of the Robert J. Collier Trophy, which recognises the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America each year. Founded in 1984, the company has redefined performance, comfort and safety in aviation with innovations like the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS) – the first FAA-certified whole-airframe parachute safety system included as standard equipment on an aircraft.
To find out more about Cirrus Aircraft, visit: cirrusaircraft.com
To find out more about learning to fly, visit: cirrusaircraft.com/learn-to-fly
Yacht Style Issue 62 features Top 100 Superyachts of Asia-Pacific 2022, seven yacht Reviews, Simpson Marine, Lantau Yacht Club, Ferretti Group’s Stefano de Vivo, Rolex Middle Sea Race, SailGP, Cannes and Monaco shows, Jeanneau Merry Fisher owner Kevin Quek, interviews with HSBC’s Jyrki Rauhio and Cirrus Aircraft’s Zean Nielsen, and lifestyle articles on IL PICCO residences and Art Works Group.