Offering unique aviation services in compact jets

CDC Aviation started off as a one-man company selling airplanes in the mid-80s. Today it is the exclusive agent for Cirrus Aircraft in Southern Africa, successfully selling and distributing Cirrus jet planes all across the region.

CDC Aviation was started by Piet van Blerk in 1997 specialising in the sales of pre-owned aircraft. With a great deal of tenacity, he grew the company to the powerhouse it has become today owning two large hangers with thousands of metres of floor space as well as a maintenance facility for its customers.

It was in 1998 that the company was appointed as the Southern African agent for Cirrus Aircraft and the team initially had to work hard to push for the Cirrus brand after acquiring their agency. People were not so familiar with the concept of a small plane that fit only a handful of people and there was controversy with the idea that it came with a parachute. There was some speculation about the safety of the aircraft which CDC Aviation managed to overcome.

“We worked really hard at showing people what a wonderful machine it is,” says Andy Currin, marketing manager for CDC Aviation. “Now it is the top-selling four-seat single engine plane and has been for the last 10 years. We’ve now got over 90 in the country.”

This is evident through the success that CDC Aviation has had in selling the Cirrus SR22. According to the General Aviation Manufacturer’s Association, this model has been the world’s best-selling single engine aircraft for the past 10 years. Africa is no exception as CDC has sold over 90 of them into South Africa, Namibia, Swaziland, Botswana and Malawi.

In the comparatively small aviation market of Africa, CDC Aviation has managed to take advantage of the resources that the unique African infrastructure, or lack thereof, offers. “We’ve got airplanes to service rural areas, there are mines opening up with no major airfields,” explains Currin. “Charter has taken a bit of a bump with the recession, but general aviation has grown over the years.”

Recognising an opportunity with this industry growth, in 2009 CDC Aviation launched the Cirrus Flight Training Centre based in the main Cirrus hangar. The school is licensed to train students from a basic Private Pilot Licence all the way through to Commercial and beyond. The school now boasts five Cirrus SR20 aircraft, all equipped with the very latest glass cockpit technology, as well as a Beechcraft Baron 55 for multi-engine training.

Currin says the company saw that most airlines flew glass cockpit planes, but no one in the region was actually offering glass cockpit training.

“We’ve opened it as a breeding ground for new buyers, and if they train in one of ours, they’ll likely buy one of ours. It was a business decision as well,” says Currin.

The school also has a 1.5 million rand flight simulation system which offers a lot of flying hours for the trainees.

CDC Aviation’s primary product is service planes. SR20 is the smallest of the Cirrus models and is the one used in the flight school. The other one is the SR22 – with the award winning 310 horsepower machine – which the company owns many of and is very popular with the market, says Currin. However, he and the company are particularly excited for the newest Cirrus model, the Vision Jet, which he considers the “cherry on top”.

Cirrus will start delivery of the Cirrus Vision Jet in 2013, which cruise at 25,000 feet at 310 knots and can seat five to seven adults and two children. Proving its impact in the African market, CDC Aviation has already secured a total of 28 confirmed orders, making it the third largest order book in the world for Cirrus’ newest service jet, just behind Brazil and the United States.

“We offer a level of service that is unheard of in our industry,” says Currin when asked about CDC Aviation’s competitive edge. “From a maintenance point of view, a lot of our clients are in small, vast areas, and if someone phones up, we offer a guarantee we will have him flying within 24 hours.”

He adds: “Our competitors have good products as well. What’s going to make us stand out in the crowd, and we’ve concentrated on this, is our service. I have no doubt in my mind it’s the professionalism we offer.”

These services are greatly appreciated by the type of clientele that CDC Aviation mainly caters to, namely small businesses, farmers and private individuals.

The jets will be aimed at more wealthy individuals and small companies.

The idea of owning one’s own private jet – whether as a small business or as an individual – is made more appealing by the safety features that the Cirrus planes provide, such as the built in parachute that would be able to transport the entire plane down to safety if anything were to happen to it during flight.

CDC Aviation has positive relationships with many of its suppliers as well, like Dynamic Propellers. Because aviation in South Africa is a small industry, most of CDC Aviation’s suppliers “are right here in the same airport,” says Currin. “We generally have long-term relationships with our suppliers.”

Looking to the next few years, CDC Aviation is looking to build on its successes and expand its services to offer more to its clients.

On top of the new Cirrus service jets being added to their inventory, the company is waiting for approval to launch its air taxi service, which Currin says is perfectly targeted to government officials and business men needing to make quick jaunts back and forth between big cities to rural areas.

The company is also looking into expanding and acquiring other agencies to help further service their customers and excel in the market.

“We have a lot of young guns in the company who will make a difference,” says Currin. “We’re known in our industry.”