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Cirrus lays off 26 in Duluth

Cirrus Aircraft said 58 production employees were laid off Wednesday as the company prepared to enter its slow season.

The airplane manufacturer cut 26 workers in Duluth and 32 at operations in Grand Forks, N.D., said Todd Simmons, Cirrus' vice president of marketing. Wednesday's cuts put Cirrus' total employment at about 550, down from about 1,300 in August 2008.

But Simmons said Wednesday's changes better position Duluth's largest manufacturer for next year.

"We had been staffed to a level higher than current demand and [Wednesday's] changes are not a reflection of reduced demand," Simmons said. "It's a reflection of getting late in the year and knowing that we are building airplanes for the new year, and the first quarter is a time of weaker deliveries and demand."

The layoffs come amid drastically reduced airplane production across the industry through the first nine months of 2009, according to a shipping report from the General Aviation Manufacturers Association.

Cirrus shipped 189 airplanes in the first three nine months of 2009, a drop from 425 through September 2008 and 461 through September 2007.

"We would like that to be higher, but we are very, very competitive inside aviation with our direct competitors," said Simmons, referring to piston-engine challengers such as Cessna, Diamond and Piper. "We have been able to maintain the market share that we initially saw earlier in the year. We have strong market share position. We are taking greater share, while the market continues to be a contracted market."

Diamond Aircraft's DA40 -- which is a direct competitor to Cirrus' SR20 and SR22, Simmons said -- had 81 sales in the first nine months of 2009, a drop from 144 in 2008 and 175 in 2007.

Sales at Diamond have fallen 54 percent from 2007 levels, while Cirrus sales dropped 60 percent, according to GAMA numbers in the nine-month periods in 2007 to 2009.