Let’s say your regular mission is to fly two to four people about 500 nm, and everyone has a small bag to bring along. You have a penchant for the nicer avionics, believe a newer airframe will have better safety features and lower operational costs, and your spouse is a non-pilot who is far more interested in the destination than the trip itself. The spouse just wants to get there safely and comfortably, so you’ve got to ensure that all the fears are quelled. Bottom line, you will get to fly more when your spouse is smiling.
Sound familiar? If so, what is the right airplane for your mission?
It will not take long to narrow your search down, as few airplanes will fit that bill. Somewhere near the top of the list will be the Cirrus SR22 and the Diamond DA62. I own a Cirrus SR22T (G6), so you already know I see its merits. And I was recently asked to fly a DA62 from Austria back to the United States (30 hours flight time), so I feel like I can articulate the differences and highlight which of these two fine airplanes belongs in your hangar.
The Cirrus SR series of airplanes is tailormade for the pilot described above. They are sleek, fast, good-looking, packed with the latest electronic gizmos, and are relatively cheap to operate. Yes, there is lots to love in the SR series of airplanes. But what really boosted sales for Cirrus is the parachute. It is both an effective sales tool and functional safety device. There have been many “saves.” But, if we are forthright, the parachute gives many spouses the comfort they need to write the check. Everyone wins, including Cirrus.
Then there is the Diamond DA62. There’s no parachute, but there is a second engine. That extra engine also gives the spouse the comfort needed to write the check. It too is sleek, fast, sexy and has all the latest gadgets. And, did I say the DA62 is sleek and sexy? Oh my, this is one incredibly sleek and sexy airplane! It looks like it is doing Mach 1 just sitting on the ramp. After flying the DA62 over the North Atlantic, I can testify that it cannot fly Mach 1, but it does perform quite well and is a true contender for the pilot described above.
First, let’s go over the similarities. Both the Cirrus SR22 and Diamond DA62 will cruise at about 180 KTAS; both will burn less than 18 gallons per hour in cruise; both have four seats; both are FIKI-capable; both have ample baggage compartments. They are both also made up of composite materials and offer the latest and greatest Garmin avionics suites. Either will complete the mission for the pilot who wants a cutting-edge, super-nice, cross-country airplane. And, most importantly, both have an option in case an engine fails. So, where are the differences?
One major difference is the landing gear. The DA62 has retractable landing gear while the SR22 has fixed gear. While there’s certainly a bit of additional complexity with the retractable landing gear, the biggest issue is going to be the insurance rates. Any retractable gear airplane is going to have higher insurance rates as compared to a fixed-gear airplane because of the threat of a gear-up landing. As much as we’d like to think a gear-up landing cannot happen, it does. Stupid will enter any door left open. When stupid happens with a landing gear scenario, it’s really expensive as there’s almost always an associated prop strike and fuselage damage.
But, don’t think the SR22 insurance will be cheap. Remember that parachute? Well, if the parachute is deployed, the aircraft is usually totaled. It is deployed ballistically, ripping large portions of the fuselage and rendering the airframe destroyed. The occupants now have a really good chance of surviving, but that T-handle pull is the death knell for the airframe. So, insurance companies know that an engine failure in an SR22 usually means a complete loss of the airplane in terms of value. So, in the end, both airplanes are going to have similar insurance premiums.
Both airplanes have unique doors with unique entry techniques as compared to other all-metal airplanes. In either airplane, you will climb up on the wing to get inside. I find the access on the DA62 to be slightly easier, but not by a large margin. Access to the back seats in a DA62 is certainly better than the SR22 because the DA62 has separate doors for the back seats.
Once inside, the differences are starker. The SR22 has a side-mounted yoke and a seat that moves fore and aft. The seatback will recline, but the seat will not move up and down. The yoke does not move, so the pilot must use it as the standard for selecting his or her seat position. In order to fit my legs properly (I’m 6 feet 4 inches tall), the seat must be all the way back. To add to the problem the seat does not go up or down, so to keep my head from rubbing the ceiling, I’ve got to lean the seat back, which brings my arms farther from the yoke. I often end up turning on the autopilot simply so I don’t have to maintain the awkward scrunched position when I’ve got my left hand on the yoke.
The DA62 is the exact opposite. The seat does not move up or down nor forward or aft, but it will recline. All the other controls move so the pilot can gain comfort. There’s no yoke, but a stick for pitch and roll control that comes up between the pilot’s legs just like in older aircraft. I find the stick to be ergonomically comfortable and quite intuitive for airplane control. The rudder pedals have a huge fore/aft travel range, allowing for long-legged pilots to fully extend the legs.
Interestingly, the DA62 was also quite comfortable for Deanna, the pilot who flew with me on the DA62 flight from Austria to the United States. Deanna is barely 5 feet tall, but all she had to do when we switched seats was move the rudder pedals toward her. The control stick and throttles were ergonomically correct for both of us because the body didn’t move fore and aft. To me, the DA62 is a far more comfortable airplane for a long cross-country, hands down.
Concerning luggage, both airplanes have ample luggage space, but the DA62 has more. The nose baggage compartments are rather narrow, but they are useful in balancing heavy loads and putting items that are not needed in flight out of the way. Plus, they are nice for storing the “dirty pilot items” such as fuel sample cups, oil rags, window cleaner and deice fluid. In a Cirrus, all of those items are stored in the aft baggage compartment along with the personal baggage. Both have easy access to the aft baggage compartment.
The obvious and biggest difference between these two airplanes is the engine type and number. I believe the Continental 550 engine found on the SR22 is one of the finest piston engines on the planet. It is the engine of choice for some of the best airplanes, and for very good reason. It is smooth, powerful and can be operated lean-of-peak, which makes it unbelievably efficient. And, if you are going to trust your life to a piston engine, the Continental 550 is the engine you want humming up front.
But, the DA62 has a great engine installation too. The diesel FADEC engines on the DA62 are powerful, super easy to manage, ultra-smooth and burn Jet-A. I had little diesel experience prior to my North Atlantic flight in the DA62, but I’m a true believer now. With all of the 100LL problems facing aviation, it is nice to see the diesel engines in the DA62 performing so well.
So, which is better, an extra engine or a parachute?
Well, there’s nothing like the North Atlantic to provide some perspective on that question. You don’t have to ask a ferry pilot about the level of risk on a flight over the North Atlantic; you simply need to see where the immersion suit is located.
An immersion suit is a huge suit that covers up the entire body except for a small opening for the face. If a water landing is required, the life expectancy in the frigid North Atlantic waters is mere minutes due to hypothermia. But, with a properly fitted immersion suit, a ditched pilot can survive for hours, if not more. It is an absolute requirement for a North Atlantic crossing. But, a pilot would have extreme difficulty flying while fully wearing an immersion suit, so ferry pilots place the immersion suit in varying positions of access.
If I’m flying a multi-engine turbine King Air 350 at FL330 between Greenland and Iceland, the immersion suit is a distant thought in the back of the airplane. In a single-engine turbine Piper Meridian over those same waters, the immersion suit is out of the suitcase, laid out nicely and in quick reach. In a single-engine piston Piper Mirage at FL210, I’d wear the immersion suit up to my waist (legs in the immersion suit), ensuring I can get it completely on quickly in case an emergency arose.
Where was the immersion suit during my DA62 flight from Austria to Florida? I had it out of the suitcase sitting in easy reach, but I did not wear it in flight. Basically, I had the same level of concern as I would have in a single-engine turbine. That is an incredibly confident statement as I have an extreme level of confidence in the single-engine turbine airplanes that are on the market today.
Where would the immersion suit be if I flew an SR22 over the North Atlantic? I’d have the immersion suit on up to my waist, just like it would be in a pressurized PA46 piston. An SR22 is still a single-engine piston and the parachute would only provide a controlled touchdown into the icy waters of the North Atlantic. The bottom line is that the DA62, with its two diesel engines, would give me greater comfort than the parachute of the Cirrus SR22 when over totally inhospitable surfaces.
Fair analysis? You decide. But, the immersion suit test doesn’t lie. For those who navigate the roughest parts of the world solo, the location of the survival equipment will give you a clear perspective on the comfort of the pilot. Me? I’d rather have two diesel engines than a parachute. But, I’d also rather have a turbine than any piston engine, and I’d rather have multiple turbine engines over one. For every step up in power, there’s an associated exponential cost increase.
Are you flying over the eastern half of the United States with thousands of airports and generally flat terrain, or are you flying over the Rockies, Bahamas or Great Lakes routinely? You must look at the safety factors impacting your main mission, then apply mitigating factors to lessen the risk. Extra engine or parachute? Both have benefits and detriments.
In my opinion, the biggest advantage of the Cirrus SR22 is manufacturer support. Cirrus has simply made huge inroads into the aviation market by being at the top of the market in terms of support and training in aviation. There are Cirrus Service Centers all over the U.S. along with great maintenance options over much of the rest of the world, too. If you need a pre-buy inspection, annual inspection or just routine maintenance, it is a relatively simple process to find a competent maintenance facility with lots of experience and technical wisdom. If you want flight training, there are hundreds of Cirrus Standardized Instructor Pilots (CSIPs) that train as Cirrus trains.
Now, there are certainly reputable Diamond Aircraft Service Centers and good CFIs who serve the Diamond market, but there are fewer. There are fewer because there are simply fewer Diamond aircraft flying. As Diamond grows its fleet, availability to more service and more training will increase too. I think Diamond will increase its footprint by delivering more and more airplanes. So future ongoing support should be expected.
Also, if you fly outside of the United States, you might want to seriously consider the DA62 simply because of jet fuel availability. 100LL can be hard to find in some parts of the world while jet fuel is usually readily available and relatively cheap comparatively. Or if you live in the U.S., you might still want the DA62 since jet fuel is less expensive to purchase.
So, if your spouse is dragging heels to purchase an aircraft, I hope I’ve provided some realistic perspective that will help reduce the drag. Both the SR22 and the DA62 are fabulous airplanes that I’d trust to fly my loved ones and coworkers without a second thought. In fact, I do exactly that