Eclipse 500 still chasing full TC

 - September 27, 2006, 11:17 AM

At press time, FAA type certification continued to elude Eclipse Aviation for its very light jet, while Cessna confirmed speculation that it would be first to certify a VLJ when its Citation Mustang received Part 23 type certification for everything but known icing on September 8 (see page 1). When the FAA granted what it called provisional certification for the Eclipse 500 on July 27, Eclipse said its Model 500 would get the FAA’s OK no later than August 30.

But as with previous Eclipse 500 certification estimates–December 31 last year, then March 31 and then June 30–those dates have come and gone. At press time, Eclipse president and CEO Vern Raburn blamed the latest delay squarely on avionics vendor Avidyne, which he said has consistently missed internal deadlines for the VLJ program. Since he has lost confidence in Avidyne, Raburn won’t provide another hard date for certification of the Eclipse 500 because the approval hinges on work from the avionics manufacturer. The aircraft’s P&WC PW610F engine received FAA certification on August 23.

Raburn told AIN that Cessna did a “much better job of picking vendors” for its VLJ, especially Garmin, which provides the G1000 integrated avionics system for the Mustang. “If I had to choose an avionics supplier today for the Eclipse 500, we’d certainly have to go with Garmin and its G1000.”

Avidyne has delivered “fully functioning” software to Eclipse but has yet to complete verification and validation as required by DO-178B, the guidelines for development of aviation software. Raburn said the software for the Eclipse 500’s Avio avionics system was to be fully vetted by Avidyne on or before July 31, which he said would have paved the way for the previously expected August 30 approval.

However, the term “fully functioning” refers only to functions that will allow day/night, VFR/IFR, single-pilot and RVSM operations. Software updates for the Avio’s FMS, moving map, weather radar and GPS WAAS functions were expected to be available this month, but Raburn said he doubts Avidyne will be able to stick to this deadline, adding that the avionics maker’s credibility with Eclipse is all but gone. Autothrottle, e-checklists, TCAS, TAWS and satellite weather functionality will be added over the next year via software updates.

Once Avidyne verifies the VLJ’s software, Raburn said, Eclipse will be able to complete a small number of flight-test points before conducting the 150-hour function and reliability testing, the last step before FAA certification. Flight-into-known-icing certification tests are planned to take place by year-end.

An Avidyne spokesman acknowledged the software validation delays, but said the radios are STC’d, the TSO and production documents are completed and final hardware has been shipped and is in flight test.

Meanwhile, Raburn said the Eclipse 500’s new seven-gallon aluminum tip tanks have passed FAA lightning tests, unlike the previous composite tip tanks of similar capacity. Since the range is only 950 nm with the small tanks, Eclipse has designed and will flight-test this month 19.5-gallon aluminum tip tanks. Eclipse expects these tanks, which will boost range to 1,125 nm, to be certified by year-end. The tanks will be retrofitted to any in-service Eclipse 500s. Also on tap are further aerodynamic clean-up improvements. At press time, an FAA audit team was on site at Eclipse’s Albuquerque headquarters to facilitate issuance of a production certificate (PC) for the Eclipse 500.

Late last month, the first and second customer Eclipse 500s were finished and sitting on the ramp ready for immediate delivery pending the TC, while S/N 19 was just starting its journey down the production line. Raburn said Eclipse won’t deliver the previous estimate of 50 Eclipse 500s this year because of the delays but noted that this schedule change won’t affect plans for next month’s service startup at air-limo DayJet.