Singapore Air Show

Is Asia ready for VLJ? Eclipse boss is positive

 - December 6, 2006, 10:41 AM

The new Eclipse 500 very light jet isn’t physically here in Singapore but its U.S. manufacturer is convinced that it has a bright future in the Asia/Pacific region. “If the show had been even two or three months later we would have brought an Eclipse 500 for the static display but the big issue right now is time available for flight testing. We currently have over 1,200 hours and we’re really doing a lot of flying right now,” said Vern Raburn, president of Eclipse Aviation.

Rayburn arrived at the show buoyed by the announcement that the Eclipse 500 has just won the 2005 Robert J. Collier Trophy “for the greatest achievement in aeronautics and astronautics in America.” The 95-year-old trophy was awarded to the company “for leadership, innovation, and the advancement of general aviation” in the production of very light jets (VLJ).

According to Eclipse (Stand D430), the function and reliability portion of flight-testing is complete and the company is now focused on certification testing. “The vast majority of development testing is over and there are no major changes required,” Raburn said. “The airplane does what we said it would do. We’re confident we’ll deliver the first customer aircraft at certification, which is still on target for late second quarter of this year.

“We are clearly the lightest, least expensive to operate in our class,” Raburn continued. “When you compare us to Cessna, Embraer and Adam you see their fuel burns are at least 50 percent higher and in some cases as much as twice as high. We’re providing 1,800 pounds of thrust, the Mustang and Adam are around 2,700 pounds and Embraer comes in at about 4,000 pounds of thrust. It’s simple math; they’re going to burn that much more fuel. We’ll have a significant operating cost advantage over those aircraft.”

The six-seat Eclipse 500 has a maximum cruise speed of 375 knots, can carry up to six occupants and has a range of 1,280 nautical miles with a 41,000-foot ceiling that allows it to avoid most severe weather.

Eclipse claims to have sold some 200 of its jets outside the U.S.–with 150 of these being for air taxi operations. Unlike rivals Cessna and Embraer, Eclipse does not yet have an international sales and customer support network. It is aiming to start dialog with prospective partners here in Singapore this week.

“Our plans for support and sales are very preliminary but we’re still working on EASA [European)] certification and are on track to get the okay by end of this year. Once you have both FAA [U.S.] and EASA certification the rest of the world, for the most part, lines up pretty well. By that time we’ll have developed the necessary support and sales function.

“There are many city pairs [in Asia] that are ideal for the Eclipse, such as Singapore to Bangkok or up-and-down the coasts of Australia and New Zealand,” Raburn said. “We’re ideal for towns in sparsely populated areas where the airlines can’t justify service, such as the western provinces of China.” Raburn also feels India will be come a “significant business aviation player” in the next four to six years.