Eclipse Aviation’s announcement of a 180-airplane order yesterday signaled the launch of a very light jet (VLJ) air-taxi operation that will be based in Turkey. The Eclipse 500 order–including 120 firm sales and 60 options–was placed by Eclipse Eastern European distributor Etirc Aviation and is Eclipse’s largest European order to date. The Eclipse order book now stands at just under 2,700 airplanes.
“This is a funded order,” said Eclipse president and CEO Vern Raburn, and it is secured by a multimillion-dollar deposit. Deliveries of the Etirc Eclipses are scheduled to begin in the middle of next year and the last of the order should deliver by the end of 2009, he said. Etirc, which has already taken delivery of its first Eclipse 500 (S/N 9 in April) from an earlier order for 40 aircraft, will also be responsible for helping Eclipse obtain Turkish certification of the Model 500. EASA certification is expected by the end of the year.
This most recent bulk order by Etirc is entirely dedicated to the Turkey air-taxi operation, which the company will manage in partnership with Atasay, a jewelry manufacturer led by CEO Cihan Kamer.
The two organizations will form a joint-venture company to operate the air-taxi service in Turkey, the Turkish Republics and European destinations convenient for the Eclipse 500’s 1,125-nm range. Etirc’s earlier order for Eclipse 500s will not be part of the 180-airplane order for the air-taxi service, according to Roel Pieper, Etirc chairman and CEO.
Etirc was formed not only to distribute the Eclipse 500 in Eastern Europe but also to provide service for the VLJs. As such, Etirc will create turnkey VLJ services, including arranging financing, scheduling and operation, aircraft leasing, pilot training and aircrew hiring and aircraft maintenance management.
Etirc and Atasay’s joint-venture company, which has not yet been named, will be headquartered in Istanbul.
The companies plan to reveal more details of the operation and the chosen headquarters airport in September. Etirc operates some business jets and will launch the air-taxi operation with those later this year, according to Pieper.
“We’re seeing an explosion of demand in Eastern Europe,” said Pieper. “Turkey has a lot of aviation tradition and has taken the lead for the emerging air-taxi concept.” He added that the Turkish government is very much aware of the need to make these types of general aviation operations possible.
Turkey is a hotbed of aviation activity, according to Hakan Celikoglu, a consultant who is working with the Etirc-Atasay joint venture. In the 1930s, a Turkish aviation association coined the motto “everybody will fly” and a plan was launched to help every high school graduate become a pilot. While that hasn’t occurred, he said, there remains a strong interest in aviation in Turkey and the government has taken concrete steps to help aviation grow from general aviation roots instead of just promoting airline aviation.
Most taxes on aviation have been abolished, Celikoglu said, including taxes that were targeted at making general aviation seem like a luxury. “The cost dropped by half,” he said. The government is now very supportive of flight schools, he added, because there is a looming shortage of pilots in Turkey. Etirc’s Pieper said that he hopes that Turkish pilots and technicians will be available to work for the Atasay air-taxi operation.
“It should not be a surprise that we ordered more than 100 airplanes to start the air-taxi business,” said Atasay CEO Kamer. “I don’t have a history in aviation,” he admitted, “but I feel this [airplane] is a true gem in my business.”