NBAA Convention News

Eclipse loosens lips, reveals order tally

 - June 30, 2008, 7:51 AM

Eclipse Aviation’s order book has been the subject of much speculation ever since the Albuquerque, N.M.-based startup company announced it had begun taking a slew of orders for its Eclipse 500 minijet. It seems that the warm and fuzzy afterglow that followed the airplane’s first flight on August 26 has loosened the hitherto tight lips of company founder and CEO Vern Raburn.

At a press conference here yesterday, Raburn revealed that Eclipse holds firm orders for 1,357 aircraft and options on another 715, for a grand total of 2,072 aircraft–secured by nonrefundable deposits of more than $65 million, and representing the first 30 months of production.

“To our knowledge, the Eclipse 500 order book is greater than that of any single civilian jet in the history of aviation,” asserted Raburn. An airplane ordered today will not be delivered before mid-2006, and fleet customer aircraft delivery commitments extend through 2008.

The Eclipse six-seat minijet sells for $837,500 (2002 $) and is powered by a pair of diminutive Williams EJ22 turbofans. The airplane so far has made only the one true flight on August 26, in addition to a number of hops on high-speed taxi runs. Raburn said yesterday that the engines have been returned to Williams’ Michigan facility for some rework to bring them up to the full rated thrust. Engineering v-p Oliver Masefield told NBAA Convention News that his team knew the first set of engines was rated at about 20 percent less than full thermodynamic thrust, but the power was deemed sufficient for first flight in Albuquerque’s challenging atmosphere. Eclipse’s home base is 5,380 ft msl, and on a 100 deg F day the density altitude reaches 9,300 ft. Masefield said that, factoring in density altitude and normal lapse, on the August 26 first flight each EJ22 was putting out just 350 lb of thrust–less than half the 770 lb the production engine will produce at sea level on a standard day.

The order book of 2,072 includes the 112 airplanes ordered by Swiss company Aviace, and 50 or so that are also headed for European-based operators. Another 25 Eclipse 500s are destined for operators in South America, Asia and Japan. The total includes 530 aircraft that will be owner-flown.

Eclipse Aviation expects to deliver about 140 aircraft in 2004, following FAA Part 23 certification by the end of next year; 500 aircraft in 2005; and 900 aircraft in 2006. At its full production rate, which the company expects to reach in 2007, Eclipse will be able to manufacture an estimated 1,500 aircraft a year, according to Raburn.

Eclipse also announced yesterday that the FAA had appointed it as an Organizational Designated Airworthiness Representative (ODAR), which authorizes Eclipse to train, nominate and manage its own designated airworthiness representatives. An ODAR is responsible for making determinations of conformity and airworthiness for aircraft, engines and their parts on behalf of the FAA. Such an appointment is rarely made this early in a company’s history.

Eclipse will need another $110 million in financing, Raburn said yesterday. “We need $65 million to get through certification, and another $45 million beyond that for cash flow.”