The Eclipse 500 very light jet has been a business aviation icon for much of its troubled life but the program is still very much alive, according to Eclipse Aerospace co-founder and executive vice president Mike Press. Speaking at an EBACE maintenance and operators conference yesterday, Press made it clear that the five-passenger twinjet, which was rescued from bankruptcy as part of Eclipse Aviation last December, has real prospects here in Europe. |
The original Eclipse company spent more than $1 billion in development and the production of 260 EA500s but ceased production and operation in February 2009 due to lack of funds. After buying the assets of the bankrupt Eclipse Aviation, Press and Mason Holland, who were both EA500 customers, reopened the company as Eclipse Aerospace and restarted operations on September 4 last year.
The new company is currently engaged in a program to upgrade the existing fleet of some 250 airplanes and estimated about 20 percent are done. In fact, the first upgrade is here at EBACE and on display at the aircraft static line.
While the initial upgrades are receiving the Avio NG 1.5 change, an Avio NG 1.7 change is already in the works. One of the most appreciated upgrades is the autopilot, which now remains engaged in moderate to heavy turbulence. The upgrade, said Press, is returning each airplane to near-zero-time status.
While the refurbishment is a major project, work continues to relaunch the production line at the Eclipse headquarters in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Press said 126 employees, primarily mechanics and engineers, are already at work there and that the first of the refurbished Total Eclipse models is due to come off the line in early 2011. Timing for new airplane production has not yet been determined.
Eclipse is also working on fatigue testing that will allow FAA and EASA to extend the life of the aircraft from 10 years to 20 years, or 20,000 cycles. As of this month, the fatigue tests had pushed the cycles past 45,000 cycles, with a goal of 60,000.
As for the price for the Total Eclipse, Press emphasized that it remains $2.15 million, “the same as the base price for the airplane in 2008.” He added that a couple have already been sold.
Also present at the conference was Ignacio Garcia Hernández, CEO of Jet Ready, the Valencia-based Spanish air-taxi service that has remained loyal to the Eclipse. Hernandez said service was officially launched today at prices “forty-percent cheaper than those of current charter operators and similar to the business class or full fare of any conventional airline.”
Hernandez said Jet Ready plans to have 23 Eclipse jets in service throughout Europe in the next five years. The main center, he said, will remain in Valencia, but other bases will be established in Madrid, Barcelona, Santiago, London, Paris, Geneva, Frankfurt and Rome.
Ekin Alptekin, executive vice president of Eclipse Aerospace, has been with the Eclipse family for some time and he recalled the conference in 2007 when the room was overflowing and those in the hall were straining to hear.
This year, the audience was sparse, but Alptekin emphasized that the problems faced by the company are those of earlier management, not the fault of the airplane itself. “The company has been criticized, but never the product. It is a unique addition to the world of aviation.”