Eclipse founder sees air taxis changing travel

 - November 28, 2006, 5:42 AM

Eclipse founder, president and CEO Vern Raburn likens the potential for the mass air-taxi market that he envisions to the network effect that took hold as e-mail gained its burgeoning following. Strength will come in numbers, and he remains confident that where the fractional operators have failed to reach true critical mass (and instead expend too much of their resources on deadheading and other nonrevenue flying as they scramble to meet the response promise) air-taxi operators of very light jets (VLJs) will bring to aviation the sheer numbers necessary to reinvent how modern man moves around.

With each passing month, Eclipse Aviation (Booth No. 202) comes closer not only to certifying its mold-breaking VLJ (a milestone due by the end of next month) but also to proving its predictions about the creation of a new air-taxi model. Flight-testing currently stands at 1,700 hours, with 700 of those logged in the past three months alone.

Raburn, architect and prime moving force for the $500 million (the amount spent so far) program, remains as confident as ever, and the skepticism from Old Aviation has faded away as certification approaches. For the Albuquerque, New Mexico-based Eclipse team, these certainly are heady times.

Raburn told reporters here yesterday that his company so far has performed 70,000 inches of friction-stir welding, with just two rejections and about 40 reworks. “We will build the aircraft in four days, test it in two days [and later, in just one day] and paint it in two days,” he said. “Handover to the customer will take two more days, for a total time of 10 days from beginning of construction to delivery,” he stated.

Eclipse is also confident that the Eclipse 500 will beat expectations for external and internal noise and smoke emissions. Here in Europe, where the populace is more environmentally aware than in the U.S., Eclipse is emphasizing that its VLJ will be significantly quieter than the standard dictated by Stage 4, which calls for a maximum of 88 dB for the approach point.

Testing to date shows that the Eclipse 500 will swing the needle no farther than 68 dB on average, “making the Eclipse 500 noise signature multiple orders of magnitude less than this limit…and significantly quieter than the majority of piston aircraft flying in and out of airports today,” the company noted. Internal noise in the cabin will be on a par with that of the Challenger 604 or Hawker 800, according to Eclipse.

Also yesterday, Eclipse revealed here that while the regulatory limit for engine smoke for the Eclipse 500 is a smoke number of 50, Pratt & Whitney Canada tests show that the PW610F engines are registering a smoke number of less than five.