Vaunted Eclipse VLJ takes EU road trips
Eclipse Aviation president and CEO Vern Raburn did not wax eloquent with regard to the Avio NG (next generation) avionics upgrade program for the Eclipse 500, other than to say that the company is moving ahead with the project and that the first of two Avio NG-equipped test aircraft will be finished this week. Flight testing will start next week in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but the question of when the avionics system will be certified remains to be answered. Meanwhile, Eclipse is faced with a growing number of customers for whom it must provide the system later at no additional cost.
Before its arrival at EBACE, the sleek little aircraft had been performing demonstration flights at Cannes-Mandelieu Airport on the French Riviera. After the show it will continue waving the flag throughout Europe until mid-June. EBACE 2007 marks the Eclipse 500’s European show debut.
Speaking for a European audience, Raburn described the airplane as “well positioned” for that market. With a max range of 1,125 nm (NBAA/IFR 100-nm alternate), most major European cities are a non-stop flight away from Geneva.
In the role of head cheerleader, Raburn scoffed at reports that described the company’s efforts to receive a production certificate from the FAA as a “struggle.” It actually required just 208 days from type certification to production certification, he noted, considerably less than is typical in the business aviation industry. The production certificate, granted by the FAA when it has determined that all the organization’s manufacturing processes and inspection systems comply with federal regulations, was received on April 26.
Pending receipt of the production certificate, Eclipse had already delivered its first customer aircraft on Dec. 31, 2006, at the company’s Albuquerque headquarters. Eclipse claims a total of 2,600 orders and Raburn said the company is ramping up quickly to meet its commitments, saying 50 airplanes are now in various stages of production. With both type certification and production certification in pocket and expectations of 100 airplane deliveries this year, Raburn said that will accelerate to 1,000 deliveries next year.
Eclipse last year severed ties with avionics supplier Avidyne and named a new team to develop Avio NG. The supplier list includes Innovative Solutions & Support, Chelton Flight Systems, Garmin and Honeywell. Eclipse is building airplanes now with the original Avidyne avionics and will retrofit those airplanes later.