Eclipse’s plan for Russia moves toward production
Eclipse Aviation (Booth No. 7463) has received permission from the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) to export the Eclipse 500 very light jet and its components to Russia, and has also received Canadian approval for the export of the aircraft’s Pratt & Whitney Canada PW610F engines. “This significant milestone is the next step in establishing an assembly facility in Ulyanovsk, Russia,” said the Albuquerque, New Mexico-based company.
Eclipse founder and CEO Vern Raburn said, “We will see lots of progress in Ulyanovsk this year and we are still on for late in the fourth quarter of 2009 to deliver the first aircraft” from this facility.
However, a deal to secure a final assembly location in Ulyanovsk has not quite been finalized, according to Roel Pieper, Eclipse chairman. Pieper is also chairman and CEO of Etirc, the investment group which took a $100 million stake in Eclipse earlier this year and which is negotiating with governments around Europe to secure the best deal. “There are several candidate cities and the one at the top is Ulyanovsk,” said Pieper, who believes that the large order from Turkey for 180 Eclipses (placed during EBACE 2007) could be followed by “at least five” similar orders.
Eclipse and Etirc Aviation also used EBACE to announce a deal to establish two of the three proposed regional service centers in the region, after signing contracts with JetSupport in Amsterdam and Aerlyper in Madrid, Spain. The third center will be in the East, “probably close to Russia,” Pieper said. As of May 26, Etirc Aviation’s customer care department will be the single point of contact for all European Eclipse 500 customers.
Meanwhile back in Albuquerque, Eclipse continues to grapple with “teething problems,” as founder and CEO Vern Raburn described a series of serious supplier issues, which have forced it to introduce three major retrofit programs.
The first improves the performance of 38 aircraft, the second replaces the avionics in 105 aircraft and the third retrofits Garmin G400W GPS units to the entire fleet of 265 aircraft, Raburn explained at EBACE, while stressing that the company remains committed to “keeping the fleet homogenous.” Eclipse hopes to have the new Garmin fit certified by mid-summer. “Then the aircraft will have the capability promised,” he said.
Flight-into-known-icing (FIKI) trials on the aircraft in Juneau, Alaska, are now complete. “We finished all testing last week with the FAA on board,” said Raburn. “There are some minor modifications required, which all aircraft from serial number 121 now have and we expect FIKI certification some time in the next two weeks.”
The aircraft obtained certification in India and Australia in April and Raburn hopes that European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certification will follow, but he said he would not comment as to when this might happen, “because for the last two years we have said it would be any time now.”
Regarding the current worldwide economic turmoil on Eclipse and in particular the recent cutting-back by pioneer air taxi operator DayJet in Florida, Raburn was bullish as ever. Eclipse has “adequate financing right now,” he said, “and is well capitalized.”
He said he “expects [the company] to be cash-flow positive by mid-2009.”
“Eclipse has a very large order book and even though DayJet is the largest customer, other customers have been happy to get earlier slots so we can just shuffle folks around,” Raburn claimed. “I see DayJet as proving the whole air taxi concept. They have just hit a bump in the road.”