Eclipse targets hefty initial production run
Eclipse Aviation CEO Vern Raburn surprised the attendees at a packed NBAA press conference yesterday when he predicted the company would build 525 airplanes by the end of next year. He also hinted that Eclipse already has firm plans for a follow-on aircraft model, but he would not elaborate further.
Eclipse’s order book now stands at more than 2,500 aircraft worth in excess of $3 billion. Raburn said the first 160 Eclipse 500 very light jets would all be delivered for less than $1 million each and that the company planned to ramp up to a production rate of two aircraft per day. An Eclipse 500 ordered today would sell for a base list price of $1.52 million.
The company currently has 26 aircraft in production. It is continuing to add to its 850-member payroll and will open service centers in Albany, N.Y.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Gainesville, Ga.; and Van Nuys, Calif., next and plans to announce the location of a fifth service center in the coming months.
Although the Eclipse 500 attained FAA type certification on September 30, Raburn admitted that the aircraft was still dogged by a variety of mostly software-related and supply-chain issues that could limit the utility of aircraft delivered through the middle to end of next year and dent the company’s ambitious production goals.
Currently the Eclipse’s operating envelope covers single pilot, day/night, VFR/IFR and RVSM operations. However, a Part 135 charter package will not be ready until the end of 2006 and that relates to a need to channel the third attitude heading and reference system (AHRS) into the Avidyne Avio system, said Raburn.
Other avionics additions and capabilities scheduled to be added to the Eclipse in 2007 include Skywatch, Stormscope, Class B TAWS, an international operations package, a radar altimeter and ADS-B.
Several interior components await certification approval including passenger seat armrests and the optional lavatory seat.
The Eclipse’s airframe is also undergoing modification in order to enable it to meet its performance and range goals of a 370-knot maximum cruising speed and an NBAA IFR range of 1,125 nm. Eclipse is adding a larger horizontal bullet pylon to the tail to improve separation, larger tip tanks to increase range and new main gear fairings. Raburn said these modifications would be ready early next year and would be retrofitted on aircraft delivered before then.
Raburn also announced new orders and new aircraft options, including a $4,295 “Avio Flight Bag.”
The AFB, developed with Strategic Aeronautics, is available as a $395 software-only option or for $4,295 loaded onto a Fujitsu P1610D convertible tablet PC. Initially the AFB will contain performance and weight-and-balance calculators; digital en route and terminal charts; the AIM; select FARs; and integration with Eclipse’s JetComplete Flight Support.
In the face of declining VLJ forecasts, most recently from engine maker Rolls-Royce, Raburn remained bullish on the potential size of the market. Rolls Royce’s annual NBAA forecast predicted demand for 7,649 VLJs by 2025. “There are some people who think I am insane about the size of the marketplace,” Raburn said. “But since [the Experimental Aircraft Association’s annual convention in] Oshkosh we’ve sold 100 additional aircraft,” including a three-airplane order from Castle & Cook, Inc. and its Dole Foods affiliate