Eclipse still waits on major ramp up

NBAA Convention News » 2007
September 25, 2007, 4:49 AM

“This high-rate production stuff is hard. It’s not impossible, but it’s hard, and aerospace folks don’t understand it,” said Eclipse Aviation president and CEO Vern Raburn here yesterday, in sharp contrast to the boundless optimism that has thus far characterized his 10-year quest to darken the skies with VLJs. The anniversary of the Eclipse 500 type certification is approaching, and it is five months since the Albuquerque-based company achieved its production certificate on April 26.

As of yesterday, the fleet statistics stood thus:

• The development fleet has made 2,892 flights and logged 4,560 hours, and the high-time aircraft has logged 1,140 hours.

• The production fleet now stands at more than 50 aircraft with a certificate of airworthiness and has logged in excess of 4,000 hours. The high-time Eclipse 500 has 370 hours, and the production rate now stands at almost one aircraft a day, according to Raburn. From the operational standpoint, all eyes now are on DayJet. The Boca Raton, Fla.-based per-seat on-demand charter operator has 12 Eclipse 500s, with seven more due for delivery this week and next, and has started limited revenue operations, said Raburn. DayJet said it plans the full launch on Wednesday next week, October 3.

On September 13, Eclipse opened its customer training center at Albuquerque’s Double Eagle II Airport, where one Opinicus fixed-base simulator is now FAA level-6 qualified. Once full motion is added to it, the device will be certified to the full level D, Raburn said. A second sim will be installed later this year, and two more are currently under construction and scheduled to enter service in the middle of next year, he said.

As of yesterday, 98 pilots have completed type-rating training. Of those, 31 are customer pilots. Raburn expects the current two-week wait for training will remain through the end of this year.

Avio NG, the multi-supplier, upgraded avionics system that is replacing the original Avidyne Avio system, is installed in two flight-test aircraft, and Raburn said he expects certification by mid-November. Initial release functionality includes “all current Avio capability, plus Skywatch HP, TAWS, weather radar, third AHRS, ADF/DME and more.” The current plan is to incorporate Avio NG in production aircraft as of mid-November. Avio NG retrofits of Eclipse 500s already delivered will begin in December. Raburn emphasized that further upgrades will be incorporated through software, rather than hardware, updates.

Known-icing certification has slipped beyond the date specified in the aircraft deposit agreement that was in effect in August last year, in which the approval was promised within 12 months of FAA type certification. That anniversary comes due at the end of this month, but Raburn does not expect the approval to be awarded until late this year or early next. Although this is a potential contract-voiding discrepancy, an Eclipse marketing official told NBAA Convention News that no customer yet has expressed enough concern with the schedule slippage to warrant contract cancellation.

The Eclipse Concept Jet, the V-tail single first shown publicly at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh this summer, is at the NBAA Convention static display, and it was the subject that got Raburn most exercised at the press conference here yesterday. He took swipes at those who have opined that Eclipse should be keeping its eye on the Eclipse 500 ball before it tackles  any new projects.

“We’re just doing what the auto manufacturers do for the auto shows–showing a possible concept,” said Raburn.

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