Business flying is definitely up, and so are fuel prices. But, at least so far, aircraft operators aren’t protesting at the pump too bitterly about what they’re paying for jet-A.
The economy is emerging from the soup not with the sudden clarity of a westbound flight through the shattered remnants of a cold front, but more as if it were groping its way through the patchy passing of a stubborn warm front. Against this backdrop, business aviation met in Geneva, Switzerland, and dared to hope that the improvement is durable enough to mark a sustained upswing in the economic cycle.
After selling what it claims is 2,100 Eclipse 500s at between $837,500 and $950,000 apiece, Eclipse Aviation has increased the price on new orders for its very light twinjet to $1.175 million (all prices in June 2000 dollars). First flight of the six-seat aircraft powered by its intended production engine–a pair of 900-pound-thrust Pratt & Whitney Canada PW610F turbofans–is scheduled for December 31.
The regional NBAA forum at West Palm Beach International (PBI), Fla., on March 10 served a slice of business aviation with complex ingredients. Fractional ownership has added occupants to the back of the cabin without always expanding the industry pie.
Eclipse is challenging its competitors to post as detailed an aircraft development tracking progress as has been introduced online for the Eclipse 500 very light jet. The Albuquerque, N.M. company’s “Track Our Progress” feature at www.eclipseaviation.com lists more than 200 tasks and milestones leading to FAA certification in early 2006 and European certification in late 2006.
New Mexico’s license plates proclaim it to be the “Land of Enchantment.” And a growing number of business aircraft manufacturers are enchanted with New Mexico’s efforts toward becoming an “aviation cluster” of airframe manufacturers and supporting businesses.
Eclipse Aviation is committed to becoming, in the words of its founder, president and CEO, Vern Raburn, “The Ford Motor Company of business aviation.” To that end, it plans to attain an annual production capacity of 1,500 Eclipse 500 very light jets by 2009, using advances in production technology reminiscent of the mass-production assembly line and interchangeable parts innovations with which Henry Ford revolutionized the automobile industry
Only time will tell if Eclipse Aviation’s decision to sever ties with Avidyne and bring in a new team of avionics suppliers for the Eclipse 500 will satisfy buyers, but an early glimpse of what’s coming to the VLJ’s front office looks promising.
The business and corporate side of general aviation should continue to benefit from a growing market for new microjets over the next 14 fiscal years, and the FAA expects business use of GA aircraft to expand at a more rapid pace than that for personal and sport use.
Given their current predicaments, Eclipse Aviation and Sino Swearingen share some similarities. Both start-up OEMs have found the money and overcome the adversity to earn type certificates for their jets despite major setbacks and industry naysayers.